As soon as new parents find out they are pregnant, the wonder, curiosity and obsession with their child’s development begins. From day one we are constantly thinking about how the little ones are growing and changing. This week they develop fingernails, this week they start moving around, this week they can start to hear voices around them. We think about their mental development, their physical development, their emotional development. We gush as they start to build networks of friends. We get excited when parallel play turns to cooperative play. We email everyone we know when they make the swim team or discover that they are amazing rock collectors. We are intimately aware of the fact that they are developing into adults and we want to make sure that they have support, opportunity and resources to make the most of each exciting new step.
But where does this development end? When they go off to college? When they get married? When they have their own kids? The fact of the matter is that human development never stops. We are constantly moving from one developmental milestone to the next. What we see in our children is nothing short of miraculous, and it is amazing to watch but in reality we as parents are still developing ourselves. I wonder why this never makes the radar.
The transition into and through adulthood can be just as challenging, exciting and rewarding as what our little ones experience. We are struggling to find out who we are away from our families of origin. We are redefining ourselves in terms of partnerships, careers, marriages and friendships. We are learning to negotiate life without having a parent tell us what to do and when to do it. We are learning to look at ourselves outside of the predefined context of school or education. We are starting to develop more mature tastes and preferences. We are starting to become financially stable. Our bodies are changing (yes, still). Our politics are changing. Our minds are changing. Finally, the world is our oyster, we have it together.
And then we have kids.
And the world shifts.
It’s all about them.
Oh man, is it all about them! Their wants. Their needs. Their development. Their friends. Their activities. Their growth.
But what about us? What about the parents? Our development has not come to an end. On the contrary, quite the opposite is true. Not only are we continuing in our path of developmental milestones, but now instead of having all the energy focused on ourselves, we have to do it blind, while taking care of someone else, with no sleep, and probably with one hand tied behind our back (or holding a baby so to speak.)
And not only that, but now our developmental changes are compounded by this new person. Now who we are, who we want to be, how we define ourselves, how we interact with others is all impacted by parenthood. It is all too easy to lose ourselves in all of the wonder and joy and chaos and fear of parenting. It is all too easy to forget our own spiritual, emotional, mental and physical development. It is all too easy to ignore our own developmental needs at the expense of giving everything to our child.
So, often parents find themselves feeling overwhelmed, depressed, scared and lonely as children seem to require a never ending need of energy. New couples feel estranged from each other as a new family member shifts the dynamics of the entire family system. New roles are defined as old ones are abandoned. And to top it all off, just when we think we have it all figured out and have settled into our new roles with a working rhythm, the children’s needs change, our needs changes, our family members’ needs changes. And it’s back to the drawing board. Each family member’s personal developmental path creates new demands on the family’s resources and everyone has to shift again.
Despite this amazingly complicated and intertwined system of developmental challenges that impacts all family members, it seems that parenting books focus only on the child and their development needs. But what about the parent? Maybe it is time to put PARENT back in parenting. We need to define resources and places where parental development is paramount to healthy child development. And not just parents learning how to be better parents, but parents focusing on and embracing their own personal growth, acknowledging and understanding their own developmental milestones, and thriving in (rather than surviving) each developmental stage. THEN we can help our children do the same.