A few years back I read a popular book called “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant. It was an historical novel written about biblical times, specifically Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and brother of Joseph. It was an entertaining read that I highly recommend.

What was particularly compelling for me was the concept of the ‘red tent’. It was where women would go when they were menstruating. They would be fed and cared for while they rested and recouped in the tent. Meanwhile the women on the outside would cover the menstruating women’s duties, including minding their children. The women of the community worked together, helping one another with cooking, cleaning, household duties and parenting. I found myself thinking “Wow. What an amazing idea! What happened?”

As I read the book I fantasized about a world in which my shortcomings as a mother did not feel so profound because I had others helping me. I recalled my early years of motherhood and my determination to prove myself as ‘the perfect mother’. Although I frequently felt like ‘a failure’, I was too proud to ask for help, or perhaps too arrogant. It was not long before I discovered that trying to do it alone was overwhelming and fraught with self-judgment. It made me wonder why our society has evolved into an environment in which women are mostly isolated from one another.

Unlike the women in ‘The Red Tent’, modern women have often established themselves in some form of success before they become mothers. They may have obtained some level of advanced education, immersed themselves in a career, excelled at an athletic endeavour, experienced world travel adventures or proven skillful in the arts. My observation is that women tend to approach motherhood the same way they approached prior successes. The high achieving woman strives to become the high achieving mother.

Personally, I find parenting to be the role I have taken the most seriously in my life. After all there are two children depending on my success as a mother. What a huge responsibility!

And yet, parenting has been the job I have had the least amount of training, practice and preparation for.

Most careers come with an extensive training process; Hobbies require practice and coaching. Even people who are self-taught need some resource (book, website, cohort) as well as a lot of practice. I think of my teenaged years trying to learn to cook and making mistakes such as baking muffins with baking soda instead of baking powder (barf). It would be years before I didn’t consistently make a mistake that might make the food inedible. Just ask my former husband about my ‘vanilla pork chops’ that I made in my early twenties. (I thought adding vanilla to the mushrooms and cream might be tasty. It was not).

In our society we have lessons, teachers, classes, coaches and courses to learn how to do almost all of the things we endeavour to do. For the most part, by the time we have our kids we have accomplished many challenging things: we have graduated from high-school, learned to drive, learned to play sports, learned artistic endeavours.

Yet with parenting, most of us do not reach out for support until we feel ourselves drowning in the struggles with our children. We seem to have a chip on our shoulder, so intent on proving ourselves that asking for help feels like a battle lost and the raising of the white flag. Does anyone else see how ridiculous this is?

The only preparation for parenting we have is our own upbringing. How many of you are determined to do things ‘differently’ than your parents did? We are straddling the concept of “I’m going to do things differently” and “It was good enough for me”. Do you see the contradiction here?

How many of you watched others parent before having your own children and thought “I would do this differently”? Did you discover that once you became a parent it was not so easy?

If you feel overwhelmed by parenthood, there are many resources for parents. Treat your challenges the way you would treat your goal to improve your golf-swing or your desire to learn to sing. How would you go about it?

  1. Talk to your trusted community:
    1. Think about the parents you know that you admire. What have they done? They may have resources that they use you have never heard of.
  2. Research what books are out there:
    1. Books are a great start because you can do it alone or with your partner.
    1. Be sure to read a variety of books on one particular subject as there is always more than one approach that can be effective.
  3. Join a parenting group:
    1. Parenting groups are great because everybody tends to be in the thick of it at the same time.
    1. The challenge of parenting groups is that sometimes we can become more aware of our shortcomings and challenges as we hear about others and their victories.
  4. Professional support:
    1. There are many different versions of professional support available.
      1. Parenting workshops
        1. These are great because they tend to be one day/afternoon or weekend and you get to meet other parents who are going through similar challenges.
      1. A personal therapist/psychologist/life coach
        1. This option will help you build your own confidence as a person and parent.
        1. This option is most effective with ongoing appointments.
      1. A family coach/child psychologist
        1. This option can help you learn more about your child and what they are experiencing psychologically and developmentally.
        1. This option usually only requires a handful of appointments, unless your child is older and then may require regular appointments.
  5. Be kind to yourself and drop the expectation that you SHOULD know how to do this
    1. I have been working closely with parents for 20 years. Guess what? Everybody has self-doubt. Everyone worries they are doing it wrong. And each of us thinks we may be the only one that struggles as much as we do.

Be careful not to attach to a ‘my way or the highway’ mentality. Different parenting approaches work for different people. Your family is unique with at least 3 humans coming together to create your own unique dynamic. What works for your friends and acquaintances may not work for you. Plus those with more than one child may find that what works for one child does not work on the other. My firstborn responded to the ‘cry it out’ sleep method in one night. It NEVER worked for my second born. Every child has their own personality.

The road as a parent can be tough and it doesn’t get easier as each year and stage brings new challenges. The sooner we can drop our overused sense of self-reliance and seek support, the better we can feel about the experience.

The Red Tent has remained my fantasy for a better and kinder environment for women. A few years back I was chatting with some young mothers. “We want to create a business called ‘The Red Tent’. It would be a sort of retreat for mothers with a spa and coffee shop. They could bring their children who would get to be cared for and entertained while the mothers could have some peace a quiet – perhaps a coffee or a massage or pedicure.” What a genius idea!

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