One of the hardest things I had to learn as a parent was figuring out which one of us owned the problem. From day one, when my daughter cried or fussed, I believed it was my problem. And this snowball of ownership for every discomfort or need of hers, grew and grew by the second. We tell ourselves that being a “good parent” means I will figure it out and fix it for my child.
In their infancy and early years their problems certainly feel one and the same with our problems. But even then, in the middle of the night, the gas pains, the teething, the wet diaper, all of it are their problems. As their parent, we choose to and want to, be there for them to smooth the path of life so they can experience the world as a safe, supportive, and responsive place. Even in the throes of infancy it is their life to lead, their body to experience, their emotions to navigate, their problems to figure out.
Our love for them and our investment in healthy development can muddle us up. In our efforts to smooth out that path of life we think ahead. We pack snacks, plan activities, save money, and a million other things so that when they hit life’s bumps in the road, the bumps are less troublesome. But make no mistake, that hunger pain, those relationships, that learning, and all those million other things are theirs to own. As their adults we may have done some preparatory smoothing out of the bumps and we are there to varying degrees given the situation, to help them encounter the bumps, but it is their bump every time.
And here is the thing, the more they own it, the more they are able to benefit. They get to relish in the success of figuring it out, defining their own selves, and the confidence boost for future bumps.
Our role as adults in children’s lives is not to remove all the bumps or to swoop in and save them from a bump, but to witness the challenge, be curious about their thoughts as they face this challenge, offer support, share our own experience of challenge, and let them tell us what they need from us to get over this bump. No matter what their age, their own investment and owning of this challenge as theirs is developmentally important. It is essential that they learn the skills of self awareness and self advocacy so that every challenge they encounter in their life journey is navigated with them at the centre of it.
The challenges of infancy are insurmountable alone. We need to be there to change the diapers and soothe the teething pain. But their role is to communicate that there is discomfort or something amiss. When we manage to find ways to address their discomfort, then their communication of what has worked for their bodies is important information for us and for them. They are responsible to communicate throughout and we are there to witness, reflect, respond, and share in the experience. Even in infancy, letting them own the struggle as theirs, is a gift to them. Successful navigation of a bump in the road is not us being “good parents” it is our children’s success of communication and guiding us toward what are their need. Their bumps – their successes!