Why winging it as a parent is okay

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"When I was young I thought the world was run by adults who knew what they were doing. Now I am one of those adults and I realise everybody's just winging it. Nobody knows everything. Most of us don't know very much at all. We're kids running around in suits and high heels, pretending we've got it sussed."

So said Irish comedian Nuala McKeever, and I've never read anything more true. I've also never experienced that truth in a more obvious state than in my parenting.

It seems that all parents – and, actually, all adults – are just making it up as we go along. This is simultaneously scary for our children, who are at the mercy of people who have no idea what they're doing, and reassuring for all of us who thought we should, at a particular age, reach some magical point of certainty. Phew, it's okay to try to enjoy the messiness of life.

Here's what I've learnt about making it up as we go …

It starts straight away

When I was still in hospital after having my first baby, one friend asked me how I was finding life as a parent so far. "I don't know," I admitted. "I'm just making it up as I go along."

"That's it! That's what parenting is! You're doing it!" my friend declared excitedly.

It put my mind at ease: it was okay not to know what to do when my baby was crying, and it was perfectly normal to look at this newborn and wonder how on earth I would meet this challenge I'd just delivered. I realised that if others are doing it by making it up as they go, then maybe I could too. And so my parenting career began, without greatness, but with plenty of reality.

And it keeps going


Sometimes I still feel like I did in those early days. My child hands me a problem on a proverbial platter, and I stare at it and think, I still have no idea what I'm doing. My friend was right all those years ago: thinking on your feet is what parents do.

The bad news is that these challenges don't slow down as your children grow, but the good news is you get better at trusting your instincts. Take a deep breath, cross your fingers hopefully, do what you think is right, and wish for the best.

It's okay to get it wrong

I've made some bad calls in my life, from friendships to jobs, and most definitely in parenting.

Dealing with a situation well is subject to many factors, and those pieces of the puzzle don't always come together to provide the perfect circumstances. Sometimes we all just get it wrong: we yell when we know we shouldn't, dole out discipline that doesn't match the wrongdoing, or fail to meet our own expectations.

As it turns out, it's okay to be human and get it wrong sometimes. I've decided that the most important thing is to swallow my pride (and the hopes that my kids will think I'm always right – they'd find me out soon anyway), say sorry and hope to do better next time.

I think that's something we all should keep in mind during those tough days.