A few months ago, I was one confused dad. As a first time parent, all of the development stages in Benedict's life are new to me. As a man, I'm a little less in tune with the changes going on in his life. To be sure, Benedict is extremely gentle and considerate. He shares everything very willingly, a trait that I hope he continues to have as he steps into the leadership role of big brother this summer.
My confusion stemmed from the fact that all of the sudden, Benedict had changed the game. His eating habits reversed, he was more irritable, and nothing seemed to console him. I wasn't sure what was going on, or how I was supposed to respond. Did he need me to be on the floor playing with him more? Did he need more space? The answers to my questions came after a trip to the library. I picked up a book on toddlers and in one of them saw a graphic of a corkscrew. A child's age was split in 6 month segments on opposite sides of the corkscrew, representing the travel towards and away from equilibrium. I had my answer.
I can think of no other task in life that challenges one's assumptions better than parenting. We learn how to parent for today, only to find that our skills and approach need to change for tomorrow. A great illustration would be a child who excels academically in elementary and middle school, but falls behind in high school. The parenting paradigm that encouraged academic performance early on in education needs to change to deliver the same results in later education.
The fact remains that children's needs change daily and we have to respond to them. It's precisely because each child is different that there is no "perfect parent." For that reason, you best will simply have to do. Our biggest threat is complacency. If we believe that our style of parenting from yesterday will work tomorrow, we'll find both our lives and the lives of our children turned upside down.
So if we can't be confident that our parenting day-to-day will remain equally effective, what can be done? Parenting does require daily adjustments, but those adjustments must be underpinned by guiding principles. This is an active endeavor and certainly it should be grounded in something. Your guiding principles should include both your vision for your child's life and the values which you wish to impart to them.
It's my goal that Benedict reach adulthood as a confident, emotionally secure, gracious person. It's also my goal that he will have developed and nurtured his spiritual relationships to the point where he can continue them independently of me. My guiding principles include letting him fail safely, giving him plenty of space throughout the day, and being very tender in our 1-to-1 interactions.
Will I be successful? I'm not sure. What I do know is that if I give my best effort and my whole self, being particular in helping him navigate around the dangerous waters that I've sailed through, I can set him up for a better life than mine. That, after all, has been the American objective of parenting for generations.