By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
I still remember when my son was first born, and every stage felt like it lasted a lifetime. I agonized over every developmental milestone and decision I needed to make as his mom. The amount of money I must have spent on sleep swaddles in the early days when he was a pretty fussy sleeper is likely baffling (I’ve never tried to run these numbers, though!). Even with my years of experience working with parents and children, it took me a long while to adjust to the ever-changing demands of parenting.
You see, in the beginning, I think I forgot something that I had known from my work with other people’s children and even with my adult clients. That every phase ends and everything is temporary. Being a therapist has given me a huge gift of perspective that I am not sure I would have otherwise. You see, I have watched kids (and adults) go through super hard phases and also been able to witness them coming out, often better in some way, on the other side.
While I had hoped to hold onto those parts of myself as I entered my journey of motherhood, I lost my way for a while. I completely lost perspective at times and felt so anxious about everything that happened. As a therapist, a huge asset is that I can often help clients make sense of their lives by weaving their past into their present. The challenging part of this is that then, I can also be really good at forecasting problems that will arrive for my son in the future due to challenges in the present.
What I often forget is what I tell parents, which is that when it comes to predicting the future or how our choices will truly impact our child later, “We don’t know.” So often, we just don’t know if any one decision (other than obviously terrible decisions) had a huge impact on a child’s trajectory in their life. We don’t have a control group to compare to, and it is not entirely fair to assume we know the outcome that would have happened if things had gone differently. As those in research often say, correlation does not equal causation. So, just because one path has some evidence that it can lead to certain unpleasant outcomes, it does not mean that this is exactly what will happen. I forgot this lesson for a long period of time and still have to work to keep this part of my brain focused at work, where it is actually helpful in making sense of our lives. Not in forecasting my son’s possible problems and future challenges!
The good news is that, looking back over the past few years, I realize now that I am much more rooted in the temporary nature of our challenges and experiences that come up. We have certainly had some really tough moments, he is a very strong-willed kiddo, and it really has helped to remember that everything is temporary.
For me, when I think about the temporary nature of our challenges, it helps me remember that things usually do get better. The tears, fears, and difficulties that come as a part of a child’s development do not last. I believe that this mindset also helps me hold tighter to the parts of those stages that are so sweet and enjoyable. Because I remember that they will not be like this forever, I can hold onto the snuggles that happen when Luca is sick, and my world is upended to revolve around him. I can kick off my shoes and play Legos with him on the floor for hours knowing that this is time limited.
I can further embrace the joy of raising him, even on the hard days because I know that he will not always be mine. Even now, I know that he is not mine, he is his and his alone, and our time together is borrowed. So, holding the impermanence of our life together helps me remember how special it is and how much I want to experience it. Not scroll through my phone, avoid playing the boring games, or only focus on the hard parts.
I want to have gratitude for my little guy and how much joy being his mom brings me. Remembering that it is temporary helps me do just that. It helps me bring in the therapist side of me that thinks, “Maybe, maybe not,” and embrace life's uncertainty, even for my child.
Read on next week for Parenting Tip #4: Practice Self Compassion
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