After my baby shower, at which my unhappy new offspring cried from arm to arm, one mom inquired what books I had read and if I had chosen a parenting philosophy.
I stared at her blankly while my brain was busily cycling through the multiple childbirth and breastfeeding preparation books and blogs I had read. Nope. No books on parenting. And philosophy? I needed a philosophy??? Gulp.
I tucked my howling baby into her buckled car seat (likely done wrong), exhausted and discouraged. I drove myself home with the back seat full of diapers and clothes; my heart full of newly discovered mom guilt. I had been fed and watered by the peppering of advice for the last two hours.
Meanwhile, none of the advice-givers had been able to soothe my baby until they finally relented and gave her back to me to nurse. Even while I was told, “You can’t always soothe them by nursing, you know," and “she’s not hungry she’s just wanting it for comfort”.
Fast forward eight years. I've read the books, the blogs, the forums. I have seen questions posed to Facebook, debated on podcasts, and in the news. I have read the “for” and ”the against." I've listened to each and every one of my friends talk about how hard they are trying to get it right.
Inevitably, their stories are laced with feelings of guilt. Guilt that we aren’t doing it right. Guilt that even though what we are doing is the only thing that seems to work, somehow, it’s not okay, or how we should do it.
But when the laptop is closed and the media is silenced, I’m choosing, in consultation with my research and my conscience, to just do what works. What works for me, for my family, for my kids.
I’m choosing to do the things that feel right in my soul and make sense in my mind. Women have been raising children for centuries without the internet, without crowdsourcing every situation and every decision.
I do love having social media at my fingertips. I can Google "earache remedies" at 3 A.M. and which doctors in my city specialize in ADHD. I can post in my mom’s group at any time of day to vent about a problem I’m stuck on for commiseration and advice, but I think we are undermining what we already know.
We're trading instinct for fear and guilt. In our drive to do it better than our parents before us and everyone around us, we believe the headlines that everything is dangerous and we are the sole protector of our children’s physical and mental health.
We’ve undervalued the simple but challenging parenting method of having a relationship with our kids. A relationship where we know them so intimately and deeply that we understand what they need in certain situations even if it’s not what the experts think they need.
I hit a point in my parenting journey where I realized that each new study or book I read, each advice thread, left me feeling so incompetent that I entered into the mindset of failure.
What I’ll have left when these little birds fly my coop is a relationship. What do I want that relationship to look like? Will sticker charts and organic snacks give me the relationship I want? Or is it sitting on the couch together, talking, listening?
If we believed in ourselves first – knew that we were capable of having a relationship with our kids because we’ve spent time talking to them and hearing them – the studies and articles and advice could come second.
Instead of reading in fear, we could read in confidence. We could try things and walk away when they don’t work. When we parent out of fear it’s never enough. The anxiety will haunt us as we desperately attempt to perfect the method.
Parenting out of love and grace leads to what works, regardless of what the mom next door is doing. Because what works for her may not work for us. Let’s give our uniqueness and our kids’ individuality a little bit of credit.