Birth & Parenting Series (1): Thoughts From a Mother of Four
This is the kickoff of a series of interviews/guest posts on birth & parenting from the amazing parents I know. MS is a veteran momma for four delightful children who shares her take on birthing, parenting methods, breastfeeding, working, food & entertainment, and potty training. She encourages us all to put down the “training manuals” and to trust our maternal instincts.
Hey new moms: Relax. You’re doing just fine.
Why do so many new moms parent out of guilt and fear? The rise of parenting books and access to the internet has caused new mothers to feel downright panicky about the prospect of screwing up their kids. I can assure you that your child’s chances of getting into that PhD program at Harvard will not hinge on whether you fed him peas or pears as his first food. I promise.
First, a bit of background. I am an experienced momma. I have been a young mom (pregnant at 19). I have been an “older” mom (pregnant at 34). I have been a single mom (with two kids under 3). I have been a working mom. I have been a stay-at-home mom. I have been a student mom (college and law school). Most times, I have been a combination of these. I am a mom to a kid with AD/HD. I am a mom to a kid that suffers from a serious medical condition that has required some major surgeries. Yep, there’s not much I haven’t seen.
Currently, I am working mother to four: ages 17, 16, 7 and 3. And it baffles me why so many mommas are scared to listen to their own motherly instincts. Information overload has caused them to lose confidence, fear that every move they make has lifetime consequences, and miss out on the enjoyment of having babies.
When I started having kids, I didn’t have the internet. No one did. There was no such thing as a “parenting style.” No one dished out advice about how every breath your child takes somehow affects their chances at future success. Was I scared about parenting? Sure. But here’s the thing: God gives us motherly instinct and common sense.
Here is my unsolicited advice on my top parenting phobias that seem to control women’s self-esteem these days:
1. Natural Childbirth versus Medicated Childbirth.
When did giving birth become a magical “experience”? I see birth as a means to an end: a healthy baby. And you should, too. While we’re at it, let’s get this baby out as efficiently (and quickly) as possible. A bit of research will show you how divided this topic has become. Too much research will have you downright paranoid about giving birth the wrong way. Many young women get this notion that, if they really love their babies, they will go through the painful process of labor without any type of pain relief. Then, they get into the delivery room, end up having to have a C-section, and have an enormous amount of guilt that they’ve deprived themselves and their babies of the birthing “experience.” Same goes for pain meds. You think you failed your child somehow because you wanted to be relieved of the agony of labor pains? Do you think your child will somehow know this or remember it? Or care?
Stop putting so much anxiety and planning on a process that, frankly, cannot be planned. I’ve had four deliveries. Three came with epidurals. One came as the epidural was being administered (literally). And all four – while they came fast and furiously – came with the help of pitocin. My goal was always the same: get the baby out safely, quickly, and with the least amount of discomfort. Do you think I love my babies any less because I didn’t have a “natural” childbirth? (Okay, well I actually had one without pain medication, so do I love her more?)
My advice: Educate yourself on childbirth options, yes. But understand that your value as a mother does not depend on how you bring this baby into the world. Enjoy the exciting parts of preparing for labor: packing the baby clothes, wondering if today will be the day, etc. But be ready to be flexible once you get in that delivery room. You never know what might happen in there.
2. Parenting Methods.
When my oldest was born, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. And I didn’t have a support system either. No one came to stay with me. My parents were not around. But my son and I figured each other out, and in short order, we got along just fine. I wanted him on a sleep schedule. So I put him on one – without the help of a book, or website, or technique. I just used my motherly instincts and common sense. My kids have to accommodate the family’s schedule, not the other way around.
All of my kids slept through the night (I’m talking 10- 12 hours) by 6-8 weeks old. Think you can’t put a newborn on a schedule? Come to my house for a day. I’ll let you in on a secret: all of those websites, books, and articles that tout the perfect parenting method are bogus. Babies respond to conditioning, rituals, and love. Be loving, be gently firm, but most importantly, be predictable.
Here’s the thing: every baby is different. The problem with all these advertised parenting “methods” is that there is no “one size fits all” way to parent. Only you know what’s best for your baby and your family. And you’re not going to screw it up, either. I promise.
My advice: Stop reading about how to parent your kid. You know how to do it. It’s fine (and useful) to educate yourself. Read some trusted sources (I said “some”). Don’t let the information overload allow you to second guess your instincts.
Oh, but studies have shown that babies who are breastfed are less likely to be obese/criminals/morons. Really? Could it be other factors, like socioeconomic, or environmental? How does one actually do a controlled study on breastfeeding? Think about it. I will agree that breastfeeding has benefits, but let’s get real here. Bottle fed babies turn out just fine.
