There’s a verse that goes something like this, “…then we will no longer be like infants, tossed by every wind of doctrine.” And while the context of that verse is all to do with what happens once one reaches maturity in Christ, I’d like to say that the imagery is a vivid one and I’d like to steal it for what I’m about to say.
Except, I’d like to replace the word “infants” with “n00b parents”. And I’d like the promise that every n00b parent will no longer be tossed like a greasy Greek salad, each new leaf of information sending us into more turmoil than ever before.
I am in completely new territory. Usually, I can get thrown into something big and new, and I’d try and wing it. New job. New industry. New country. New church. New network. New man. Marriage. Hit me, and I’ll find a way to survive and get prayerfully comfortable with my choices. Small (by Chinese standards), rustic wedding. Three-bedroom starter townhouse in suburbia. Settling down with a foreigner in a foreign land. Changing churches. Leaving and cleaving. Many, many others may have tut-tutted at these choices but for the most part, I’ve shrugged and breezily gone on with my life.
It’s not so easy with this parenthood shindig.
I’ve been thinking (oooohhhh!), and there’s a couple of reasons I’ve temporarily lost my mojo, and ability to think for myself and pee into the wind.
- The stakes are so much higher because it now involves someone completely helpless and important. Not just someone important.
- The consequences of not following parenting doctrine is usually couched in terms of the rebel being completely selfish and the effects, rather dire. (“You are teaching your child that you do not love her and that she cannot trust you.” “Your child may develop life-threatening allergies and will swallow a legume one day and die a terrible death.” “You will spoil your child rotten and she will become one of THOSE children. Your friends and church will shake their heads in shame.” “Child services should really be bashing down your door and escorting you off the premises now, you selfish buffoon.”)
- The advice is always, always personal.
The third point is the hardest to wade through, and calls upon good growing of thick skin and fantastic discernment. I was reading a parenting forum that was discussing the use of a certain parenting method. A few parents had started complaining about the method’s limitations, when a mother stepped in and basically said that the methodology in question was fantastic and the reason everyone was wrong and sucked was because they “didn’t try hard enough”. And even though that comment wasn’t directed at me, I was itching to jump on the forum and tell that woman to bite me. Because if there’s one thing we don’t need in this tremendously challenging terrain, is one woman oppressing and rubbishing another’s efforts.
Parenting is ALWAYS personal and emotional. It is not like any job I’ve ever had, because it isn’t one. It’s not even a career. For the most part, corporate life sets professionalism up to be the antithesis of emotionalism. But I can tell you right now that parenting cuts right to the emotional core because it partly answers the question of Who You Are.
And the advice out there. The literature. It’s riddled with labels to help us along.
Are you an Attachment Parent? You are either very flexible and attentive to your child’s needs, or you are incapable of saying no to your child and will bring up a spoilt brat who has no understanding of routine and rules.
Are you a Hyper-Scheduler? Then you’re either a very organised person, or that’s pig latin for anal-retentive control freak who treats her child like a robot.
I suspect some opinions are put forward so stridently because the adviser, rather than the advised, stands to be the main beneficiary. If you need to feel confident, perhaps the first place to start is by sounding very confident. The truth is, all of us have the answer – which is that none of us knows best. But all of us have been blessed with a sense of good-enough, and the rest… the rest is providence, baby.
Last week, I started putting away books that advocated any parenting methodology over another. I just didn’t want to be picketed at anymore, and I needed my mojo back. Those books may work for others, but I could feel my confidence getting leeched every time I did something – like pick Arddun up after she’d been crying an ocean – only to feel guilt on both ends of the spectrum. Enough. Maybe I am building a rod for my own back because I did the whole “controlled crying” thing wrong. Maybe she will be a head case twenty years down the track because I didn’t pick her up fast enough and she cried two minutes too long.
Whatever. I’m here now. I’m her mommy. And like my little girl, I am peeing into the wind.
17 August 2011 at 10:22 pm
Parenting books oh man – I’m sure good parenting books exist, it’s just there’s lots of junk and it’s impossible to tell. I mean I started reading heaps of them but I’d get disappointed and after a few pages I try to predict the rest – this one’s going to go for regiment or freedom or process or feelings or boundaries or routines or empathy or communications or hugs or rules or expression or reflection or flexibility or discipline or scheduled routine or active learning or social needs or whatever. Some parenting ways claim backing from a Doctor or a mum or a celebrity or an ancient culture or even from the right divine interpretation of God (as amended). I think they pretty much reflect the personality of the people that compiled them. In the process of reading these parenting ways, I learnt lots about the personality type of the author and I can picture who they are and even how they might relate to their kids but when I look for an evidence basis to their claims I find nothing but anecdotes and studies or statistics designed to prove their constructions.
