‘How To Be Comfortable With The Parent You Are’
It’s easy, as a new parent, or even as an old (or should I say “less new”) parent to be overwhelmed by the parenting rules and lists and guides and chronicles and books and classes all around us. When my first child was nine weeks old, we interviewed a nanny, who asked us what our parenting philosophy was. I ad-libbed for bit, and then finally had to ask her what exactly she meant. My 23 year old nanny candidate then patiently gave me an overview of “Attachment” Parenting versus “Babywise” Parenting, and I had to admit that we were more “by the seat of our pants” parenting. Of course I had opinions about parenting, anyone over the age of seven probably does, and my husband and I had discussed what values we wanted to instill in our children, and how to go about doing so. But I didn’t know that there were defined parenting philosophies, and that I might be expected to have one. And I found this just a little bit intimidating. My son was nine weeks old and I was already behind on my homework.
During his first six months, I read several parenting books touting different philosophies and methods, trying unsuccessfully to find the one that exactly suited our family. I would invariably end up frustrated when I tried to impose one system or another – usually something to do with getting my angel to go to sleep without destroying my eardrums and my sanity. The latest philosophy, system, or set of rules I attempted to follow, which seemed so entirely rational and inoffensive when it was words on a page next to a picture of a peaceful sleeping infant (oh, for that infant to be mine, I would breathe reverently) inevitably failed when actually faced with a real child.
While there is certainly useful information to be found in every parenting book (excellent swaddling tips, how to properly warm a baby bottle, etc…), I failed each time I tried to implement one of the “systems” recommended. They left me feeling beaten down and berated. You’re doing it wrong, they whispered as I flipped through the pages while breastfeeding for the twelfth time in the last four hours. If you don’t do what I say, your child will be emotionally distant, unable to form meaningful relationships, and will never, ever be able to tie his shoes. And to add flavour to my misery, the next book would tell me to do the opposite, unless I wanted to end up with a college student unable to take a nap without his mommy, or eat his dinner without applause. But, but…I appealed to the pages…how do I know which one of you is RIGHT? Being a strict rule follower (the only time I’ve every truly rebelled against my Canadian-lefty-intellectual-hippie-dippy-west-coast-basically-agnostic-but-sometimes-Jewish-all-inclusive family was when I married a Republican from New York – really, what else did they give me to rebel against?) it hurts my head when I can’t apply the rules exactly.
It wasn’t until late into my son’s first year that I realized something stunning. Something that allowed me to take a deep breath and toss all of the offending books out the window (not really, of course we donated them. Or recycled them. or something equally environmentally pleasing). The authors of these books were all, like me, JUST GUESSING. There are, in fact, no rules. Just lots and lots of guesses of varying quality. And ultimately, while it’s great to listen to what people have to say, and educate myself as much as I can, beyond the few basic axioms about child rearing, which pretty much boil down to love them like crazy and do your best, it’s up to me. I can consider the useful suggestions offered by others, but I make the rules. No one else does. Mama is the boss.
BIO: Peryl Manning is a freelance writer and stay-at-home-mother to two small boys. She juggles her home and her boys, her writing and her volunteer work with varying degrees of success, and is convinced of only one certainty: Parenting is really, really challenging. Since being blindsided and overwhelmed, overjoyed and then at times underwhelmed by the whole business of motherhood, she has had a lot to say about it, and says some of it here. ’Parenting ad absurdum’ is now on twitter: @momadabsurdum. Should I be following you? Let me know! And if you would like to be on my highly classified secret double-lockdown mailing list to be advised of new posts, leave a note or send an email to email@example.com. http://blog.seattlepi.com/parentingadabsurdum/
Additional Reading. Wall Street Journal: Tiger Mother – Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior