There’s a whole lot about parenting that’s hard.

Being a parent is challenging in general.  You have sleepless nights and tantrums and your heart is ripped in two when your child is sick or hurting.

Parenting is NOT for sissies.

But as a relatively successful professional, there’s something about parenting that I didn’t really expect, and it drove me crazy as a new parent:

As soon as I have something figured out, the world shifts beneath my feet and I’m a beginner all over again. 

I’m someone who is used to taking on new challenges.  I like to work hard to master a new skill, and I love that feeling of fulfillment I get when I’ve reached that “expert” level of something.

Yet I’ve had to re-calibrate my definition of “success” now that I’m a parent.  I rarely get to master a skill before parenthood throws me a new challenge and I find myself right back at the beginning of the learning process.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Four Levels of Learning, let me give you the breakdown:

Four Stages of Competence

Photo Credit: Friesen, Kaye & Associates

Unconscious Incompetence.  “I don’t know that I don’t know something.”

Conscious Incompetence.  “I know that I don’t know something.”

Conscious Competence.  “I know something, but I have to think about it as I do it.”

Unconscious Competence.  “I know something so well I don’t have to think about it.”

The most difficult thing about parenthood that I’ve found so far is that I’m consistently stuck in that second level of competence, “Conscious Incompetence”, where I’m not only totally inadequate, but I’m fully aware of how inadequate I am.  This doesn’t feel all that great.

This is pretty much my experience as a parent:

Levels of Learning

Photo Credit: My Guitar Pal

Level 1:  My son enters a new phase of development.  I’m all fat, dumb and happy because I don’t realize I’m about to fall into a great, big hole.

Level 2:  I realize I’m starting from scratch with an entirely new set of challenges.  I start to dig my way out of that hole through trial and error.  I learn what works and what really doesn’t with my child.  We start to build some new routines.  We feel like we’re getting somewhere.

Level 3:  I start to get the hang of a few things.  Things start to become a little predictable, and can see the light of Level Four….

…And then my son kicks me back in the hole and the process starts all over again.

Being in that perpetual state of learning and trial and error can be exhausting and demoralizing at times.  

However, I’ve found a way to let go of the struggle and frustration that can come along with being a perpetual beginner.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Acceptance will set you free.

I’m probably never going to make it to that fourth level of mastery.  In fact, I think that’s one of the biggest lessons of parenthood:  you immediately become a lifelong student when you have a child.  You have amazing opportunities to learn and grow and evolve as a human being, but only if you pay attention to the lessons in the challenges.

Once you can embrace the concept that being a parent is one of the absolute best self-development programs you’ll ever find, amazing things begin to happen. Your life stops being a struggle and the resentment disappears (mostly).  The imperfections and messiness of working parent life can offer some of your most treasured moments.

Once you make peace with the fact that you may never be a parenting expert, then you can relax about trying to figure it all out and just take in each moment as it comes.

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