The Number One thing you learn when you become a parent? There is no instruction book.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Go into any bookshop or search online and there are many, many instruction books about children and parenting.
The problem is that there is no instruction book for you parenting your child. Or you parenting your other child because, trust me, the books (if they existed) would be completely different.
The books that are out there are not totally useless. They can tell you that if your baby is crying it’s probably this, this or this. But when you’ve tried fixing this, this and this and your baby is still screaming that’s when you want to hold your smartphone up to his* head and get a digital readout of what he’s thinking. Where’s the app for that??
Those books will tell you developmental milestones come at “about” X age. Mind you, “about” can have a range of anything up to a year. So when your child’s peers are all running around the park and yours is still crawling across the grass on his elbows looking like the world’s tiniest commando, you try not to worry.
And when do you worry, anyway?
When your child is three and is showing no interest in toilet-training, when is it still part of “normal” development and when is it time to put out the call “Houston, we have a problem”?
Think it gets easier when they get older? Think that if they can walk, talk, feed and toilet themselves, the hard yards are over?
The difficulty when they are older is trying to help them with things for which you do not possess the skills. And I’m not just talking about differential calculus.
How do you help your child establish solid study patterns for his final exams when you always used the “stay up until 3am the night before” study method?
How do you help your child navigate a tricky bullying situation at school when you were bullied as a child and never really got over it?
How do you encourage your child to pursue educational opportunities overseas knowing that you would never have done it yourself?
How do two parents who are introverts help their introverted children survive a world designed for extroverts when it’s a struggle for themselves?
You make it up.
You pretend you know what you’re talking about. You act like you know what you’re doing.
And you hope nobody notices.
Parenting is not an exact science. It’s not even an approximate science. It is jumping out of an aeroplane when you’re still trying to order the parachute from the supplier. Repeatedly.
Sometimes it all comes together and you soar and float in blissful success. And sometimes you go ker-splatt.
I guess the trick is to scrape yourself off the tarmac, get back up there and try again. And hope in hell your kids survive and thrive in spite of you.
*All the pronouns in this post are male not because I believe in the patriarchal habit of using the male gender for general reference but because I only have boys. Referring to girl children is just not in my vocabulary.