When our children reach milestones, we tend to remember them. The first steps, first words, first day of school, they are all celebrated and looked back on with lots of feelings. Some of the more organized among us might even have those things recorded in a baby book, or they can be found in the archives of Facebook or emails to loved ones.
As for parenting, there are moments that feel equally big, but are ambiguous about when they happen–moments where I suddenly realize that I’ve reached a new plateau in parenting. These occasions sneak up on me while I’m preoccupied with making lunches or doing laundry.
One milestone I recently reached is the “no big deal” epiphany. When my oldest was a toddler, anytime he had a tantrum it felt like a judgment of my ability (or lack thereof) as a mother. I would wonder what I was doing wrong, if this tantrum would last forever, what it meant for his future, and various other disproportionate and generally counterproductive thoughts.
When my toddler has a tantrum, I think, “Oh, she’s having a tantrum. Hmmm, I wonder if she’s tired/hungry/simply being a toddler.” After I became more aware that’s it’s no big deal for a toddler to have tantrums, it made it infinitely easier to endure any that she threw. Instead of worrying about what I was doing “wrong,” I’m able to be there for her when she’s finished.
Another landmark I reached is the, “What’s a little more balagan (chaos)?” milestone. When I was expecting my fourth child, people often asked if I was worried about how I would manage after the birth. The (seemingly) constant questions helped me realize that I wasn’t really anxious about it at all. Since my life was already hectic, I viewed the new arrival as just a new addition to the balagan. When it’s already a balagan, what’s a little more?
I’ve been able to apply this perspective to smaller, daily events: like during the morning rush when my toddler decides to take off her socks because she would like to wear sandals. In February. While the baby is crying and my 4-year-old wants his coat zipped. So if my oldest decides that this is the perfect time to ask me about what he should bring for show-and-tell, it’s not as frustrating. Because what’s a little more balagan?
It can also apply to larger life events. Like when we put our house on the market two months after I had a baby, and set a moving date for a week before Pesach. There’s so much potential stress in that situation it’s practically begging for me to constantly fly off the handle. But with the “What’s a little more balagan?” attitude, I’m going into it with a sense of adventure instead of dread. Okay, there’s still a little dread in there, but at least it’s not completely overwhelming.
Another useful milestone is, “Smile and nod at unsolicited advice.” It used to be when someone would suggest maybe my baby is crying because he is cold/hungry/hot/needs to burp/wants to be held/needs an enema (yes, that was actually suggested once), I would begin to panic. What if they were right? What if everyone was right? I didn’t have enough experience as a mother to feel confident in my choices, and so any questioning or advice threw me into a tailspin.
At some point I finally gained enough experience to be able to field questions or advice without feeling agitated. Now I’m able to (mostly) receive advice with a smile, and if there’s something useful in it, great! If not, great! Without viewing it as an inferred criticism of my ability as a mother, I’m able to hear it as what it usually is: well meaning.
I’m always going to be inexperienced when it comes to my oldest–a reality that leaves me feeling insecure whenever a new phase or behavior starts. This “smile and nod” milestone has helped me appreciate the value of taking advice when I’m muddling through a tricky situation, to embrace the fact that it’s OK to not know what’s going on.
And that’s another milestone, isn’t it? The “I have no idea, and that’s OK,” realization. Knowing that I don’t have to shoulder the responsibility for being the last word on every single parenting question is a huge relief.
Even though these events may be unique to me, I think we all have subjective anniversaries of the ways we’ve grown and learned from our life experiences. Knowing I’ve reached these milestones gives me hope there are still realizations I might have, which will improve my parenting. Sure, no one’s going to send me a card on “What’s a little more balagan?” day, but I can still celebrate these realizations and look forward to having more indefinite milestones.