Guest Post By Dr. Vanessa Lapointe
We walk into parenthood with a host of preconceived ideas. From observing other parents in our village, to reflecting upon our own childhood experiences, we collect ideas of what it will be like to parent our future child, and these myths will become the foundation for the narrative that we write about our family-to-be.
However, life often has other plans for us. When we set out on our parenting journey, we quickly realize that we may not be following the path that we had imagined. In fact, these common parenting myths can result in parents feeling inadequate, unsure, and even disappointed in the reality they are living with their child.
After years of helping families, as well as raising my own boys, I’ve come to learn that parenting myths are exactly that: myths. I’m sharing 3 parenting myths that I have heard (or even believed!) in my career as a psychologist and mom, as well as the truth that lies behind them.
Myth #1: Parenting will make you a happier person.
Glossy ads and Facebook feeds will have you believing that the minute your baby arrives, you will suddenly be overcome with feelings of overwhelming happiness. And you… sleep-deprived, in rumpled clothes, dealing with tantrums in the grocery store, worried about development and the growing pile of laundry… can’t help but wonder, “Why am I not happier? Is there something wrong with me!?!?”
NO! In fact, you are just like everybody else. Recent studies have found that parenting does not make people happier and even results in more feelings of unhappiness than experienced by childless people. Despite what you see on your Instagram feed, parenthood is not shiny and full of coordinated outfits. Parenting requires a LOT of growth – both from your child and from you. These growing pains might result in frustration and sadness. You may even feel some grief for the life you have left behind.
I encourage you to view these emotions as an invitation for the work that needs to be done. You can get back to a place where you are appreciative of the amazing moments that your child brings to you, as well as finding peace and calm – regardless of what chaos – and laundry piles – might exist in your household.
Myth #2: Children should sleep through the night from infancy.
Oh, the parenting myths that exist around sleep! What always stands out to me about the belief that a child should sleep through the night during his first few months of life is that it usually does not instinctually sit well with the parents. The prospect of sleep training quite often calls up a nagging feeling that says, “I’m not sure about this. This doesn’t feel right.”
And so, why do we ignore this feeling? It often comes down to external pressures. Whether it’s from grandparents, partners, friends, or even doctors, oftentimes a parent is told that the child must be “taught” how to sleep. But the heart of the matter is that every child is different. And every parent is different. Sleep patterns will vary depending on developmental stages and your child’s personality. Guiding your child to sleep will become a dance that you both learn as you work together to foster relationship and routine.
The impact of this myth can deeply influence our perspective on sleep and nighttime. What is the story you have written for yourself around sleep? Do you feel as though your child doesn’t measure up to the other children who sleep through the night? Do you dread bedtime before it even begins? Are you feeling as though you are handling the nighttime duties all on your own?
If so, reflect and then edit your “sleep story”. Determine that you will look forward to those nighttime visits and be grateful for the quiet moments you have with your child. Soak up the bedtime routine that you have established for your child. If you are a person who is struggling and is sleep-deprived, reach out to your support network and ask for the help you need. And work towards a sleep routine that works for both you and your child, rather than a notion that has been perpetuated by well-meaning, but sometimes overbearing, members of your village.
Myth #3: You shouldn’t let a child “get away” with misbehaviour.
There is a prevalent myth that behaviour is something that parents must get on top of. That they must squash all undesirable behaviour in an effort to prevent a child from believing that he or she can continue to act in this way. In fact, I’m sure you can recognize a voice in your head saying, “You’re not going to let him/her get AWAY with that, are you?” as you read it on the page.
I have not, in all of my work with children and families, met a child who enjoys misbehaving. Anger, frustration, biting, hitting (and more!) are all a child’s desperate attempt to communicate their unmet needs to us – it is a plea for help directed to their big people. When we respond to these heated moments with punishment, we are not helping that child regulate the emotions that have swamped his developing brain. Instead, we have fought fire with fire. We have allowed our own frustration and fear to take over and have insisted that our child’s feelings are wrong. And while the child may comply with these punitive tactics, they do not allow for the experience of being guided through regulating his or her emotions. In fact, the fear of being removed from the safety and relationship of a big person can be so overwhelming that the child will shut down his or her feelings, and in essence, will stuff them away. Like all clutter, these emotions will not stay shut away forever. Eventually, they will have to be dealt with – sometimes, not until a child has become a parent themselves!
I ask parents to view behaviour as an invitation to get to know your child – and yourself – in a deeper and more meaningful way. Yes, there will be moments where you will be triggered, and yes, you will have to do some work around that, but the payoff is immense. As your child works through the experience of co-regulation, behaviour will start to shift, and your child will start to manage these feelings on their own. No “shutting down of behaviour” required.
Due to the countless existing parenting myths out there, there are many parents who feel as though they or their child just don’t quite measure up. Parenting is a personal and beautiful experience, and it cannot be compared to another’s journey. Your child is a tiny, perfect human, who is working – just like you – to better understand the world around them.
Focus on the incredible experience that it is to raise this little human, all the while growing up yourself. And remember: a myth is only a story, and you are the author of your own experience. You’ve got this.
For more parenting tips, check out Dr. Vanessa Lapointe‘s new book titled Parenting Right from the Start: Laying a Healthy Foundation in the Baby and Toddler Years.