Fake it till you make it
A long time ago, when I had just one child, and had time to think about such things, I asked a few friends how one teaches religious beliefs to a child – it seemed an overwhelming task. Kids don’t pick up on abstract concepts when they’re one, and I was at a loss. The best advice I got out of that poll, from a mom of three altar boys, was to “fake it till you make it.” I’d heard the phrase before but never contemplated its application to raising children. And that little phrase stuck in my head- it is applicable to so many things in parenting.
As I’m sure you’ve all noticed, there’s no manual for raising kids. It’s one of those things that hits home hardest when they let you walk out of the hospital with a baby… by yourselves. They just let you walk out! Madness. I still didn’t know what I was doing by the time the first month was over. Eventually, by month three, having survived the ‘fourth trimester,’ I started thinking about how I was going to parent this lovely daughter of mine. So I started looking around- I spent a lot of time reaching out to the mothers I’d admired over the years- my friends’ moms, the mothers from our church back home that were so inspiring when I was a newlywed. I talked to my mom, my grandmothers, my aunts, my cousins, and thought about what things about them I wanted to emulate- and what things I didn’t. I read books, I read blogs, I gathered information like a sponge.
And then I started copying.
A friend of mine has a tag for her online journal called “my mothering skills are pasted on,” and it always gave me a good giggle, right up until I discovered just how true that was about my own parenting experience. I knew nothing! I took notes from my friends on breastfeeding, and notes on diapering, and notes on introducing solids. Honest to God, I had to have one of my friends reinstall my carseat. And my nanny has had so much more experience with children than I have that I daily rely on her advice regarding discipline and potty training. Heck, I *still* poll my Facebook friends for ideas when I am at a loss- which is often.
Sometimes, I feel like that is why I was so eager to get back to work in both cases. At work, I know what I am doing, and I’d like to think I’m pretty competent. At motherhood? I had no clue. I was an only child, so I had no siblings to practice on. An adoptee with no mom to give me pregnancy and childbirth advice. When I was in college, I started volunteering at a Crisis Nursery in order to learn how to take care of children. But parenting? Let’s just say it’s nothing like a two-hour a week volunteer gig. I did have the basics down, though apparently every child has blowouts, but I was painfully aware of my inexperience from the first moment I looked at my firstborn.
So, I copied people who seemed to have it all together. I copied moms whose tenderness with their children touched me, and moms whose children grew up to be my adventurous independent friends. I copied my best friend’s love for outdoor play, and made sure my girls were spending half an hour a day outdoors regardless of the weather. I read the books to my children that my mother read to me, and sometimes wondered to myself “What would Ma Ingalls do?” That was how I wound up hand washing cloth diapers one afternoon, by the way, which I do not recommend unless you have a very strong stomach. I watched my crafty friends and tried to copy their playdough and pipe cleaner creations, watching their Pinterest boards like a hawk.
And then, suddenly, one day, I found myself dispensing advice. “Nap when the baby naps!” I would say, as if I knew what I was talking about. Oh? Airplane travel? I can help you with that! Let me tell you about the time I flew to New Zealand with two under two! You need childcare recommendations? Let me just tell you how I feel about daycares and nanny-shares and everything in between.
But really, though, just fake it till you make it. You’ll get there. No one gets a manual, I promise.