Monday, January 14, 2013

The Big Lessons

This article was originally published as a guest post over at one of my favorite parenting blogs, Code Name: Mama.  It was written when Riker was fifteen months old and since Ari is now fifteen months old, it seems an appropriate time to finally publish the full text of the post on my own blog for posterity. 

My dear sweet baby boy is fifteen months old already. He is no longer a baby really, but a confident, curious, lovable and loving toddler. A lump still wells up in my throat whenever I have a moment to glance at his baby photos or read a snippet of his birth story.

Going into the parenting adventure, my husband and I were about as prepared as we could be. We’d read voraciously on everything from labor and delivery to parenting styles and breastfeeding to vaccines and circumcision.

Looking back now, I see that we were indeed well prepared, but that all the reading in the world is nothing compared to that first year in the trenches. We learned a million little things specific to our baby – the best latch positions, how to interpret his tired signs, and how to distract him from eating the telephone.

But it’s the big lessons I’ve been pondering today.

Don’t try to control.

Like many women who’ve waited to have children until their careers were well underway, I have a desire for organization, schedules and control. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having one’s life in some semblance of order, but babies are not just another task to be managed. Pick up nearly any baby book off the shelf at your local bookstore though, and you’ll be led to believe that babies acting normally (nursing more than every three hours and needing help to fall asleep, for example) are an inconvenience to a parent’s life and with a rigid schedule, these “nasty” habits can be abolished. With this sort of “expert” knowledge flowing so freely around the new parent, it’s difficult to not feel that maybe you should be dictating more about your day and spending less time responding to the needs of an infant. But just as a baby is in no way trying to control or manipulate his or her parent, a parent should avoid manipulating a baby’s behavior simply for convenience. For me, when I stopped feeling resentful about our sleep struggles, I started to feel a lot happier. I tried to internalize the words of Eckhart Tolle, “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.” I found that letting go of the notions of how things should be helps me to enjoy things as they are.

Community matters.

Living far from family when starting a family of one’s own is extremely difficult. While there is no substitute for the loving arms of family, finding a community to call on can make a world of difference. I’ve been blessed to have some great friends with young families who support me though the day to day questions regarding the introduction of solids, sleep habits and the best brands of various baby gadgets. But a strong community doesn’t have to be physically present. Much of the support I receive is from online communities of like minded parents. I can confidently say that I am a much better parent because of a whole suite of natural parenting blogs and forums. So find support, ask for help and seek out like minded mamas wherever you can find them.

Trust your gut.

Advice flows freely to the new mother. I’m sure it’s because mothering causes a great swell of emotion to rise up within each of us and when another is struggling, we want to help. Trouble is, not all advice fits within our personal style of parenting. For us, many mainstream parenting philosophies go directly against our gut feeling of what is right for our baby. Crying it out as a means of teaching sleep and scheduled feedings have no place in our toolkit of parenting strategies, yet well meaning friends, strangers and health professionals will often recommend these. While we nearly succumbed to the supposed quick fix of sleep training during a time of desperation, the experience led us to question our beliefs and to solidify our commitment to our parenting principles. So, listen to the advice you receive, but then do your own research and trust your gut in the end.

Ignore baby wisdom.

I hear the funniest things said about babies. “Oh, better not let him sleep with you or you’ll just have to break that habit in the future.” “If he doesn’t learn to self soothe now, he NEVER will.” “A baby over six months of age should be able to sleep twelve hours without nursing or comfort from a parent.” “They say it only takes three days of sleep training to break the baby of his nighttime neediness.” I sometimes wonder if people listen to what they are saying. I can’t stand the word “break” when it’s used for horses, but when it comes to babies it’s simply an unacceptable term. Babies are individuals who deserve our respect, tenderness and compassion (night and day). Question assumptions that you hear about baby’s behavior and ask “who says?” The ubiquitous “they” probably never met your baby so when in doubt, listen to your baby rather than the experts.

Savor the moment.

Hard as I try to be fully present, the days just keep slipping by with disturbing speed. It seems like only yesterday that the universe shifted to make room for a very special new person. And now here I am, chasing a toddler around and wondering what he did with my keys. Before I know it he’ll be asking for the keys and pushing for a later curfew. This thought always prompts me to both respect my baby’s needs as an individual and to enjoy the moment. How I treat him now will shape the man he becomes. If he is treated respectfully, disciplined gently and loved unconditionally, I will have done what I can to mold a kind and honorable man. And a man he’ll be in just a blink of an eye.

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