A first-time expectant father recently asked me this question:
“any advice on preparing for a baby?”
When most people hear this question, the first responses are about baby clothes, the endless piles of diapers, the nursery, and the baby’s crib. When I heard the question however, I could not immediately respond because I truly believe that properly preparing for a baby has a lot of invisible items, most of which should start before the baby is even conceived – assuming there is no violence or other unplanned situation in the setup. I believe that preparing for a baby is really about preparing to be a parent!
According to Wikipedia:
Parenting (or child rearing) is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood.
Here’s my understanding of what this means in specific terms.
It is no longer about you
To decide to be the conduit through which another human being makes an entrance into the world is to accept the highest levels of responsibility for moulding a blank canvas into a creation – hopefully a well-balanced, decent, courteous, and humane one – and this is no easy feat. The 9-month process culminating in the birth of the child is actually just a precursor to the journey; the real journey starts once the little one arrives, and continues for as long as you both are alive. To effectively prepare for a baby, one has to mentally adjust from thinking anything is about you, to accepting that almost nothing is about you anymore when it comes to your little one; your primary assignment is to protect, guide, mentor, advocate for, encourage, discipline, teach, groom, nurse, and set boundaries for this human being such that when the person’s brain is fully developed and mature (this happens in the mid-20s) and s/he is out making his / her own path in the world, you the parent would be proud of the creation you have produced.
Chart a vision
In line with the giant nature of the assignment, a game plan is required. Here are some questions whose answers would provide some of the building blocks for charting your family vision, which includes the vision you have for your children.
- What values do you want to instill in the child?
- What types of education do you want the child to be exposed to?
- What essential and non-essential skills do you want the child to have by the time s/he turns 25?
- What mode(s) of discipline would you utilise to enable you meet your behavioural objectives?
- What resources – financial and otherwise – do you need to achieve the desires above?
- Are you and your spouse aligned on all these?
This vision would also include the optimal family size that you believe would enable you achieve same for all your children.
Become a child psychologist
Most of us adults tend to forget how our minds worked when we were ourselves little people :-). Children are designed to observe and notice everything, test all boundaries, investigate all open and not-open spaces, test all boundaries again, observe some more, absorb even more, and topmost of all, be selfish! That is the way they are designed, and that is because they have so much to learn, and very quickly too. It is by testing boundaries that they understand the extent of the boundaries. A good friend of mine says little people are like piranhas: once they smell weakness or inconsistency (blood), they go in for the kill, ha ha. A parent’s assignment is to be the grown-up and provide direction for the little and not-so-little ones. Do not expect to be fully understood or even appreciated – the fundamental thank-yous would only come after this little person has reached his / her mid-20s! Rather late in the game to correct any errors. Developing a thorough understanding of the different stages of child development, the expected behavioural patterns, and “ammunition” to manage expectations and combat each stage would ease the assignment a bit… or a lot :-). Note that those who have been observing little people for eons say that baby’s start forming habits and learning expectations from the day of birth, and the maximum absorption window closes by the time the child turns 12.
It only gets worse
When Mstr EB was an infant and lack of sleep had become a faithful partner, I remember hearing people say not to worry because it gets easier. It doesn’t! The assignment becomes less physical – the child develops fine and gross motor skills that allow them do more and more physical activities without needing your assistance – and more mental, emotional, and spiritual as the child’s mental, emotional, and spiritual exploration progresses to higher levels, in addition to the physical exploration they very quickly master. We all know that the physical stuff is most times easier to manage than the non-physical, so truth is it only gets worse until the child is in his / her mid-20s :o. Even then it does not disappear, but it is definitely easier (and preferred) to groom a child than to try repair an adult. So, be prepared for at least 2.5 decades of active work, after which it may or may not become passive.
Model the behaviours you want to see
Children learn more from what they observe than what they hear – fact! So, once you are on the path to parenthood, you have to develop the strong will to shun the habits you would not want your kids to imbibe, and emulate the ones that you would like them to.
Risk management & financial planning is key
A good education and good health care are the two biggest gifts any child can receive. Getting the right types of investment and insurance products would make it easier to achieve the objectives you have set out for your children and your family.
Being a parent is one of the biggest responsibilities, if not the biggest, that any human being can take on, as it is literally holding in your hands the clay that would form the future – so, be prepared!