I’ve never been able to keep a plant alive.

I worried about this a litle while I was pregnant, but thankfully a baby is not like a plant. I have cared about my plants. I’ve really wanted them to live. And yet, I haven’t quite remembered to feed and water them when they needed. I’ve let them die.

The good news is that a baby won’t let you do that. When they are born they are new and you are also new, to being the one to care for them. So there is some stuff that happens. That makes you rise to the challenge.

They cry. They wail. They scream. One of those. All of those. It looks like there are lots of different ways. I have a limited sample size of two to go by. Of that two, one squawled, she trusted no-one and felt that nothing was going to happen unless she made her needs painfully clear. The other was more content, but would look with puppy dog eyes, welling, growing larger than her head somehow, when something was amiss and it was time to be fed already.

We were pushed to action. Either technique would work just fine. The little human would stir us into action.

Of course there are other things at play apart from the process through which a baby forces you to change into their carer. There is the witchcraft, the hormones, the magic, the love. Whatever it is that makes you absolutely adore this new little person. The only option is to lean in and relish it. And you become willing and eager to do what is required. As you rightly should.

For all of that love, I challenge you, wouldn’t it have been possible, in those first early weeks, for you to sleep through a night without getting up for that 2am feed? In those moments when you hit exhaustion, might you have somehow yet forgotten that 3 hours had passed and it was that time again? Despite the greatness of the love, you still depended, didn’t you, on those consistent reminders from baby.

That’s normal. We were only learning. The love itself, important as it is, doesn’t help you to know what to do. It makes you keen to figure out what to do and frustrated when you get it wrong (to put it mildly). But it doesn’t inform the knowledge, the know how. For that, you need something more.

On one occasion, the squawler was squawling, and so I was preparing to feed her. I remember looking at her and thinking, “OK! I’ve got the message, I’m preparing to feed you, you can quiet down.” But, I realised, had she quietened down I might actually have stopped preparing to feed her. “Oh. She’s alright now,” I might have thought, “whatever it was has passed”.

So they have to be relentless. We need them to be in order to really get the message and to understand what we need to do. Eventually we learn. Then we don’t need the relentless cries, in fact, we might just get so well trained that we start to prepare the feed before the moment hits, oh glory. And she, in turn, will learn to trust us as she gets to know that we can be depended upon for the required results. It all just gets, gradually but surely, calmer as the work becomes second nature.

In the early days babies are so tiny. Which means they need feeding very very regularly. I can barely even remember now, so buried into my psyche it’s become, was it every 2, every 3 hours? So every 3 hours, around the clock, feeding is to happen. It is because they are so small that the frequency is needed, and as they get bigger, they take bigger portions less often.

It would be harder the other way round though, wouldn’t it. It would be hard for us to get successfully trained in as parents if at the start the feeds were infrequent. It would be much harder to learn the rhythms of what we need to do. And it would be really hard if from that starting point we had to increase the frequency. We’d be comfy, and this thing would be niggling at us to do just a bit just a bit just a bit more all the time.

Far better to start off running, and gradually get to enjoy slowing down a bit, than to start off easy and try to build up to a faster gait. There must be some resonance with our human nature, mustn’t there. Successfully keeping children alive is literally the one thing that has got us to this point as a species. People try to introduce change through many different techniques and methods. If we’re looking for what will play well across human psychology, I suspect the babies have it.

All of the big change management theories have some element of reward baked in. And when it comes to babies, well, how much time have you got? The rewards are obviously ceaseless, but even to take an element of the feeding example in isolation you can see.

From squawling relentlessly, or looking utterly betrayed, to dozing contentedly, the reward is immense. After a few weeks, you are treated to satisfied smiles, and true and honest love beaming up at you. In my world these days, after eating some wholesome food, I am treated to two happy energised children running up and down the corridor and making each other giggle. Truly delightful.

And that is the other thing. It changes. Because it has to. It is obvious to us that children have to grow. And that need for change therefore is part of who we are and how we work as people. As humans, we need things to change and to evolve. Otherwise we would get bored, we’d become forgetful, we’d forget why we care. We know this is true, we can see it in examples in work all the time. We need change (which is why, incidentally, we should not be shy about evolving the gender norms as they are currently viewed around parenting).

Yes, when it comes to change management, babies have simply got it all worked out. Relentless and frequent, painful reminders to start, easing up over time. They provide delightful rewards, which evolve and grow. Before you know it, they’ve turned someone who could never keep a plant alive into a parent of a fed and watered thriving child. When you think about it, it’s sort of marvelous.

Women are not magic.

It is often the case that women are the subjects of this process of change. And if you’re outside the process looking in, you are not subject to that change, nor is it easy to keep up with its evolving nature. The only way to learn is to be subject to the process too. It has absolutely nothing to do with a parent’s gender.


One thought on “Learning to Parent is a Process

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