As one of the most natural parts of life, raising our young tends to revive some innate skills and tendencies. Though I believe these “lost arts” are entirely natural, they can be jarring or unsettling as they appear somewhat suddenly in our unnatural world.
So in this post, I want to name and celebrate some of these lost arts.
Emotion as a strength, not a liability.
“Being emotional is a sign of Mum Power. Heightened emotions are proof that we are brilliant mothers, reacting to the greater demand on our ability to protect those important to us. That additional anxiety, the worry, the guilt are all sent to us for a purpose.”
In a world that treats emotions as a weakness, where we are mortified if we cry in public (or men may feel mortified to cry ever), the roller coaster ride we embark on as parents can leave us feeling like we’re not up to the challenge. Like feeling emotional is a shortcoming, a sign we’re struggling.
But we evolved as highly emotional beings. Whilst we are also rational (and I’m a big fan of using reason and logic to make decisions), our most profoundly human experiences have emotions at their roots: falling in love, family relationships, having children, pursuing a passion, creating art, grieving, dying.
If life isn’t emotional, then we’re doing it wrong.
Looking death in the face
I also have a stronger sense of my own mortality. I distinctly recall my first outing when I left my two-day-old son at home with my husband so I could pick up a few things from the shop. As I crossed the street, I was struck by the fragile ties to life that I needed to maintain now for my newborn son. All it took was a car driver not paying attention and my tiny son’s home, his source of nourishment and comfort, would be ripped from him. I was far more careful that day, making sure the cars were going to stop at the zebra crossing before I stepped out into the road. Back at home in his Moses basket lay a tiny human being who needed me more than I had ever been needed in my life. The stakes had never been higher.
To create life is to understand more deeply what it is to lose life. They are two sides of the same coin, and as a parent we become responsible for holding that coin for our kids. It’s terrifying, but also awe-inspiring.
I have also found I’ve learned to make peace with that thing we call instinct or intuition. Fact is, as a parent there are suddenly so many more decisions to make.
For instance, baby isn’t sleeping: should we bring baby into bed with us? But what about cot death or smothering? I’d never forgive myself if the baby died in our bed. Moses basket or cot or side nest or co-sleeping? Do we embark on any form of sleep training? Would doing so train my baby to self soothe or make him believe I’m not there for him and learn not to cry for me even as his cortisol levels soar?
And all of these thoughts race around our exhausted brains. And that’s just one issue. There’s also dressing the baby (too warm or to cold?), feeding the baby (how? how often? how to know she’s getting enough?), playing with baby (is this too stimulating for baby or not enough?), a suite of classes to choose from, teething remedies…and then as baby grows into a little person the decisions continue to grow – nursery or childminder? which primary school? how to discipline? what to do if our kid might feel bullied or left out at school? when and how to explain death and sex and drugs and peer pressure…
And while there is some evidence out there, some well-conducted studies about different aspects of child rearing, there is also a lot of conflicting information. You can read online for hours and be no clearer as to the course of action you want to take with your particular little person.
Meanwhile you’re still making all the decisions you made as a non-parent, and perhaps making lots of decisions outside the home in your job.
Enter instinct. You won’t have time to research every decision. You won’t even have time to think through or weigh the pros and cons of every decision. At some point, parents learn to trust their instincts. Child doesn’t have a fever but you can tell she’s not right in herself, so you stay in rather than go for a play date as planned. Or child is complaining about going to school, but your instincts tell you he’s not being bullied or anything and that he’ll be fine once he gets there and sees his friends.
Intuition may simply be the subconscious clues your brain has collected along the way and synthesised into a verdict. Your conscious mind just hasn’t had a chance to keep up.
Horticultural time instead of linear, industrial time
Anyone who has cared for a baby and the house is still a mess at the end of the day knows what non-productive work looks like.
Time with young people is much more natural and organic, less influenced by the clock. Starting with labour, babies and our bodies disregard the clock. They didn’t get the memo that the average cervix dilates at 0.4cm an hour or whatever it is. Baby comes when baby comes.
Just as you can look at a seed packet and see you can sow your seeds in April, a skilled gardener can look at the conditions and plant later when there’s a later thaw than usual. As parents, we’re growing humans instead of carrots, but we similarly can look at the signs in our children rather than the clock or the handbook. They numbers are guidelines, but humans are not dictated by the averages.
Celebrate your newly recovered skills
I hope this post reminds you of these lost skills. It’s not magic, and we all have to re-learn some of our human traits that become more relevant as parents. Enjoy growing alongside your kid(s). Take time to reflect – what have you learned about yourself since becoming a parent? How have you changed and grown? And celebrate this. You’re doing great.
What other lost arts have you discovered as a parent? I’d love to hear your thoughts so message me!