Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Twist on an Idea

I wrote the book Why I Need You as an inspirational read for new parents. I never imagined children would give the book to parents when the time came to leave home. And then I received this email:

Hi Greg - just wanted to send off a quick email to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. My youngest daughter just left home for University and she gave it to my husband and I as a parting gift. I couldn't read it at first as the sorrow (mixed with joy) of her leaving was a bit too intense. I cannot believe how precisely you captured the feelings of first time parents, raising children without a manual, making mistakes and trying to do better. You are so right - the rewards are worth it.

Here's the introduction to Why I Need You ~

Perhaps the most joyous moment of my life was when I held my newborn daughter for the first time. In the world only a few minutes, a nurse held her out to me, wrapped snug in a keeping blanket. I eagerly but cautiously reached out and accepted her, taking great care to support her with both hands without holding her too tight, bringing her close to my chest to make sure I did not drop her, but not so close as to smoother her. I spoke to her in a near whisper, not wanting to startle her. “I love you,” I said, before leaning down to kiss her forehead. Her sweet smell filled my lungs, her skin warmed my lips, and her cooing delighted my heart. In that moment my life changed forever.

In addition to that momentous day, I have many other memorable moments with my little girl, like watching her take her first steps, the time she grabbed me by the ears and pulling my face toward hers slobbered all over my nose, the afternoon that we crawled through winding tubes filled with plastic balls, chasing each other until our knees were sore, and my favorite, hearing the first time she called me “Daddy.” Nearly every day was fun and exciting, and yet nearly every day was challenging and at times stressful for her mother or me.

She was our only child, and although we thought we had prepared ourselves well for her, I was fearful nonetheless, wondering if she was comfortable in my arms, was she wrapped too snug, was she hungry or sleepy. I had watched my mother take care of my younger siblings, and my aunts take care of my many younger cousins. My wife and I read books to educate ourselves about infants, we listened to family and friends as advice based on experience was given, and we took home and saved all the instructions the pediatrician had given us. Still, sometimes we didn’t know what to do, so we learned by trial and error, trying to read facial expressions, interpret baby jabber, remember schedules, and anticipate what need might arise next. We were afraid we would do something wrong, we feared causing some long-lasting harm, and we struggled with our confidence on difficult days when we could not please our unhappy child.

There were times that we wondered out loud what she needed from us, when we disagreed about what to do, and when we tried anything we could think of to handle the challenge of the moment. There were times when I doubted my abilities as a parent, when I wondered if my daughter would turn out all right, having been raised in part by me. There were times when I wanted desperately for her just to speak to me, to tell me what it was that she needed.

Those were the days that I wished she had come with a book, a parent’s manual that described all possible infant behaviors and strange noises, reasons for tears, how to stop a runny nose, explanations for the different colors of poop and what to do for each one. Such a manual would have saved me a lot of frustration and doubt, a few temper tantrums (thrown by the both of us), and perhaps made my daughter a bit more content with her father. But alas, no such book existed.

I have tried to be a perfect parent. I have taken her to most of the places she wanted to go, bought all the stuffed animals that would fit in her room, given her the snacks she demanded even though I didn’t want her to have them, and read to her at night long after she could read for herself. But I have not done everything right. I have fallen short more times than I can count.

Fortunately, I learned a few things from my successes as well as my mistakes, and from the insights her mother shared with me. I learned that children are loving, resilient, and forgiving, but they are also delicate and impressionable. They will forgive us for most of our mistakes as long as our intentions were well placed and we do better the next time, but they cannot thrive in our indifference, carelessness, or anger. I learned that children have many needs that require the purposeful service of a devoted parent. While some of these needs are real only during early childhood, others endure for a lifetime and are staggering in their importance and effect if unattended. Some needs change, evolve, become less pressing, and others grow in importance as time goes by. Some needs must be met only once; others are never met but require constant feeding. Our children's own sense of worth is determined in large part by the worth they believe we have placed on them, which is demonstrated by how attentive we are to their needs rather than our own.

My now teenage child cannot recall all the care that I have given her, yet she knows of it. That is why now and then she calls me into her room at bedtime for a goodnight hug, or reaches for my arm when we cross a parking lot, or calls me on the phone in near bursting exuberance to tell me about something she has conquered that day. These are the moments when I am rewarded for what I did years ago; these are more of the moments, like those of her infancy and early childhood, I will remember for all of my days. These are the moments when I can smile and believe that her mother and I have done a pretty good job as her parents.

I never did find that manual, so I decided to write one. I do not hold this book out as the exhaustive book of wisdom that all new parents need to read in order to raise perfect children. However, I believe that somewhere there are parents lying awake at night, as my child’s mother and I once did, wondering what to do for their beloved baby. I hope that by sharing a bit about what I have learned, that giving a child a loving, supportive start in life, that taking care of a few basic, universal needs, those parents will find confidence in their abilities, comfort in their successes, and strength with each life lesson shared with their child. With this book I hope to give new parents a glimpse of what they should know about and do for their young children, starting as soon as possible.

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