I think about parenting pretty much all day, since my days are kind of filled with it. Since it’s on my mind, there are many times I’d like to write about different aspects of parenting, but a few things hold me back. Or maybe one thing: change. Babies change, methods change, perspectives change, knowledge changes. And experience. I have experience with one child, only 16 months old and I’m already 100% positive our next will be a completely different experience. So, I could write about what works for Isaac and me, but that may not apply for your situation or even for our next child. One piece of wisdom from more experienced mothers that I’ve taken to heart is that each child is different, some drastically so, and I won’t pretend to be some expert just because I have a child.
However, there are some important foundational truths that I firmly believe can benefit every parent and that’s something I would like to write about.
It’s this article that inspired me to write from my own perspective. This won’t be about which parenting decisions are “right” but rather, which mindsets are essential for making those decisions for your family.
Ideally, having this understanding would come before you have children, but it’s likely that won’t happen for a lot of people, myself included. Experience is the best teacher, and our learning abilities don’t have a limit so it’s guaranteed that even if you’ve tried very hard to prepare for having a baby, you’re still going to make mistakes, have regrets, encounter new knowledge and information and still go through the trial-and-error of parenthood.
1. Focus on baby’s needs
I’ve told this before, but one of the first eye-opening lessons I learned was to give Isaac my undivided attention, and to drop certain expectations or hopes of finishing or getting to whatever it was I may have been enjoying.
Isaac was only a month old or so, and was crying and tired, right in the middle of (insert enjoyable activity here, because it happened more than once: reading, art, movie with my husband, etc). Half of me would still hold on to this frustration, hoping it would pass quickly so that I could get back to what I wanted to do. Or maybe I would try to multitask, struggling trying to keep my book steady while patting a squirming, screaming baby.
And guess what happened each time I tried to do that: I felt frustrated. Bitter. Selfish. I was pitting myself against Isaac.
I’m thankful it didn’t take long for me to throw off that approach. I realized when I dropped everything to take care of Isaac, not only did I feel better as a parent and closer to him, but the process usually took less time anyway, as though he could tell when I was only half-doing my parenting.
The ability to have that mindset, I believe stems from the understanding that babies are needy. God gave babies mothers because they are incapable of caring for themselves at first and we need to be prepared to have a changed life. Motherhood can become more difficult than necessary when we try to fit our children into our old lives or our expectations and schedules and desires. Like the previous article mentioned, having understanding and empathy didn’t mean the situations changed but that the situations became less burdensome.
I was telling Thailer that it was a lot like when Isaac was sick. I was up all night nursing, cleaning his nose, filling the vaporizer, and holding him. I don’t think I got any good sleep, but I felt great. Why? Because I felt like I had purpose, I felt like Isaac needed me and I was meeting his needs. It was that motherly instinct in the face of inadequate sleep and a crying, miserable baby and a fast-asleep husband in the other room. ;) There was no bitterness because I understood.
Granted, a sick baby is much easier to “understand” than a baby that’s been crying for hours and hasn’t been able to express what their need is. And honestly, that stage will last for a long time. My 16 month old doesn’t cry for hours, but he still can’t tell me what he wants all of the time. We’re still learning to communicate with each other as he’s venturing into this world of the English language. It’s at those frustrating times that we need to remember that babies don’t cry because they’re manipulative or bad, but because it’s the main and sometimes only way they know how to communicate with their caregivers. Putting ourselves in their shoes can take a large burden from our shoulders and enable us to get through those stressful times with our children.
Something that has also been so comforting to me is to maintain that understanding of “cues” and needs that you learn in infancy. Again, put yourself in their shoes: when your toddler is tired or hungry or has been traveling in the car for two days or is in a new environment or overstimulated and has missed his naps, be aware of that. Isaac turns into a completely different child when he’s dealing with the above, and my husband and I are more capable of handling him when we know where his behavior is coming from.
2. Focus on your family
Knowing your child and what is working for your family is another key to parenting. Some of my most difficult times have stemmed from doubt generated by books, other mothers, conversations, or advice from well-meaning parents who did things differently. In desperation, I wrote to a group of friends asking if I was doing something wrong with a certain routine I had with Isaac. Something that stuck out to me was a comment from a woman that asked how I felt about our routine. Did I resent it, was it burdensome? Or was I questioning it because of outside pressure? Once I realized that it was working for us and I was only doubting because of comparisons, I felt so much better.
I used to read every parenting book I could get my hands on, and I sometimes still refer back to them, but for me personally, motherhood became more manageable when I stopped consulting so many parenting books or even the milestone developments, and especially when I stopped comparing Isaac to so-and-so’s baby.
I don’t ascribe to a certain parenting style, and like the author said, I agree that it’s best to take what works for you and your child and to realize that there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” parenting style. Yeah, most would describe me as an attachment parent, but I don’t adhere to every tenet just for the sake of being loyal to AP; I only do what works for Isaac and me.
