Well, maybe not garbage but if I followed any of them to the letter I would go crazy, and I would not be the best parent I can be.
When my son was a couple of months old I sent an email to my friend– my single friend who didn’t have children nor wanted them– with a link to an attachment parenting website. “This is the kind of parenting we are doing,” I wrote. As my good friend Christie would say: Gag me with a spoon.
Almost three years later I realize this was not my finest moment. Back then as a new mom I was so certain that when it came to parenting things were either black or white. I needed to make sure my closest friends knew where I stood, and with one simple link I was telling her that I would be breastfeeding, co-sleeeping, soothing to sleep, baby-wearing and not yelling. Fast forward to today with two kids under three, and I do most of the things above, but I have also learned that there are times when I yell, I let my kids cry, and that helping my son put himself to sleep has been wonderful for both him and me.
I haven’t read many parenting books. I read one while I was pregnant with my first and I read another one shortly after my second was born. But I do follow several parenting blogs– mostly blogs written by experts. Even if I didn’t, just a visit to a playground or scanning a parent forum would be enough to know that there are several distinct camps when it comes to parenting, and if you belong to one, you don’t belong to the other. AP, CIO, RIE, gentle, respectful, peaceful parenting are some of the philosophies I have come across. And as my children get older the conversation turns to play-based preschools, Montessori, Waldorf, academic driven, public school, private school, parochial school, homeschool, unschool….the list goes on. It is enough to make my head spin.
Now that I am no longer a new mom I see these parenting philosophies as guides that have helped me immensely, but they cannot become my absolute. It is not realistic. I take what works best for my family from different parenting styles, and leave the rest behind without guilt.
You can not find an answer to every single one of your kid’s needs on any book as if it was some sort of parenting dictionary. Children and their needs are unique.
To give you an idea this is what our bedtime routine looks like. Keep in mind that my husband works 5 evenings a week, so I do this by myself those 5 nights. Remember too that this is a best case scenario and that often things don’t look like this at all.
After dinner we go upstairs and I give my children a bath. I put pjs on one of them, then put her in her crib to hang out while I put pjs on the other. While I am cleaning up, the toddler is jumping on my bed as if he was on the highest of sugar highs while he yells his own death metal version of Jingle Bells. The baby, still in her crib, jumps up and down and laughs hysterically with her brother. After I manage to calm both of them down, usually by being pretty calm myself as I figure this routine burns any energy left in their bodies before bed time, we read two or three books on my son’s bed. I tuck him in, say a prayer, sing a song and I take my daughter to nurse. My son stays in his bed “reading” a book with his light turned off, but the hallway light on. I nurse my daughter to sleep while I am sitting on the couch downstairs listening to the sound of my son turning pages on his book. By 7:30 p.m. the baby is in her crib and lights are out. My son is usually fast asleep by then.
Almost every night around 10 p.m. I hear a whimper from my daughter. I wait. Nothing. Then she starts to really cry. I wait again. If she is still crying a minute later, I go back up to get her, nurse her again and put her down in her crib again. The rest of the night is hit or miss. Lately, mostly miss.
If a parenting expert of any philosophy read this, they would find so many wrongs. Maybe you have found a bunch. I see them too. At almost 3 my son should sleep through the night consistently, which he does, except when he is sick, or has terrors or has to use the restroom…and at 12 months, my daughter should also be sleeping through the night too except that she is teething and on the lower side of the growth charts so I want her to nurse if she wants to.
If you had told me 3 years ago that I would be waiting as my daughter cried I would have told you were wrong, so wrong. But what I learned is that sometimes babies cry, then sooth themselves. This is what Pamela Drukerman called “The Pause” in Bringing Up Bébé. If you had told me that 3 years in and I have yet to sleep six hours consecutively I would tell you that you were nuts.
But I have learned that there are many shades of parenting, and it is never black or white. Sometimes I yell, even though I hate it and I try very hard to not do it. Sometimes I let my kids come into bed with me, and other times I don’t. I give my children healthy and varied foods, but we also relish on the times when dinner is neither varied nor healthy, such as the time when my son and his cousin had sweet bread and hot chocolate for dinner.
If you followed the parenting books and the parenting experts to the letter you would not only go crazy, but I think you would lose yourself and your instinct in parenting, which I have found to be so important in the last 3 years. Babies’ cries vary so much depending on their needs, and it is up to me to understand what their need is at the moment, if I never let them cry I wouldn’t know what they need. As they get older I will be sending them to a play-based preschool and later I would like to take them to private school. But I know that maybe they won’t thrive there and they’ll need something different.
Parenting is about choices, about living in the moment as well as living for our kid’s future. It is so many things, but it is not black, nor is it white. So if you are not able to live up to your favorite parent philosophy, welcome to the club, and remember that in parenting few things are absolutes.