Confident parenting: Wrestling with ambiguity

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A wise friend often asked me, “Can you live with ambiguity?” And my response was typically a resounding “No,” complete with shaking my head like an obstinate 2-year-old.

Her question still stays with me, mostly because it challenges my love of predictability. Clarity is my preferred way of operating, my M.O. And, while predictability isn’t wrong, too much of it can result in stifling one’s creativity, sense of discovery and peace of mind.

Thank goodness for parenting. It’s my reliable playground for learning to live with ambiguity.

Take my first days as a new mom almost 14 years ago. Despite talking with actual parents of actual babies for guidance before our daughter arrived, I expected a newborn who would sleep all night (nope, for her AND her little brother three years later). I expected to feel Zen-like as a new mom–you know, that mothering would come naturally for me (yeah, right). 

I expected confident parenting on Day One.

But, our sweet little angel taught me that there’s the Theoretical Baby and the Actual Baby. And they’re definitely not the same.

My first steps into parenthood yanked me out of expectations I’d imposed on myself without even realizing it. Before becoming a mom, I could manage career challenges with relative ease: tackling multiple deadlines without coffee, fearlessly leading presentations for audiences of any size, navigating office politics in a single bound.

So, managing a tiny person, smaller than my hubby and me? No problem. Or so I thought.

All of that job-inspired confidence promptly went down the drain as a first-time mom. On the day of our hospital discharge, I looked at my hubby with sudden panic and honestly asked, “Are they really letting us out of here with her?”

The nurses were so right-on-time helpful and reassuring, my personal security blankets. Watching them swaddle my newborn so effortlessly, my confidence plummeted on knowing what, how and when to do whatever our little one needed.

By the time we arrived home, ambiguity was there, setting up residence like a squatter. My Uh-Oh Questions began as soon as we walked through our front door. Is she eating enough? She’s not burping – is that okay? What does that cry meeeean?!? And shouldn’t I know the answers to all of these questions?!?

The tiniest person in our home slammed all of my rigid expectations on the ground and danced on them. I had to adjust to new sleeping patterns and new sounds and a new uncertainty that left me second guessing everything I did. And that uncertainty initially unnerved me.

Of course, we–and our little one–survived those initial days and weeks just fine. I slowly learned to relax and simply take her lead, despite ambiguity often being front and center. I let go of the self-imposed expectations to know everything about her immediately and enjoyed being her student, as she taught us all we really needed to know.  And, slowly but surely, my self-confidence lifted.

Our kids are older now, but still school age. So, ambiguity has never vacated our home. And, I’m glad about it. Do I still resist it from time to time? Of course. I still love clarity. But, thankfully, Life bops me on the head when I need a reminder about clinging to rigid expectations—and that ambiguity isn’t really such a bad housemate after all.  

Photo Credit: Tim Hines Photography

This story was written for CharlotteFive’s latest channel for parents in the QC, called QC Playground. Sign up for the weekly QC Playground newsletter here.

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