Updated: Mar 30, 2021
Everywhere we look, there is a monsoon of pressure to mould our next generation into independent and strong women. Beyonce hollers the lyrics, the media blast messages of powerful women standing on their own, amidst cultural adversity telling them they cannot. What about the value of interdependency? Has this notion been shamed and warped in our culture because of its association with dependant, manipulative and imbalanced relationships?
Independence doesn’t have to follow a nomadic idealism of learnt survival skills and doing everything completely alone. It can look like a young girl harnessing her own unique abilities and talents with a sea-depth confidence built up from the community of family and friends whom she depends upon. Balancing independence and interdependency is where I currently find myself on this adventure that is parenthood.
The first child
Not having a clue what parenthood entailed before having children, I felt strongly about my relationship being put first, not losing the spark with my husband and putting regular time aside for “us”. Cue my baby girl’s arrival and my firstborn had my complete and undivided attention, sometimes to the point of obsession. Every move she made, I saw and every sound she made, I heard – all to be analysed, Googled, ‘mum-forumed’, ‘wonder-weeked’, mum-grouped, doctor diagnosed and spun on the daily merry-go-round of chatter for possible causes or reasons for whatever concern I had with my husband (usually as to why she was waking 12 times a night).
I had no inward filter for parental advice or information on how to raise my daughter; I read it all and tried every remedy and method being sold. But there was a voice amidst the merchants of baby solutions - a quiet inner voice that patiently waited until the anxiety subsided and the normality of parenthood set in, and I slowly found a way to parent that I was confident with and that suited my little family.
I learnt to rely on others in a way that was new to me. My husband was an integral part of this, as were his family and my family. They taught me many valuable lessons about raising children and being a parent. Trusting others with my child didn’t come easy to me, but I learnt to value surrounding my first daughter with family she could trust and feel safe with. My hope is that she will carry these relationships with her extended family all through her life and that my second daughter will experience the same loving relationships as well.
Intuition and attachment bonding
What I realised when I navigated the early stages of motherhood was that I was surprised by my decisions. My husband and I chose co-sleeping, because it felt like the best scenario to comfort our firstborn (and ensured we all got a reasonable sleep). We didn’t have many date nights. Everything revolved around our baby girl.
As my own confidence as a mother grew, I learnt not to push the ideals and expectations onto our little girl and follow her lead. By stepping back but being present I think her confidence grew. We watched this happen over what seemed both like a lifetime and also in a blink of an eye. The hours upon hours of rocking and shushing and feeding her to sleep – though feeling like an eternity in the moment - were never going to occur again. I would tragically never again feel the softness of her tiny newborn body moulded against my skin or her nuzzle into my chest in the quiet of the night.
My now toddler’s non-facilitated conversations with fellow small people and her daily assertiveness showed me her confidence had ballooned and she’d blossomed into a little boss. The hilarity and magic of her independent little personality is something I watch with a bit of relief, as I admit at times I grew concerned that she wasn’t coping with peer socialisation.
By stepping back but being present I think her confidence grew. We watched this happen over what seemed both like a lifetime and also in a blink of an eye.
Being a new mother of a 3 year old and a 4 month old, there is never a day that I don’t learn something new about my girls and their long haul flight path to adulthood. Parenting for me has been like opening a kinder surprise every 2 hours, hoping it was an easy-to-assemble toy because who knew that three-piece plastic go-carts could be so difficult to put together – where does the rubber band go!?
Having recently become a mother of two, I had to get resourceful for the times when I was at home with both girls. This quickly turned into situational skills-based learning at home. Since I didn’t have the hands or the undivided time to pick up my toddler to take her to the toilet, I had to verbally teach her to do the steps herself.
A thought emerged that perhaps this step in the direction of less dependence on me was harder for me than it was for her. I had to be creative and verbally well-articulated to make the process both clear and appealing at the same time. This proved to be the case with multiple tasks like cooking and cleaning teeth – it had to be non-negotiable but really fun. Sometimes fatigue and the mundane nature of these obligatory tasks get the better of me and I am definitely a no-fun-mum, but the intention to teach tasks from a guided distance remain a necessity with our growing family.
I heard a public speaker once say “…this is the reason why small children get so upset; it is because they feel that their freewill has been taken away from them.” It stuck with me and I keep it in mind with my daughters. All children respond differently to parental guidance and each relationship will look totally different in every family. What I have learnt from my girls is that I just had to get to know them and understand how to read them.
I defer back to co-sleeping which has been a really important component in raising my firstborn; this has been a big part of her feeling safe. Ironically, I was ready to co-sleep and share my bed with my new baby but she simply sleeps better in her cot and almost gets aggravated by sleeping with me.
These are my girls’ limits - one who needs physical contact to feel safe and the other who needs space for herself. I wouldn’t push either girl in the opposite direction because those are their limits for both interdependency and independence, and they both need security in different ways.
It’s a Marathon…
I liken the journey of teaching independence to my daughters to marathon-running - something I did prior to having babies. It’s a solitary path but one you cannot travel without relying on others to get you there. Your support crew is vital to crossing the finish line and I feel the same way about the independence of my daughters. As a long distance runner, you need to know the ascents and descents of the route, water stations and support crew points (they have food!). The support crew is very important, even one shout out of your name or encouragement “you can do this!” can turn the solo race around in a positive way. The calculations of these things are sewed together by dependency on your support crew and reliance on your physical training, but more importantly on your mental strength.
Although we are not a hoard of podium-standing athletes, there has always been a presence of long-distance running in my family. I know one simple thing about running for hours on end and it’s that it is the mental resilience and strength that will emerge and pull you across the finish line rather than physical strength. It comes from many places, some dark and confronting that fuel a faster pace but it’s foundation for me was small kind words said to me over a lifetime, lifting me up and pulling me forward and that is the type of independence I want to show my daughters.
Sarah is a passionate Mummy of two beautiful little girls who resides in the inner South Brisbane. She parents with the goal of raising independent, loyal and emotionally intelligent girls. An introspective writer, she draws from her life experiences of travel, work, hardships, athleticism and being the daughter of mental health workers. But it’s not all serious - backyard sing-offs, dance parties and a lot of humble pie makes Sarah a relatable Mummy and a warm-hearted writer.