I really should stay off the Internet more often. I mean, really, shouldn’t we all? I can’t even remember now where I read the headline I’m about to share with you. Perhaps it was an article that was shared on a parenting group or perhaps it came up on my Instagram feed. Wherever I saw it, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how that headline made me feel (unintentionally no doubt) and how I’ve now (thankfully) come out the other side of feeling stuck with that feeling we so often get as parents…”I am not doing a good enough job for my child.”
“A child’s personality will be mostly formed by age 5.”
I didn’t even read the article. I didn’t even click the link or tap to read more because that headline alone sent me off on an instant spiral. Jasmine turns 4 next month which, according to the headline, means I have one more year of parenting to get it right, right? I have one more year to nurture her love of the outdoors and instill a strong sense of identity. I have one more year to turn out a well-rounded, emotionally secure, loving, kind, motivated, polite child with multiple interests and hobbies who will be successful and, and, and, and…. You can see where my mind went with this.
I immediately started to doubt myself. I started to look at the things about Jasmine that are challenging (*that are in fact age-appropriate and developmentally normal but challenging nonetheless) and question whether we are doing enough to tackle those. I started to regret every single time I’ve let her watch something on Youtube, use a tablet or watch Peppa bloody pig, for fear that I’ve now damaged her brain forever and I will have created a screen-addicted zombie with no real life skills or ambition. I started to doubt whether we’ve taught her enough important lessons, like how to lose a game graciously, how to tidy up toys and how to stop saying “poo poo bum bum” whenever the mood strikes her (*all are still a work in progress.) I started to feel this sense that I have to really use this next year to pull it out the bag as a Mum if I want her personality to be “just right” (*approved by society) by age 5. I must try harder. I was stuck in this thought pattern for a while actually but let me tell you this. Once the initial panic dust settled, I was able to see my own feelings more clearly and they could be divided up like this:
- 5% motivation (we could definitely do with reducing our screen time and working a little harder on the tidying up)
- 95% fear
I was fearful that I hadn’t done enough. I was fearful of the fact that Jasmine still hits us or screams when she’s having a hard time (*it’s always the child having a hard time not giving us a hard time) and this meant she was going to have an aggressive personality. I was fearful that her resistance to listening sometimes (*um, hello, she’s a child) meant she was going to be a defiant teenager. I was fearful that I had made 4 years worth of mistakes and would need to spend the next year of her life dedicated to getting everything right (*perfect parenting DOES NOT EXIST).
But then, then came the softness and the forgiveness. Then came the deep breaths and the rational thinking. Then came the overwhelming LOVE that I have for exactly who Jasmine is right now, in this very moment, challenges and all. The headline didn’t set out to make me feel inadequate about myself and even more so about my child, that’s just what I allowed it to do. Perhaps a child’s personality is mostly formed by the time they’re 5. Perhaps there is a whole load of scientific research to back that up and after all, Jasmine has had her Jasmine-isms since day one! But what I refuse to believe (and what the voice of fear was telling me) is that there won’t be ample opportunities in the coming years for learning and growth. Children, teenagers and young adults are constantly forming their identities, their value systems, their preferences, their moral compasses and their unique sense of self and it is our job as parents to guide and support them through this whole process.
Instead of listening to that voice of fear I chose instead to focus on the following questions:
What are the traits I see in my child that I am most proud of?
What are the gifts and skills that my child will and already does bring into this world?
What are the things I see in my child and admire about them that I wish I did more of myself?
What are some of the ways that my child amazes me every day?
I am so proud of both my children and who they are turning out to be. They are both shining stars of light and if I do say so myself, if the stop clocked now and all their learning was done, I’d still be so proud of their personalities and I’m pretty sure you’d feel the same about your child too!
We worry as parents because we don’t have a crystal ball into our children’s futures and we probably never will! We just have to trust that loving them deeply and showing it too, is enough. We have to trust that we are here to facilitate in their becoming who they are already destined to be, not to control who we or anyone else wants them to be. We also have to be kind to ourselves along the way, knowing that we only know what we know and do our very best with that.
Parenting…the never-ending journey of trusting both yourself and your child.