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Getting Ready to Parent

Do you take a test before you study for it? Do you run in a marathon before you train for it? Do the Miami Marlins play baseball games before spring training? The answer, of course, to all of the above is no. What does the good student say before taking an exam? He says, "I am ready to take the test."

As an expectant parent, you have a golden opportunity to prepare yourself for the most important job you will ever have, the job of bringing up your own unique child. Each baby is born into the world with a future, a destiny, a mission to make a personal contribution in a way that has never been made before. Your child will be a little like every other child and also a lot like no other child. To be ready for this enormous responsibility, you can get all the information you need.

First of all, you can study the tools of parenting. Gather your favorite parenting books, magazines that you like, and any videos that might be recommended. Talk to your parents, friends, and others who you respect. Get the answers now to important developmental questions. These tools include knowledge about how to help children learn in the most optimal way, how to help them develop well emotionally, and how to help them to be physically healthy. Then when your baby arrives you will easily pass the test of being able to guide and support your own special child in your own personal way. You will know exactly what to do, how to do it, and then be able to do it at just the right time. Along with your studies, you will have "Mother Nature" helping you. She will be there as you respond to your baby with the incredible gift you receive as soon as you become a parent - naturally or through adoption, the gift of parental love.

The next suggestion is to practice. Just as a runner might know everything about running: how to breathe, the best way to pace himself, what to wear, what to eat before and after a race, and the proper amount of rest to get, he will never be ready to compete in a marathon unless he practices. He must run and run and run on a regular basis to be able to run in a marathon. If you have friends or relatives who already have a young baby or small children, visit them often. Observe. Decide what you like and what you do not about their parenting styles. Pitch in when you can - hug, hold, and nurture those children, just as you will when your own children arrive.

What about spring training? What is that all about? That is what you get to do right after your baby is born. The first eight months are like a grace period. During that time it is hard to do anything wrong. All that you need to do in the first few months comes naturally. Here is a short summary:
    1. Respond
    2. Touch
    3. Play
    4. Act natural

As you focus on those four areas, remember what you have studied. Keep practicing with older children. Be as ready as you can to move into the times when you will need to set limits, provide an educationally stimulating environment, a language rich environment full of more advanced singing, reading, and talking, and a more complicated set of response systems. Realize that you are the first and most important teacher. Find out that every action and reaction you have with your child is important. Experience the reality that you are helping your child form the foundation for his entire life. Be there with your child as often as possible, and implement every skill that you have to the highest quality. Every minute, every, hour, every day is important in the life of a child. Maria Montessori says it this way, "There is no eraser."

By Sally Goldberg, Ph.D. Adapted from Parent Involvement Begins at Birth.

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