Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Infancy, the "terrible twos", toddlerhood, the first 1,000 days... we have so many terms to try to encompass the sometimes overwhelming, other times magical feelings parents of young children experience. And we have so many resources on how to "make our kids better" from creating baby mozarts to sleep training to prepping our children for success. We as a society are so focused on solving the mystery of early childhood and being the perfect parent that we have forgotten something crucial. We have forgotten how to slow it all down and nurture.
I find it so telling that in our culture, strength is defined through narratives like the mother bouncing back to the gym or to work a week after birth or the parents who were able to potty train in one weekend. Why is this the remarkable bar we strive for? How does doing "it all" makes us any better or whole? We focus so much on pregnancy and birth--we massage mama-to-be's feet, come up with the perfect birthing plan, eat only the right foods and put headphones over our uterus--but what about the day after? And the day after that? And the days to come after that.
I believe that strength in the early days of parenthood is actually found in quite the opposite story. The strong mother is the one that said, "no, I'm going to take this precious time, this 4th trimester after birth to bond with my baby and let others care for me and us." The strong mother is the one that names the hardships when we have them instead of "bouncing back" and the strong mother is the one that makes a conscious decision not to try to do it all, and absolutely not do it all perfectly, not even close. She will choose to laugh and be gentle with herself. And she will let others surround her with the life force of nurture so that she can rest and bond and be.
As a young mother, I was deep in the thick of supermama complex. I had planned out my schedule, routine, meals, approaches meticulously in the days leading up to my daughter's birth and had instructed my husband on every gritty detail. I was geared with the approaches of many a book and "knew" exactly what I was going to do at every step. And then my beautiful daughter arrived in this world. And you know the rest of the story...it all flipped and god laughed. But during the weeks and months that I nonetheless fought to hold onto a perfect nursing routine, clean kitchen (ha!), home-cooked meals for my husband when he came home from work (double ha!) and so on I was simply miserable and overwhelmed. And then my supermama complex kicked in again when I returned to work at the four month mark and tried to control everything from pumping to teaching to remembering to make lunch for myself the night before. In the end it all kept rollercoastering into a certified mess until my body broke down and forced me into a resentful halt.
I wonder now if someone had helped me ease into the 4th trimester and nurtured and fed me and cleaned for me and held my baby so I could sleep on a constant basis at that time; if someone had told me I was going to suck at my job for a while and that it would be OK and not last; if someone had asked me if I really had no other options than what I thought I had to do...would I have been able to pen myself a different story of early mamahood? I'm not sure. But what I do know is that by defining what these years are, by defining them as a soft time, a time of growth for both the parents and the child, a time of beauty and unknowns that all weave into a curtain of "everything is OK. In fact, everything is better than ok" I think then maybe I could have been kinder with myself. And kinder to the others around me who were trying to help and reason with my mamabear protective animal brain. Oh yes, my cap was flipped. all. the. time. Because I was holding on too desperately to a concept of perfection that was only in my head.
The funny thing is, it's quite impossible to prepare for the day after and beyond, isn't it? And it makes sense why. It is virtually impossible to prepare for what it is actually like to become a parent. Parenthood and childhood are such unpredictable things, unique to each one of us and to each child. It is also nearly impossible to describe and understand what parenting is like until we experience it ourselves. So it is only natural that we feel unprepared and sometimes even shell-shocked when the time finally comes. But even so, we still seem to think that we have to be perfect throughout it all. Even worse, if we ascribe to a method or philosophy and fail, then we think we are failing our children. And if the method doesn't work for us in the way described, we think something is broken or that we are broken. Or, if the method or philosophy we have chosen DOES work for us we suddenly might become the all-knowing guru and quickly spread our wisdom to any parent that will begrudgingly listen that OURS is the RIGHT way. But the truth is that there isn't a cookie cutter strategy and there isn't a right or a wrong way to parent. There isn't a book and there isn't a grade. There is just you. And you are already the perfect parent just the way you are and what you are doing NOW is amazing, as long as you are always parenting from your truth.
So in that spirit, I have adopted the term "the soft years" from the Israeli culture where much of my family is from to refer to those first five beautiful, zany, incredible, puzzling, all-consuming, magical, sleepless, confounding, wondrous years of life that are the foundation for everything else that is to come and are the time where as parents we are given so little nurture. The soft years can be as difficult as they are wonderful and most likely will be for us all. But by redefining them from those loaded catch-phrases and concepts of terrible two's and sleepless nights I think that at least we are giving ourselves a head start into self love. And that self love can translate into the self care and slowing down that is necessary for us to be the kinds of parents that we strive to be. If we don't slow down ourselves, our bodies will break down and do it for us, like mine has time and time again. So let's embrace a new conceptual understanding of what the first five years of life can be and call them soft. Call them wondrous. Call them zany, even. And then maybe, wonder of wonders, we will learn how to water our specific glorious flowers and watch them bloom.
Us, on day 16
If you would like to know more about how I help parents nourish the soft years or want more information about my coaching services and Four Phase Methodology towards a Joyous Parenthood, visit here!
Sivanne Lieber is a parenthood coach and consultant for parents and caregivers of the soft years, ages 0-5 and beyond. She works with families to find the confident, calm, connected parenthood they deserve.