Personally I gave up on most books, which is odd because I used to love pregnancy books and I’d read several of them, cover to cover when Leigh was pregnant. I knew how many rice grains long Josh was for whoa to go, but then it got too hard when all the behaviours happen and life gets complex.
As you say the truth is, all of us have the answer – which is that none of us knows best. Yep – It’s true for most of life and for kids as well. The problem’s not that we are tossed around and if we get the right process right we will have peace. Sometimes the way to stop being tossed is to grow up and put your-self in a hole a bit. To have learnt enough to not have all the answers – more like to trust in your model of providence, to find shelter with the idea that none of us knows best. It’s like when I was young I knew everything and people who didn’t spend their life researching the right blah method were negligent, but as I got older it’s amazing how smart that relaxed lot became.
Sure, find some good stuff from trusted sources, like something you believe in, but with non-robotic life there is always ambiguity. Many people start off hating ambiguity and want process to execute for their kids – I shouldn’t knock it coz that may be good for them. Personally I think it’s more like go for kids hearts and motives more than compliance to rules, like be perceptive of their feelings and motives – boundaries sure – but understand them and love them. Not saying I go completely nuts but yeah just recognise a kid’s life is not a procedure.
So sometime what you have to know is that you don’t know and that’s ok. Sometimes the best thing is do your best coz its best, aim high coz you will, love them because you do, and know their heart coz you know it matters. Every kid is different and has different needs, but there are more important things like that mind boggling good and complex concept- loving kids. Go Velle, shove the competition for the right methodology and listen to your heart – you’re her Mum!
18 August 2011 at 3:48 pm
I think the books are there because we miss the tight knit social structures of the past where your mum and grandma and a whole lot of aunties were giving you advice (not that I am advocating that as it would not be my style). Also, there must be a reason that many children get along with their grandparents much better than with their parents: probably the parents are doing the opposite of what ‘has been done to them’ and then the next generation want the opposite again and gets along with the grandparents just fine. :-)
Anyway, my only advice can come from having been a child, so not much use probably. Don’t be afraid of that wind, it may turn yet!
25 August 2011 at 1:45 pm
When I had my first, I read all the books, I analysed all the parenting methods, scrutinised all the theories on behaviour management, settling techniques, routine-forming and the like. Then my baby arrived, and the books only served the purpose of filling a bookshelf that would otherwise have looked bare and wrong. Everything I’ve done since has been baby-led. I had a baby that formed his own routine (which was quite civil of him to be fair – he reduced to waking once nightly by 4 weeks and sleeping through by 8 weeks) and reached all his milestones with ease, regardless if I had of followed the methods or not. My second baby I therefore welcomed to slot in with our routine should she please, but I decided I wasn’t bending over backwards to conform to any parenting method or planning how she would exist this time. And to my advantage, she just joined the family and followed the same routine my son had already established for himself. It’s nice. It’s predictable and easy to manage. I don’t ever feel like I’ve ever done anything wrong because I didn’t teach my kids to baby sign, or I don’t do a daily flash-card performance, or run to any of the books and follow them to a T. We threw all caution to the wind and anything goes – and for now, that’s working for us. Best of luck with you and yours, also :)
25 August 2011 at 5:14 pm
Hi there! Thanks for reading and taking the time to drop me a note! I am starting to come around to what you’ve already done – leave the books on the shelf, and be more baby-led. It goes against this entire wave of new-age parenting out there that loves, loves, loves instilling routine but you know what? I’m finding both Arddun and I enjoying each other’s company a lot more, and she’s managed to self-settle and slip into her own routine – give or take an hour each side. Just like it happened to you. :o)
I guess I have to unlearn a lot of guilt-inducing dogma out there about “spoiling” the baby if I don’t do X, Y and Z by [insert time frame here]. For me, a lot of my initial motivation stems from pride as well as a fierce desire to bring up a “good” baby – whatever “good” means at Week 9! Learning to let go of the books is helping me realise that this parenting thing isn’t a competition. I’m hoping. :o)