Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Forward Thinking

I've hit the books once again. I know I swore off reading any more how-to-parent books but that was before I found myself surrogate mummy to a two year old. I decided that dealing with such an important (and challenging) period in a child's life is not something I want to learn about on the job, I need to be forewarned and as prepared as I can be, even if it frightens the living daylights out of me. So I turned to my good friend Robin Barker once again, as she guided me through every aspect of J's first year so brilliantly (with the exception of teething, as she is so totally wrong about that!).

Robin talks a lot about outcomes-based parenting, and what she says, with more than a hint of disdain, has really got me thinking. So many of us are focused on doing things a certain way now because we want to ensure a good outcome in the future. Or we want to avoid certain scenarios later on. There's nothing wrong with that, according to Robin, but at times we bend ourselves over backwards trying to achieve something when it really would be easier to just think about what we all need right now. I've been hellbent on getting J to eat a variety of really healthy, tasty foods, and I struggle when all he wants is toast and bananas. I thought I was instilling good eating habits, for the future, when in reality, he'll probably end up spending a good portion of his early adulthood eating cold pizza and beer. I haven't really considered whether or not he actually wants to eat vegetables at the time that I'm sitting down to force-feed them to him. I also get really frustrated when he doesn't eat very much, and I want him to finish his meal, mostly because I don't want him to be hungry later, but also because I was always made to finish everything on my plate when I was a kid. It had nothing to do with whether or not I was actually hungry anymore, and I can't believe I'm doing the same thing to my son, without even questioning why.

Sleep is another of those areas where we want good outcomes, because it's so crucial for everyone's sanity. But the way in which we achieve that is different for everyone. My niece has slept with her parents since she was seven months old, and most nights goes to bed when they do. I've insisted that J goes to bed every night at 7.30 and sleeps alone. Both very different methods but each has its own merits and works for those involved. I was worried that if we let him sleep in our bed there'd come a time when we'd want him out of there and that would be fairly traumatic for all of us. But I think the truth is that most kids who do sleep with their parents (as standard practice rather than as an emergency, out of sheer desperation, arrangement) just accept that it's time to move on at some point. A lot of Asian families all sleep in the same bed, or the same room at least, and it's very European for the kids to stay up as late as the adults. I'm willing to bet that anyone who practices either or both of these sleep habits doesn't think twice about what it might mean in the future. Now we're at a point where J can't sleep in our bed. He gets very excited and wants to play, even if it's 3am. Sometimes in emergencies, out of sheer desperation, I have brought him into our bed, and after playing with my eyelashes and sticking his finger up my nose for twenty minutes, he usually ends up falling asleep as soon as I return him to his cot.

School is another aspect of our children's lives that we agonise and torture ourselves over, because we worry about the outcome. I blame the fact that schools now have waiting lists a mile long, and there's intense pressure to choose a good high school and send off your application as the obstetrician is cutting the cord; even then it's too late sometimes. Here in HK there are so many different options for schooling that a number of parents I know have lost sleep over where to send their children for Kindergarten. You have to consider not only the curriculum, teaching styles, class sizes etc, but things like whether or not they offer Mandarin, which primary schools they feed to, if they offer a bus service and how long the daily commute will be. Last week I also learned that some of the local schools may not even have a Kindy class some years if they don't have enough kids enrolled - just one more thing to plan for. The scary thing is that these decisions have to be made for two-year-olds! Imagine what it's like when they get to high school! J's only 15 months old and we're already talking about it at length, worrying that the wrong decision at this stage will have a great impact on his academic future. When I take a step back and really think about it, I've realised we really can't go wrong when it comes to choosing a kindergarten. I don't want to diminish any of the agony our friends have been through in making this decision; those early years of school are important, but they're mostly about having fun, making new friends, and getting into the habit of going to school and being away from Mummy and Daddy for a few hours every day. If we pick the "wrong" kindy or J doesn't get into a good primary school, we'll move, or we'll do better next time. It's not like a bad kindergarten is going to set him up for a lifetime of failure. What's important is that we are involved and caring parents, and when I get some more sleep that's exactly what I'll be. I hope one day, J will get into a good high school and be a great student, but I'm resolving to worry about that later.

I'll admit that I have been an outcomes-obsessed parent until now, and it's a tough habit to break. Every day we do things with the future in mind. From buying a shoebox in the backwaters of Hong Kong so one day we can afford our dream home in Aus, to bringing in the washing because it might rain later, we think about the future, short-term and long, all the time, sometimes without a good reason for it. I know it's important, when you have kids, to plan ahead and consider the consequences of your actions and parenting decisions, but sometimes I think I'm making mistakes and missing out on what's happening now. And it changes so, so quickly. I'm going to start trying to focus more on the day-to-day stuff and what's right for J, and us, right now - with a little bit of consideration for further down the track. I'm going to start with dinner tonight: Vegemite on toast all round!

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