It is easy to forget how difficult being a new parent is. Not only are you moving through parenthood with barely any prior experiences to go off of, you also have to work with your partner to figure out your parenting style. The feeling of not knowing what you are doing and that your first child is one big experiment can be scary. Mother of 2, Zoe Wong, shares with us how she navigates raising her firstborn, Leia, and her big takeaways as a new parent.
From the moment Leia entered our lives, she has brought so much joy to us. Arya joined us as the 4th member of the family just as Leia turned 2 years old. As with many older kids, Leia has conflicting feelings of love and a little jealousy (which is often beyond her comprehension) for her sister. To make it worse, she is also going through her “terrific” twos, relying on us on one hand but having a burgeoning desire for independence on the other hand!
As new parents, many of us often mirror how our parents have brought us up. This style of parenting might not be ideal, but it becomes our default reference point as we parent our own kids. Beyond that, our parenting style is also influenced by our firstborn. I always say, being a new parent is just like a science project – conducting ‘experiments’ or tests on the test subject, analysing findings and implementing the results with the subsequent subjects! However, our little test subject, Leia, was more erratic than we thought!
Initially, when we were faced with Leia’s meltdowns, my husband and I were stern and often strict with her, and as a result of this dynamic, could not connect with Leia. All too often we would also lose our cool with her if she did not comply with our rules. Unfortunately for us, this ‘traditional’ parenting style which is based on rules and discipline did not work in the least on our toddler.
We faced the bulk of her temper tantrums during mealtimes, potty training and home-based learning during the stay home measures in Singapore. I found it even more challenging during this period, with both me and my husband having to balance the parent-employee-teacher trifecta at the same time.
It was during this period that we made the decision to embark on the aforementioned science project on Leia, with us testing out using the more empathetic approach, trying our best to see things from her point of view and establishing open communication with her with regards to her behaviour to help her understand our perspective. On top of this, we used a reward system to reinforce Leia’s good behaviour.
Adopting a more empathetic approach with Leia had its pros and cons. The shortcoming is, of course, the length of time taken to see this approach through with Leia, with a 9-month-old daughter in tow. Establishing boundaries and doing it quickly requires a lot of time, and the empathetic approach only lasts for as long as the baby girl does not need tending to. However, the best part of this approach is that it empowered Leia with the ability to better understand the situation and her own decision-making payoffs.
When it came to rewarding her good behaviour, I noticed it worked really well when we first implemented the rewards system. However, as time went by, Leia started to be more and more extrinsically motivated and pushed for bigger rewards each time she felt that she felt that she displayed good behaviour!
Parenting during a pandemic – A new opportunity
For me, this stay home period was a golden opportunity to spend quality time with our girls and to understand them better. This also pushed us to be a little more introspective and to reflect on our parenting styles.
During this period, I also decided to embark on an online course on parenting with my husband. My biggest takeaway was that the parent-child dynamic is never one-sided. The toddler is one half of the equation and we, as parents, are the other half. When dealing with our children’s meltdowns, half of the battle is first calming ourselves down!
The course also sheds light on how a toddler brain functions. Interestingly, I learned that it is their flight or fight reflex which informs how they respond to certain situations. Their responses should enable us to find the balance between an empathetic and stern approach. It is of course easier said than done but understanding how her brain functions helps us speed up the process of enabling us to figure out where she is coming from and to prevent our meltdowns!
We also learnt about the importance of not jumping to conclusions when it when it comes to understanding our children’s behaviour. What do I mean by this?
During the stay home period, we also turned to online-based learning lessons for Leia. These lessons covered everything from alphabets and numbers to music and sounds. The big challenge with this was getting her to pay attention. Both my husband and I actually thought that her short attention span meant that she was not learning anything and was not interested in the lessons at all! However, as we soon found out, we could not be more wrong about this.
After the lessons, even when not probed, we noticed Leia going into random bouts of ‘regurgitating’ whatever she had learnt! That was the moment I realised how amazing a toddler’s brain is. They have a sponge-like quality to them and are able to absorb so many things they are exposed to! It was also the moment when I understood the importance of not jumping to conclusions. If your child is not paying attention during a lesson, rather than doing away with the lesson completely, try to figure out why they seem uninterested. More often than not, it is not the content of the lessons, but the way that it is delivered that is not attractive to your child. Fix the ‘medium’ and go forth with a ‘try anything and everything as long it is safe’ mentality!
Parents are not always right
For me, this was my biggest takeaway during this period. Even though we are the adults in the equation, we may not necessarily have all the answers, all the time. This is especially true when it comes to your firstborn. The only way to improve is to unlearn whatever you think is not working for you and your child and strive to keep improving. Do not be afraid to try new methods of parenting especially with your firstborn and do not be afraid to fail even if they do not work.
Indeed, working hand in hand with your spouse as a team takes empathy and sacrifice. Arguments are inevitable but having clear objectives helps to prevent the arguments from becoming personal.
This stay home period forced us to slow down as parents, understand that it is okay to not set too many goals and expectations for ourselves and to appreciate even the smallest of accomplishments together. Before this, I did not realize how fast we (myself, my husband and our girls) were moving with our super-hectic, jam packed work and school schedules. It was a rat race. The pandemic taught me to appreciate raising my kids at a slower pace, focusing more on connecting and communicating with them.
Indeed, sometimes doing less gets more done.
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