The Parent They Need

By Rosemary Danielis
Web Exclusive

2 sisters and their brother in the grassAh, those preconceived notions – they’ll take you down the Wrong Road every time. When your eyes are clouded with all you wish, want and will something to be, you are bound to end up missing all the great information and truths offered to you along the way.

When my husband and I began our little family we had nine glorious months to prepare (in our minds) for the perfect little baby we were about to have. When that day came and our first daughter was born, we began to play out our lives just as we had planned. Being an active, social couple we eagerly set out with our baby and our preconceived notions. We looked forward to taking her everywhere with us, to meet the people we knew and show her all our favourite places. The first rip in our preconceived picture occurred almost immediately. For most of her first year of life, our daughter wanted nothing to do with touring the neighborhood with us. She preferred our quiet home shared with no one but me. She would put up with other people in short doses but when she had enough, she would become unbearably cranky until she was brought back to her sanctuary – our home. Since it’s no fun bringing a screaming baby with you wherever you go we stayed at home more, went for quiet walks and generally learned to accommodate our daughter’s needs. Because we made these changes to our social life my husband and I were perceived as overanxious and overprotective new parents who were creating (not conforming to) our daughter’s needs. She has since outgrown this idiosyncrasy and is now a social and independent girl.

The birth of our second daughter two years later brought us a child with a completely different disposition. She loved new experiences, new faces and new places. We welcomed the freedoms that her personality allowed us, and confidently ventured out into the world, our two daughters in tow. We believed that the rip in our preconceived notions had been just temporary after all. We walked the walk of confident parents totally sure that the two perfect children we had, were the result of our excellent parenting skills.

It took the birth of our third child, our first son, to once and for all make us leave all our preconceived notions behind. We were reborn as first-time parents. After our experiences with raising our two daughters we thought we knew what we were doing. Our son displayed to us and to the whole world that we knew nothing. As an infant, despite all our care he cried incessantly, a characteristic that made us unwelcome everywhere we went. As he grew older, the crying diminished and he became a generally happy, busy toddler. As he began to walk and then run, so his moods and emotions followed him. He was a free spirit (wild animal), an inventor (destroyer) who marched to his own drum beat (nobody knew what he was doing or why). As parents, we could not explain him to anyone because we barely understood him ourselves. He gave us the best gift any child can give a parent – he made us question and rethink all that we thought we knew. He made us protect him against the unsolicited wave of advice and disapproval we received everywhere we went as we struggled with how to parent this unusual child. We finally understood that to parent is not to mold and to push, but to nurture and protect. We understood that to parent we don’t have to have all the answers. We do have to love. We may not understand, we may get frustrated and even angry, but we always have to love.

With our newfound parenting knowledge we went on to have our fourth child, a second son. Here was the jewel on our parenting crown. A child with such a wonderful disposition he could have raised himself. Because of his natural aptitudes and sunny personality this son would have been a perfect candidate to be molded to fit our preconceived parenting picture. Enlightened as we are now by our experiences with our previous son, we look and listen more carefully to what each of our children need – from us, rather than who they should be – for us.

Each child has taught us and changed us as parents. My husband and I muse how different things might have been if the birth order of our children was changed. If we had the most demanding child first would we have gone on to have 3 more? If we had the easiest first would we have been overly harsh on a subsequent child with a more demanding personality? If we had never had our unusual child would we be close-minded and smug about our parenting skills?

I can’t imagine how intolerable life must be for a child whose parents won’t acknowledge and adapt to who they truly are. As we altered the minutiae of our life to accommodate the personalities of our children, our family bloomed and grew. Each of our children opened our eyes to their view of the world. As our viewpoint changed, so we as parents were changed – only for the better.

Rosemary Danielis (44), married, is a mother of four, Corinne (16), Morgan (14), Hudson (11) and Winston (9). She has spent the last 16 years being a full-time parent and will spend the rest of her life writing about all the poignant moments and zany adventures she shares with her children.