Almost two months into this life as a mother, what has been my primary learning? It may sound funny or cliched, but I truly learnt what it meant to be child centered.
I had always intellectually understood this concept relating it to the idea of client centered counseling, a term I use repeatedly in my professional life. I had always wanted to be a child centered parent. But when the child was given to me, I suddenly became very me centered. I was a completely unprepared mom, I had always had this notion about myself that I am not good with kids and kids dont like me. Having a kid given to me within one week, everything I was doing for her suddenly became a reflection of how good I am as a mother. Her bath, her feeding, her sleeping, none of it was about whether she enjoyed it, but whether I had fed her or bathed her well.
Funnily enough children do sense this anxiety and resist in their own ways. My little one resisted while taking a bath. She would scream the place down, whenever she was taken for a bath. It took a couple of bath sessions with her father for me to truly understand why she did that. Karthik taught me that its not nice for a child to have two people pounce on her catch hold of her hands and legs and start giving her a massage. But its nice, if she is allowed to play with the oil and smear it all over herself. Its no fun to have water poured over you suddenly. But its fun to have water splashed on you by a doll. Its no fun to be with a mommy who is worried about whether every inch of your body has been scrubbed. Its fun to be with a mommy who will play in the water with you and to hell with it if one patch of your skin has been ignored for a day. What he taught me was not ways to make her enjoy the bath, but a whole paradigm on how to engage with her for anything. Suddenly play was not confined to what she did with her toys, but every activity could be playful. Suddenly, everything I did for her was not a task which needed to be completed, but an opportunity to bond more with the baby.
Performance anxiety is probably very common among new moms, specially in Indian contexts, where there are always a million opinions within and outside the family on how something could have been done better. So probably, first lesson, there is no one way to be a parent, and no one is a bad parent. You can choose a way which suits your own personality. I am a person who always treated kids like adults, so for me that works, I will prefer to reason with the child and set up mutually acceptable limits on behavior.
And I guess most important thing for a parent, is to first just feel good about ourselves as parents. Its quite challenging, specially for the parent who is taking primary care (mostly the mother, but let me concede that things are changing) to separate themselves from the child. When so much of your time goes towards someone else, then its their acheivements and milestones which you cherish and hold as a reflection to your own efforts. So if the child does well, its a reflection on the self, and if the child does badly, its again a reflection on the self. My advice, its ok to be inconsistent, if the child does well, be proud of it. If a milestone is delayed, or behavior is inappropriate, give yourself a little more time. She will get there.