Parent Development by Jane Sustar
Jane writes: Back when my now 17-year-old Gustav was a baby, I started going to a moms’ group at our church. We moms spanned a wide range of backgrounds: educational, economic, even religious. Our director picked a mothering book to read and we took turns presenting a chapter each week. We discussed the ideas presented and then gently widened the discussion. It was a wonderful circle of women and, though I loved them all dearly, I enjoyed leaving them all to that distinct group. They did not become my dear friends or movie companions. They were my moms’ group.
Part of that experience was a yearly retreat. One of the women offered her lovely house on Pewaukee Lake for a whole Saturday sometime during the Easter season. It was always a huge pain in the backside to arrange a whole day away from my kids and family, but as you would expect, I was always so glad I did it. It was a wonderful experience to spend one day reflecting on the question, “Why am I doing this?!”
During one of the retreats, one of the young moms confessed. With heart-wrenching sobs, she told us all how she could not get her two-year-old to take a nap! How no one in the world had ever talked to her like her two-year-old was talking to her! How she could not believe the things that were coming out of her own mouth, and then she whispered, how she could not believe she was being brought to her knees by her very own child! Those moms who had gone through “the dark night of the soul” themselves rushed to her side, expressing warmth and comfort. Those who had not, sat in silent witness.
We talk a lot about child development at LifeWays, but I often wondered as a young mom who was really growing up? Thankfully, I had the loving support of my mom, my sister and good friends helping me grow up, but the painful process of becoming a parent did not end when the doctor put Jennifer in my arms for the first time. My parenting birth has been a lifelong ordeal. There has been a lot of labor. There has been a lot of false labor, those moments that I thought were hard only to find out later that they had been nothing compared to the REAL thing. It is the kind of labor that is not gender specific, either. Peter and I did a lot of growing up together.
Do you suppose it is possible that if parent development were actually studied there might be specific stages not unlike the stages of grief? Confusion: Oh my God, we are going to have a baby! Questioning: Who in the name of heaven thought that this was a good idea to let me be a parent? Denial: This trait did not come from my side of the family. This must be a Sustar thing! Acceptance: I am doing the best that I can do. I am just going to love this child like crazy. Maybe acceptance would come at the moment when you realize, “Wow, this child of mine doesn’t need a parent anymore. He/she wants to be friends.” I am sure developmentally that should come when the child is around the age of twenty-five, not around the age of two.
Anger? Sadness? Despair? I can’t believe I am being brought to my knees by a two-year-old! I love how Kim John Payne describes those moments as moments of “soul fever.” Those are times to pull back a little and take care; times of great growth. A mom in my suite went through this recently, reaching out to me and other moms, looking for advice. Then she pulled back a little with her daughter and, in doing so, was renewed and refreshed. She is a great mom.
Parenting is a mystery. Despite all the parenting “how to” books and all the good advice and methodologies, there is not one recipe for childrearing that is foolproof. Even within a family, what works for one child is a total bust for another. Now having said that, I witness every day how children thrive within an atmosphere of simplicity, a strong rhythm, plenty of outdoor time, good healthy food, and daily rest. Did I know that with Jennifer, my oldest? NO! I couldn’t wait to show her everything the world had to offer. Peter and I took her everywhere with us. Did I know that by the time Irene, my third, came along? You could have told time by our rhythm, which is not, of course, really rhythm. It is schedule. But as a parent, myself, I have found those five elements to be a good solid foundation to work within. If there is a struggle happening within you or your family, they are a good place to start. Make them your own.
Perhaps the most valuable thing I have learned in all these years as a parent is how to laugh.
Jane Sustar is a caregiver at LifeWays Milwaukee and teaches with the Wisconsin LifeWays Training program. She is also a busy mother to six.
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