Parent Homework

When couples/people/parents find out they are having a baby, a lot of them will sign up for baby bootcamp. It’s pretty much a short class on basic baby care: swaddling, changing a diaper, how to prepare bottles, baby CPR, etc.

What the classes doesn’t prepare you for is how to get ready mentally and emotionally. Pretty much every parenting book I’ve read mentions that there is no formal or informal class for new parents on how to keep themselves regulated, how to create a supportive environment for both baby and parents, how to deal with shortened sleep, how to build that village. Get the picture?

Diving in a little further, how do you breach the topic of parenting with your partner? How do you determine a parenting style together? How do you proactively split duties, support each other, make decisions in the first couple months?

Yes, this a lot to talk about and it does require more than just a “we’ll figure it out when we get there.”

I went through about 16 months of unexplained infertility before I had an IUI to conceive my twins. In this time and for the first two trimesters, I went to a really great acupuncturist to see if I could figure out my mind-body connection naturally. Yes, I know how that sounds. In these weekly sessions, I would have about 30 minutes of just talking. Since she was not a licensed therapist, it didn’t qualify as formal therapy; but what I was able to discuss and uncover in those sessions was priceless. There was a lot of digging about my parents and our history. I got to deep dive into core memories, and did guided visualization about stress management and regulation.

I considered this my personal head start. I had done all of this personal work, and it made my pregnancy and the first year with our girls (relatively) stress-free. I asked my mother to move in with us for the first year. We hired a part-time nanny to cover shifts when we went back to remote work. We had two kids and we were two parents, so duties had to be split evenly.

All of these were active decisions we made so that we could keep ourselves realistically on top of our lives. Even four years later, Troy and I are still talking about the next steps, formative childhood experiences, and how we can set up our kids for the next thing coming.

Yes, this my personal experience and I don’t expect my method to work for everyone. Moral of the story: A lot of reflection and homework went into it.

Building on Tuesday’s post, parenting does take a lot of self-reflection and awareness. But, it also takes cooperation and support around us as well as within us. So here are some forms of what Parent Homework can look like:

Active Communication. While were talking about Millennials and their changing views of parenting, we also have to bring in their changing views on marriage. Spouses/partners/co-parents are expected to be teammates. So while you are full-in doing all of this self-reflection, ask your partner to do the same. I found early on that my husband rarely had anything negative to say about his parents. But as I started divulging more memories and triggers, he started opening up a bit as well.

Keep in mind this is not just bash-on-your-parents hour. We’re not looking to pick them apart and find blame. You’re looking to find those formative moments, positive and negative, and make objective judgements in order to say, “Hey, this worked pretty well,” or “Yeah, I’m not gonna do that.”

Once this bridge is open, maintain the conversation so you both are on the same page. Here are some conversation starters that might seem like minutiae at first:

  • How do you feel about the Clean Plate Club?
  • How much screen time is too much?
  • How do you feel about competitive kids sports?
  • When do we introduce chores?

Book club. Read a lot of parenting books, listen to a lot of podcasts, and forward a lot of parenting news articles to your partner. This opens up so much discussion and critical thinking. Also not limited to following parenting experts on social media (#ParentingTok) or watching them on TV. However you consume media, there is usually a parenting contingent. This might qualify as actual homework, but chances are it will get you thinking and talking about parenting both theoretically and practically. Just keep it credible with what you consume.

Benefit of the Doubt. Throughout Good Inside, Dr. Becky urges us to reframe our expectations when it comes to interacting with our kids. Know that behavior is only a symptom of what is going on with your child under the surface, so we need to train ourselves to give them the benefit of the doubt. A crying baby isn’t bad or manipulative or trying to make your life hard. They are trying to communicate their needs the only way they know how. A kid having a meltdown isn’t a bad kid; they are just having a tough time and don’t know how to fix it. It is up to you as a parent to keep your cool and find out what the underlying need is. This is active regulation on your part and gives us practice to go against snap judgements. These “teachable moments” are like pop quizzes for you to demonstrate everything that you’ve been learning.

Workforce Development. In the book I’m currently reading (another review coming your way next month), the author calls parenting a fully immersive job. While you can try to prepare for having a kid, you can never be good at it right from the beginning. There is a huge learning curve and none of this stuff ever comes naturally, despite what antiquated society may think. So maybe take a professional development/growth mindset approach. Put in the extra hours learning how all these new systems in your house work. Do some research, ask your pediatrician, find a study group. I thought it was really cute that Troy’s D&D group has a text thread with all of the group dads sharing all the weird stuff their kids do and how to figure it out. That’s making your village work for you.

Going to a Therapist. Even now, therapy still has a bit of a stigma. Sadly, the cost of therapy can also be a deterrent, especially for guys. (Come on, you know insurance companies sadly do not cover therapy). In reality, you do not need to wait until you are hanging by a thread to go to therapy.

In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, the author Lori Gottlieb explains that she sees patients for a variety of reasons, like needing help in time management, guided self-reflection, navigating transitions in career, figuring out strategies on self-regulation, etc. Group therapy, tele-therapy, text therapy; many different options at many different price points.

I also like following therapists on Instagram. They have great posts and Reels if you just need little reminders or mental health tips. See @mombrain.therapist, @millennial.therapist, and @drjennhardy.

Yes, we know this seems like a lot, but chances are you’ve already been doing a lot personal work already. In many ways, I think we’re all more confident parents for it. Happy Studying!

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Whole Brain Child Series

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