I’ve done both. And I bet you can’t pick out my breast fed kids from my bottle fed kids. Why does the internet put so much pressure on moms to breastfeed? Let’s face it: it’s not easy to do. It can be painful. Some women just don’t like doing it. And some women feel immensely guilty over not being able to successfully breastfeed. The message out there is clear: if you truly love your child, you will exclusively breastfeed. But the truth is, your baby loves you unconditionally. The idea that you are bonding “more” with breastfeeding is a myth. Do you believe that babies who aren’t breastfed are less connected with their mothers? How would you even go about proving that?
My advice: If you want to do it (and probably every mom should give it a try), get your information, call in the lactation nurse at the hospital, and give it a whirl. But if it’s not working, for God’s sake, stop feeling guilty about it. Get that baby a bottle and get some sleep.
4. Work or Stay at Home?
Most of my time as a mom, I have worked full time. At times, I have also worked two jobs (one full-time, one part-time) and been the sole supporter. At other times, I have worked full time and gone to college full time. But I did have a chance to be an at-home momma for awhile as well, so I’ve lived both sides of the issue.
Working moms are scolded as uncaring, disinterested, greedy women. Stay-at-home moms are judged as lazy, self-serving, dependent women. You can’t win. So stop trying. Do what works for you and your family and stop worrying that you’re scarring your kids for life.
Let’s stop arguing about the merits of each side. Again, there’s not a “one size fits all” approach to parenting and family. There are benefits and drawbacks to both lifestyles. Sure I miss my kids when I go to work. But do I feel guilty? Hardly. Why would I feel guilty about providing for my family?
Advice: if you want to work, then go get a job. If you have the ability and desire to stay at home, then do so. Who gives a flying fig what other people think?
5. Foods, Toys, and Other Earth Shattering Choices.
Want to create the perfect adult? Open up the internet and start searching for what you should feed your baby, and the order in which you should feed it to him. My kids ate cereal (in their bottles – shhh!). I started baby food from a spoon at 12 weeks old. Why 12 weeks? Because they were hungry. Simple as that. Once they had teeth, I threw table food at them. I’m not suggesting that you should ignore the baby food rules (no honey until age 2, etc.), but if you’ve had a rough day and accidentally gave baby the peaches instead of the squash, it’s just not that big of a deal.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about toys. I generally hate toys that make noise. But I love hand-held video games. Why? They are a great distraction for my littler ones when I need to get something done: a phone call, getting a turkey out of the oven, waiting at the doctor’s office. Have I ruined them for life by exposing them to video games, particularly because I did it for my own selfish reasons?! Let’s put a little perspective on this. I have four kids. I do 20 (I’m not kidding) loads of laundry a week. We chauffer children around town about 3 hours each day (they all attend different schools). Think I feel bad about giving them an entertaining distraction so I can get something done (for them, no less) uninterrupted?
Advice: Parenting is hard. It is a marathon. Don’t add more anxiety in your life by convincing yourself that every move you make is going to have some kind of ripple effect. We’re all just trying to do our best, and, at times, survive.
6. Potty Training.
How many potty training methods are out there? How did we ever toilet train our kids without a “method”? How about common sense? I know so many moms who think they must begin training their kids at 18 months old. Why? What’s the hurry? You like driving yourself crazy? I’m pretty sure that the ACT doesn’t give bonus points for pooping on the potty before you’re 3 years old.
I’m getting ready to potty train # 4 next month. He’s almost 3 ½ (gasp). But because he’s a bit older, I’ll have him trained in a matter of days. Trust me; I’ve done this before. All I need is a week off from work, large amounts of Kool-Aid (a drink that we rarely have in the house), a warm house, and many pairs of underwear. Pull-ups? No way. These kids figure out that those are nothing more than glorified diapers in no time.
This isn’t a method that I researched or bought. It’s a matter of common sense, and what works for me and my kids. The “experts” don’t know your kid. You do. There is no magical age for potty training. And guess what? It really doesn’t matter when you do it. Pretty much all kids get the picture eventually.
My advice: Potty training is a control issue. Wait until you and your kiddo is ready. Don’t let what you read pressure you into starting too soon – you’ll just end up potty training for 15 months straight.
While there are some decisions in a baby’s life that will have lifelong consequences, the day to day parenting choices are kind of a crapshoot. What our kids need is parents who believe in themselves, trust their instincts, love their children, and raise them without the constant worry that they are doing it wrong.
If you’re in to making your own baby food, or using cloth diapers, then do it. But ladies, please don’t feel like you have to kill yourself over every little detail. You need your energy for the teenage years.