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
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.
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.