Many of us have heard the saying: Freshman think they know but they don’t. Sophomores know they don’t know. Juniors don’t know that they know. And seniors, well, seniors know.
I think parents never get past the sophomore level. There are freshmen parents and there are sophomore parents and that’s it. And, frankly the freshmen parents are the ones that give most of us a bad name. If you ever feel like you know something for certain, your child will soon inform you otherwise. It seems to be best to approach every situation with a good helping of humility.
I’m a member of several online parenting communities and I see this dynamic a lot. Earlier this year while potty training S I hit a wall. I was using the same tactics I used with J, but she is a different child and they just weren’t going to work for her. She had firmly given up diapers, but she wanted nothing to do with the potty. I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I turned to one of my online mommy groups for some advice. What I got instead was a pile of mommy shame: I was giving S M&Ms as a reward. (She’s highly motivated by chocolate like her mother.) I was told that was my problem. I was told she was too young, that this could be emotionally damaging. I was told that I clearly wasn’t showing enough enthusiasm to get her excited about the potty. I was told … oh you name it.
The fact is no one knows what’s going on in a two-year-old’s mind—or really in any child’s mind. Parenting is a delicate balance of love and discipline. We have to be a model of authority, setting limits, providing guidance and humility, while also recognizing and honoring the autonomy of the little person before us. If this gets out of balance, we’re sunk.
And so, in my quest to get S out of diapers (well, she had already decided she was done with them) and using the toilet, I went looking for others who might have experienced a similar circumstance to see what worked for them. There’s a great sense of community as well as alot of wisdom and experience in these groups, and the wonder that is social media brought us together. But there’s also a lot of room for these forums to be used for something else: a place to make yourself feel superior, to push for one way of being and doing, to criticize or harass.
And it’s not just on social media, I run into this on the playground, in playgroups, and other places.
It is easier and may even feel more rewarding to be the one with all the answers, or at least seem like it. God knows I have played this role far too often in my life. It’s much more comfortable for me to appear in the know, invulnerable. My tendency is to keep my cards close to my chest. I feel safe that way. However, it’s not rewarding the long run. It may feel good today, but it’s when you acknowledge your need for other people that community is built and wisdom is gained. It’s in the asking, the searching together that community develops.
Parenting is forcing me out of my safe role because my kids challenge me beyond what I could possibly know each and every day. It does take a village to raise a child and no one is an island, and all those pithy phrases. They are born out of truth. We need each other. One person’s wisdom is never enough.
So, I need to remember that I’m not only a sophomore parent, I’m also a sophomore in life—always aware that there is so much more to learn and a community to learn it from.