The challenges of parenting abound. When do you turn to the experts and when do you just listen to your heart and trust your instincts?
During the last trimester of my pregnancy, I was showered with love and support. Literally. I had three baby showers thrown for me by amazingly generous and supportive family, friends, and co-workers. Despite being a bit overwhelming, it was absolutely touching. One of the planned activities at the showers was a book that was organized for me by my mother and two of my good friends. Guests wrote a piece of parenting advice for me on cards which were then assembled in a photo album with pictures from the shower so I had a keepsake of the day and some helpful advice to start me on my parenting path. Truly taking the adage to heart that it takes a village to raise a child.
An (over) abundance of advice
I appreciated the love, thoughtfulness, and generosity found in those pieces of advice from the people who are nearest and dearest to me. Now that I’ve got my big girl parenting pants on though, I find that I’m surprised by the often almost-strangers who regularly dole out unsolicited advice. I imagine I’m not alone in this. It’s interesting how many people presume that they hold some piece of intensely valuable information that they are quite sure no one has already shared with me and that I simply can not go forward in life without. Often this advice is around hot button topics as well: circumcision, how long to breast feed, vaccination schedules, etc. (Rather shamefully, I admit that I’ve also been guilty of doling out a few gems myself. So, yes, I am a hypocrite. And as soon as I’m finished writing this post, I will place one hand over the closest parenting book I can find and the other over the toddler food stained shirt that covers my heart, and solemnly swear that I will resist all future urges to pass along my worldly views unless expressly requested to do so.)
Too much of a good thing?
In the early days, I would take much of this unsolicited advice to heart. But in hindsight, while sometimes helpful or insightful, it also could have the side effect of adding to the massive amounts of self-doubt and confusion over doing things the “right” way that I was already wading through. As I’ve gotten my parenting feet under me, I’ve since learned that there are as many ways to parent as there are children. Obviously not everyone is driven by the same parenting principles and so not everyone is going to make the same choices, but you hope that at the core of it, we’re all just trying to love and care for our children in the best way we can, and most of us are doing a perfectly fine job of it.
And so thinking back on those often difficult early days of endless dirty diapers, of cracked and painful nipples, of baby’s marathon crying sessions in the dark lonely hours of the deep night, of a true understanding of what it means to be exhausted, of the self-doubt, self-criticism, and sabotaging baby blues, I now have a bit of perspective. Aside from the occasional post-tantrum shakies, I feel like I kind of get this mom thing. I’m sure I’m making my share of mistakes and that I should probably consider starting my son’s therapy fund sooner rather than later, but hopefully anything I’m doing wrong is being far outweighed by the things I’m doing right.
A reminder from my village
In cleaning my son’s room recently and getting rid of all of the clothes he seems to be outgrowing at a lightening pace, I came across the book from my baby showers and sat down to read through it again. There were lots of solid and thoughtful words of wisdom from the friends and family who make up my village. Some of the most resonant advice was:
- Don’t lose your sense of humor. It will get you through a lot.
- There are no such things as “perfect” mothers or “perfect” babies. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself or your child.
- It’s easy to forget how important time for yourself is. Take a few minutes to yourself whenever you can. What’s good for you is good for the baby.
- If you have to choose between doing housework and spending time with your child, always choose to spend time with your child. You’ll never regret it and the dust bunnies can wait.
- Children are not a “project” to be completed or perfected. They are part of your life’s ongoing journey. Embrace them into the fold and allow them to grow and discover at their own pace.
- The words “for now” are valuable to remember. He’s not sleeping well, for now. He’s being a fussy eater, for now. He’s teething, for now. He’s having temper tantrums, for now. This too, shall pass.
- Enjoy every moment, even the seemingly mundane ones. Time goes so fast and some day you’ll look back and long for those moments again.
These are all valuable things to remember in the day-to-day parenting journey, but one particularly useful piece of wisdom came up many times throughout my little custom parenting book, and it’s one that I now understand the value of more than I did when I was pregnant. Trust your gut.
As one of my cousins aptly summed it up, “the books are often wrong, and the experts aren’t parenting your child.” This bit of advice resonates with me. I have a stack of parenting books on my bookshelf that I had been struggling to find time to read, feeling like I was somehow robbing my son or myself of some enlightened childhood/parenting experience if I didn’t get through them cover-to-cover. Don’t get me wrong, many of those books have a time and place. But these days I’m finding that both my son and I are often better served by listening to my instincts. They are strong and loud and rooted in generations of accumulative wisdom of all the mothers before me on my family tree. Sometimes my instincts tell me I’m in over my head and it’s time to call in an expert, but most of the time they tell me that I’ve got this.
Indeed, it does take a village to raise a child … and my village has reminded me to trust myself in raising mine.
MamaSolo lives in Canada with her 21-month-old son. When not pulling him down off of high ledges and other precarious perches, she works part-time at an entertainment research company. The rest of her days are filled with walks in the park, play-dates, grilled cheese sandwiches, navel contemplation and laundry. Lots and lots of laundry. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. You can follow her on Twitter @MamaMamaSolo