Claire Hailwood parents four children and reflects on how she has learned and adapted with each one
The first child that I had the privilege in raising came to us from foster care: a two year old with routine, preferences and habits. It was important to maintain these to help with transition, to ease, in some small way, what was another significant and life changing move for them.
Perhaps this led to me being too focused on things being a particular way. Perhaps it fed my ‘I need to do this right or I’ve failed’ tendencies?
I’m not talking about the important things that needed to stay the same – I feel comfortable that we did the best we could with what we knew then for what they needed. As they grew and developed and as I read and learned about ‘good’ parenting, I became determined to do it ‘right’. At times I was inflexible in my approach. For example, I was so determined that meal times should be all together to such an extent that I never wanted to deviate from that, as though one meal in the living room on laps was one step away from a delinquent teenager of the future! I was so passionate about doing a devotional every night with my children that I was determined we would never miss it even on those nights when the child was practically asleep and unwilling to engage.
One size doesn’t fit all
I might be exaggerating a little for effect but the truth is that I felt like I needed to do parenting ‘right’ and that meant adhering to a particular framework or ideal or copying another family who appeared to have it all together. If someone I admired said that they did for their child and family, then instead of celebrating that and taking inspiration from it to apply, if appropriate in a relevant way to our family, there were times when I would try and replicate it exactly.
The mistake I made was not being quick enough to realise that one size does not fit all. That it’s OK to try something and for it not to work, and then to adjust accordingly. Not only is it OK to do so, but it’s probably the ‘right’ thing to do sometimes.
I am a Mum of four. There are things that I do with number four that I would never have done with number one. Some of that is because the’re so different to one another, their life story, needs and characters vary hugely, and also the context in which we’re raising them. Being the oldest and youngest of four, is so different as is being a parent to one or four, so we need to adapt!
Number one eats anything and everything, tries all foods and always has. The mistake I made was assuming that this was all down to me. I realised this mistake when I raised number two in much the same way and they were much fussier and more strong willed around food to the extend that they adopted a strict ‘no potato’ rule for five years.
Add to the mix another child with complex additional needs which impacts their relationship with food, and with a total of four children, let’s just say that mealtimes now are much more relaxed – everyone around the table simultaneously is not nearly as important as everyone eating something!
I was much firmer initially with my first children – there were times when I wonder if I could have been more so with my younger ones. My younger self would have berated myself! In reality, the reason that we’re in a good place is because we responded differently to the needs of our children in line with what they each need uniquely. Perhaps an unfortunate byproduct is that my now five year old (who’s the most polite but wilful child I’ve ever known) won’t eat as many vegetables (any vegetables actually…) as I’d like. The bigger picture is one that gives context and explains the ‘why’. As a parent I’m learning that the bigger picture is the one to keep looking at because otherwise you get drawn in to battles about how many peas your child should eat – I know, because it’s a battle I’ve engaged in (and lost) and something I now count as a mistake.
I haven’t become more perfect, and I’m not sure my parenting choices are always ‘right’. But I do know I’m getting better at being OK with the mistakes, being better at flexing to adapt with my eyes on the bigger picture.
Transformation is happening
I love the reminder, woven through the Bible, that a life following Jesus, contemplating who He is, watching His ways and trying to live more in step with Him, means we are being transformed. That means there are mistakes, opportunities to learn, character to be formed and grace in it all.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)
If I continue to fix my eyes on Him and continue to allow that transformation in me to take place then my mistakes become an opportunity to learn and continue to become more like Him. Being transformed into His likeness reminds me that my life sits in the context of a bigger picture of seeking His kingdom on earth as in heaven and that kind of perspective shift can be really helpful in the daily grind of vegetable battles!
And if the worst thing that happens when my kids reach adulthood is that they don’t eat all their peas (or any at all) then perhaps that’s a bigger overall win in the long term?