Things I’ve learnt the hard way as a parent: Lesson one: it’s mostly trial and error

Some things follow a rule book, like putting together a motor or making a submission to a select committee. Some things can only be done by trying different things until the desired outcome is reached or the required knowledge is obtained, like a scientist trying to figure out how fast an electron moves.

Parenting is one of those things that can only really be learnt by experimenting. You can get all the advice in the world and read all the books ever printed on the topic but these things just give you tools and ideas to help you help your child become their best self; they will never tell you what to do at every stage and in every moment.

Chidders are very much all unique. Not only are they different from each other, they’re often different to the chidder they were 5 months, weeks, hours, minutes, or even 5 seconds ago! No formula or set of rules could ever fit all aspects of all children allof the time. Or even much of the time.

Take, for example, the standard newborn. Ok, forget the standard newborn. I’m not sure I’ve had one of those, and my most recent memories are of a refluxy African baby who didn’t leave my person for anything other than toilet breaks and showers. And sometimes not even then. Anyway, you have a baby. It cries. You try something. It stops crying. This happens a few times and you’ve established a pattern (this is best case scenario, btw). Woot!, you jubilate, I’ve figured it out! It’s not so hard; I can do this! Baby cries. You try your thing that always works. It doesn’t work. You try your second best option. It doesn’t work. Eventually something works. It might work for a few times and again you think you’ve got it. But no, it’s all a cunning ruse by some foreign power messing with your head and trying to drive you round the bend. It’s Murphy’s Law for parents – just as you think you’ve got it sussed, it changes. This goes for sleep (when and how), feeding, getting a toddler to cooperate; pretty much everything.

Now I’m not saying you have to guess every single time your child needs something. Like I said, patterns can often be established for a wee while. As they get older and you get more tuned in you can often intuitively know what they need and the stronger the attachment you have with your child, the easier it is to read his cues. As he starts talking or communicating more overtly in other ways it gets easier still. (I’m only at the just 3 stage, so can’t comment beyond that yet, but I’m hoping it’ll improve even more!) Empathic parenting and putting myself in my child’s shoes also helps a lot and I’m incredibly grateful that I came across this style of parenting early on – saves me a lot of frustration (when I’m in the right headspace to apply it properly). I digress.

Yes, so, you do kinda get the hang of what your’e doing, but basically, childrearing is one big experiment. I’d say few parents know how they want to rear kids before they have them. I’ll rephrase that – most parents don’t know how they’re going to end up parenting before they have kids. They have plenty of opinions, mostly based on what their parents said/did or their annoyance thresholds, and pretty much all of it goes out the window once they have to deal with a real life kicking, screaching, pooping, hungry little papoose.

In New Zealand we all have the dubious privilege of having a Plunket nurse critiquing our babies every now and then to see if they fit in with how a baby should act. (For me, no longer – that story one day, perhaps.) In the Plunket model babies should do certain things at certain times to be good babies. The Plunket model is severely flawed. If babies read the books it’s only so they can ignore them and snigger between shrieks while green mum and dad flick frantically through the pages trying to divine what is wrong.

Of course one figures out one’s parenting niche as time goes on, but this doesn’t help poor First Baby. Experimental Baby. I so ardently wish that I’d known what I do now before he was born, but that’s just my inner perfectionist who wants everything right, first time. With as little pain as possible. On the upside, Sir A was less experimental and future babies will be even less so, though they’ll probably change all the rules on me again just to keep things interesting! (I’m quietly ignoring the fact that I am still experimenting with Experimental Baby, he’s just not a baby anymore so loophole!)

Look at me sleeping sweetly 🙂 You’re feeling very pleased with yourself, aren’t you? But don’t worry, next time it won’t work, and you’ll have to try something else. And the same the time after that. And the time after that. And eventually I will rule the world.

Moral of story for perfectionist, impatient Rosemary? Be patient and keep trying. You’ll either get it right eventually or the need will pass before you have to.

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  1. […] Lesson One: It’s mostly trial and error. There is no manual to follow, and most people’s advice is irrelevant to your family. Basically, raising children is one big experiment. […]

  2. […] aspect of reality? Lesson One. Much as we’d all love to be able to get out a user’s manual for our kids, it’s […]



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