Research on child development outlines expected progress in our children. Skills are learned in succession, with each set of skills building upon the previous.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of these developments as “levels”, akin to the kind you’d experience in a video game. If you take Super Mario Brothers, for example, your goal on each level is to have little Mario run quickly, pick up some coins along the way, avoid falling off cliffs, and defeat the “boss” at the end. The first few times you play any level, it is very difficult to complete, and Mario returns to the beginning many times before succeeding. Once he finally beats the big boss, you “level up”.
Suddenly you are at square one again, using the skills you’ve obtained on, now up against even greater challenges on level two.
This is what we’re doing as parents. The first level begins when you come home from the hospital, completely exhausted, and hoping to get your first night’s sleep. You know it’s going to be hard, and that you’re going to be tired. You’re bound to fall down every crack and crevice as you figure out just how the game is played. But, you give it your best shot anyhow. In a few weeks, you settle into a routine, and the basics of feeding, changing, burping, and napping are in hand. You kick that newborn boss in the pants, and you level up. There’s a brief moment of satisfaction, while it seems you’ve got everything figured out.
Currently, we’re on level “solid food”, and this level includes a whole array of skills to master. I’m working on finding whole wheat bread with no added sugar, cooking colourful foods cut into adult pinky-finger size, and learning tricks like having extra spoons handy to replace the ones that have fallen to the floor. My little Mario twins are doing their best to put every morsel into their mouths. We’re all trying our best, but I can tell we’ll be on this level for quite a few weeks, maybe even months. Possibly a year. This process continues for 18 or more years, until hopefully we’ll get a shot at Super Mario Brothers: University Student edition.
Just like playing Super Mario, it can be super frustrating at times. If you can’t keep in mind that it’s all for fun, you might want to give up. It’s the nature of the game; one day you can’t get as far as you could the day before. You’ll fail and fail and fail, but eventually, you’ll succeed. You feel proud of your little Mario, when it’s as much your success as it is his. Resilience is your best asset. Patience helps too.
Small successes keep you going, and it turns out that satisfaction is not found only in the final level, beating the big boss, and rescuing the princess in the castle. There is reward in trying, in working for it. Besides, it doesn’t really matter if you don’t reach the goal, as each new day you can hit reset and start again.