Right from day one whenever anything has gone well with our parenting it has felt like a bit of an accident. Conversely, when things go badly or wrong, it has felt like we are failing or sabotaging ourselves by not doing something right – what though is anyone’s guess!
The first example of what I would call accidental parenting is potty training. This was the first proper parenting task we embarked on after the boys came to live with us. I have to admit we went into it blind. After the mountains upon mountains of books we had to read for the approval process, we really couldn’t bring ourselves to read another one about general parenting.
We had an idea on when to begin potty training, right down to the day of commencement. As with most things toddler related that was soon discarded and adapted. The target of the potty training, naked before bathtime, suddenly announced he needed a wee, so we plonked him on the potty and away he went. He was so pleased with himself that we decided that potty training had commenced. It was started accidentally.
It took him (Eldest) precisely one week to master using the potty. He managed it so well that 5 days into potty training my husband took the children on a trip to the zoo. Potty in hand, Eldest in ‘big boy pants’ the day out was successfully negotiated with no accidents.
Was it the strategy that my husband used? Was Eldest so ready for the task that he smoothly evolved from nappy-wearing toddler to pant-wearing toddler all on his own? Who knows!?
Night Time Dryness
This is of course the next step in any toilet training task. We stole a strategy from some of our friends who we babysat for in the lead up to adopting. Just before our bedtime (about 10:30) we woke up Eldest and sat him on the potty and asked him to do a wee. He is a deep sleeper so it sometimes took a bit of encouragement to make sure he was fully conscious.
Our theory being that by waking him up fully and encouraging him to do a wee immediately afterwards his body would get used to being awake when doing a wee. Was this the right thing to do? I don’t know. We never read a book or took advice, it just sort of made sense. And you know what? Within a few weeks he was totally dry over night and has been managing to go to the toilet by himself for well over a year. No accidents.
Maybe our strategy worked for him, maybe he was ready to make that adjustment. We were surprised by his success, as was our health visitor who told us to expect wet nights now and again. We’re still waiting for those 18 months on.
Rinse & Repeat
We used the same strategies on Youngest; he took about 3 months to ‘get’ daytime potty training, but he was 6 months younger than Eldest was when we started. He took to nighttime dryness much faster than Eldest did and managed his nighttime wees himself at an age younger than Eldest was before we even had a chance to begin the training.
Again, I do not know if what we did was the cause of this, or whether our boys are children who would have naturally ‘got’ potty training regardless of what we did. We have nothing to compare it to.
“[Eldest] will need speech therapy when he’s older” – a ‘diagnosis’. This was something that almost wrote Eldest off as being a child who would need extra help with his learning and education. A social worker diagnosed this and not a professional qualified in the area, so we are unsure what they based it on. I think they mistook a child with incredible meekness and low self-esteem for a child with special educational needs. There is certainly overlap in those two things, but not always and it shouldn’t be assumed.
The combination of a child with low self-esteem and a speech problem can be a bad mix, as if you correct their speech in the wrong way all it does is lower their self-esteem further.
We used careful management, repetition of phrases and other strategies to help him learn the correct pronunciation of words and sentences, but he picked up on it so well. I don’t feel we did anything special though, we spoke to him and read to him. He went from a 2.5 year old who mumbled and muddled his sounds up to the most articulate 3 year-old I have ever encountered. I don’t think we can take much credit for this though, I truly believe it was all him. We gave him the right environment and he took off running.
Not only has he become exceptionally articulate, but at the age of 4 he is reading material designed for up to 8 year-olds without much help. We are mindful of not pushing him into anything, but he actively asks to read to us because he seems to enjoy it. His language skills amaze me on a daily basis, and that is all him not us.
My conclusion to all this is that the main thing our children need is a safe and supportive environment to start fulfilling their potential. Much of what we have done we have muddled through. We do listen to advice, we constantly adapt what we do, but generally we don’t have a plan beyond having an end goal. Although we set our children up to achieve things, I don’t believe we actively do anything much beyond that, any successes that our children have are down to them not us. Yes, we have rules, and yes we have boundaries, but they are never to do with controlling their progress, other than if their safety is at stake. I know we don’t always get things right, but when we interfere things seem to go more wrong than if we stand back and support them doing what they’re doing.
Our children lead us with what they can do, we allow them to do it at their own pace, and, for the time being at least, they seem to be thriving. Is this accidental parenting? It certainly feels like we are fraudulent if we take praise for our children’s progress. Or, is this what parenting actually is?