In the parenting section of our new library, I found an interesting topic: the seasons of parenthood. The process of becoming a parent (whether it be by natural birth, adoption, remarriage, etc.) changes people in profound ways and the journey changes pretty much day by day. The authors focus on how parents come to terms with each age bracket their children go through, up until the day that roles reverse and children take care of their parents. The constant change in children's needs and the resulting dynamics between partners and all of the subconscious beliefs that mothers and fathers push onto their expectations of their family life... wow! Being a parent, a conscious parent that is, is really hard. And it stresses every aspect of your life. This book was a little bit like therapy: someone outside of my direct circle telling me it is okay to be completely overwhelmed sometimes.
That being said, I only read the first four chapters. The book is called The 8 Seasons of Parenthood: How the Stages of Parenting Constantly Reshape Our Adult Identities. Amazon.com has some great reviews here. The book has to be back at the library tomorrow and I'm only ready to face what happens into the elementary school years. Assuming that I haven't gone mental by their teenage years...I'm going to need a lot more than one book.
Here is what I know the first years of parenthood to be:
(1) During pregnancy, a woman enters the celebrity state. Everyone notices her, everyone wants to talk to her (or worse, touch and ask intimate questions of her). She basks (or despises) the new attention; and therefore it changes the way people view her. In my opinion, this is where outside scrutiny and judgement begin. A woman usually has to drastically change her behaviors when becoming pregnant, whereas her partner doesn't have to really change a thing. Unless a woman was already caffeine, alcohol and nitrate-free; she has some big adjustments. Her partner is referred to as the roadie (see what I mean about the cheesy terms?) and must now make an ego check to get used to their partners' new status. This is just the beginning of change for some couples and their families. Or everyone can just be cool and go with the flow - it's been known to happen.
(2) The first year of a child's life is the sponge stage. Life is saturated and consumed with this new little person and their intense, ongoing care. I've found that parents react very differently to this first year. I feel that Gregory and I were unnaturally easygoing with Ayla as our first child. I didn't ask anyone to wash their hands when holding her or tiptoe around the house or pledge their undying devotion to her. It was our job as parents to live and die for her - and I understood that not every other person was going to feel that way about my baby. But regardless, she consumed my every thought and I became aware of that "heart outside your body" feeling that happens when you are crazy in love with a baby. Everything a newborn needs is put before your own needs. The sponge stage can also be really hard on fathers/partners because all of a sudden, they have to adjust their lives. Sleep is interrupted for the first time (unless sleeping next to a pregnant person in bed was difficult, which of course it can be!) and life is again, turned upside down. While a woman had 10 months to prepare because her body was taken over... a partners life doesn't really get crazy until this first year.
(3) The preschool years turn you into a family manager. Pretty self-explanatory - except that not only are you managing a schedule, meal times, school, diapers, potty training, manners, etc., you are managing your own identity (or return of one) after a long time with no free time. This is where I get scared for mothers and fathers that completely throw their own social lives away with newborns. It's hard enough to watch our kids grow up - but if you've based your entire identity on that child needing you... things can get a little depressing. Most important lesson of this stage? The only control you have is self-control. Amen. When you can't leave a room without one kid smacking the other or markers drawn all over the wall - it feels good to know you can at least control yourself. Umm, at least some of the time.
(4) And elementary school - you are the travel agent. I don't quite know how this is going to be done in our household. I was essentially an only child for the first six years of my life (my brother is 8 years older than me and could handle his extracurricular activities). So when I took ballet, swim classes, art classes, piano, etc., my parents could focus on those things and not really be torn about which child is going to be able to do which activity. How are we going to have Ayla, Jackson and Elliot pursue all of their extra classes and sports?
The authors took some of the metaphors too far and used cheesy summations with their seasons vocabulary, but overall this book was both eye-opening and validating.