Now, something I think is important is not viewing children as an inconvenience. I do what works for Isaac and me, which basically means that I try to make myself as flexible as possible to meet his needs. Wise advice is to discontinue doing anything that is causing you to be resentful of your child, but before that I think it’s important to reevaluate your heart.
3. Learn where modern parenting admonitions originate
There’s a line of thinking that influences a lot of the comments I’ve heard from others. It seems to stem from this notion that you should not be made to succumb to the demands of children and that nursing on demand or cosleeping or responding to your baby promptly or not sleep training or allowing your schedule to be blown to pieces by your infant is poor mothering defined by not having a backbone and resulting in the spoiling of children. I would love to go into what I’ve read on the matter, but that would make for a very long article (who am I kidding, it’s already long). I would like to say that these characteristics are what have been defined as “modern parenting” and they seem to come from the post-Depression era, which saw a major shift in cultural, economic and parenting trends. This is when formula came on the scene in a large way, when mothers were knocked out and even strapped to beds during labor and delivery, when doctors were experimenting with anesthetics, and babies were left in boxes within the home, bottles stuck in their mouths for extended periods of time. The boxes came about during the 1950’s when inventions were popping up to make all aspects of life easier. By that time, formula was the norm (partially attributed to the fact that previous generations had unwittingly received hormones from their doctors which prevented milk production, hence the ridiculous rise in mothers who were unable to nurse), especially since it supported multi-tasking, and consequently changed the face and expectations of motherhood.
The effects of that time period still influence parents today. Most of the advice given by our mothers and grandmothers stem from that time of discovering conveniences in American history, not necessarily from what has been learned to be the best or even norm for babies.
Taking other cultures and time-periods has been very beneficial for me, instead of limiting my knowledge to modern American parenting.
When you do that, you’re bound to stumble upon the fact that your life will be changed by your baby, and that’s normal, and good, and okay.
4. Embrace the change
Once we accept our roles and responsibilities as mothers, and embrace motherhood by embracing the sacrifice that comes with it, I believe motherhood will become so much more rewarding and enjoyable. Not because we’ll get what our former selves want or because we’ll have freedom to go to movie theaters and shop and drink coffee at B&N or go to gospel meetings or be able to sit in the pew the entire church service or get to enjoy that much-needed time with other women and mothers or even suddenly be able to take a shower at any needed time or clean and cook without interruption, but because we will be focusing on our children and our God-given duty. It can be enjoyable because we won’t be counting down the days or hours or minutes until we can do what we want, but because we’ll be committing to a new life and a new chapter in ourselves, in our maturity.
I believe as Christians, this should be a concept we’re familiar with. Sacrifice, self-control, patience, selflessness and other-centeredness aren’t foreign concepts to Christians. And nobody’s trying to fool you by saying it’s easy breezy and buckets of fun everyday. It’s hard work! It’s exhausting! It is inconvenient. But that doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong. And sometimes we will miss certain freedoms or we will become overwhelmed. You aren’t a bad mother for feeling that way or for stumbling and becoming bitter. You aren’t alone when you need a break or you have doubts or you try to remember what it was like to leave the house alone with the whole day ahead of you. You’re normal when you long for meaningful conversation or just one night of comfortable, continuous sleep.
We can know this because we face those similar struggles in our faith. Some days are hard. Sometimes being a Christian is just not appealing. Why? Because Christ tells us to crucify ourselves daily!
Parenting is no different. Just as we can’t just squeeze increments of Christ into our former lives, we can’t expect our children to cater to our pre-parenthood days. It’s not a popular thought in our society of instant-gratification, independence and seeking one’s own happiness, but it’s how God has intended it since the beginning of time, and it’s really why mothers that are present (emotionally, physically, mentally) are so vital.
So those are just a few things that have really molded my parenting, and I’m positive I’ll only continue to learn more as we have more children and as those babies become school-aged children, then teenagers, and adults.
Take what you can from this, discard the rest, and find what works for your family. While motherhood can be very uniting, it can also unfortunately be one of the most divisive areas between friends, and that’s really sad. It’s so important to know that every parent, family and child is different.
I think some of the most important things are to be informed, to have the right heart, goals, expectations and then to focus on our own families and throw off the judgment of others or the habit of comparing children. I guess I should also add that we have to be open-minded. Trust me, I had it all planned out before Isaac was born.
And then Isaac was born.
“Everyone is a perfect parent before they have children”, right?
Parents have to be flexible, which is another reason I don’t blindly hold to some parenting style. Make it easier on yourself and be ready to try new things, even techniques or routines that you prematurely judged.
So there are the very basic things I’ve learned so far, and hopefully they’ll be helpful if you found the time to read through the whole thing. ;)
I’m sure I’ll need to remind myself of these things in the future.