I was teaching a baby care class the other week and we were discussing soothing strategies for newborns. I was taking them through a scenario and asked for a mom volunteer to demonstrate. I began, "Let's pretend your baby is crying in her bassinet. What's the first thing you would do to calm her?" The mom picked up her baby as the class echoed the suggestion. "Okay, excellent," I said. "Now let's say she doesn't stop crying. Can you think of something to try next?"
And then the most wonderful thing happened.
This mom sat there, thinking hard, trying to come up with something to do. Trying to think of the best soothing strategy for her crying child. Her brow was puckered and she was frowning in concentration.
And all the time, she was gently rocking and bouncing that baby doll.
"You see?" I said to the class as we all realized what she was doing. (I admit, I was grinning like a fool!) "You know what to do! You know it deep down, instinctively. You do it without even thinking about it, if you let yourself. Always remember to listen to your instincts and your intuition!"
It was such a wonderful, beautiful, completely unscripted teaching moment. (I live for those!) And it is so important for new parents to remember! We spend so much time and effort trying to instill processes and procedures and steps and protocols and responses. Websites give you checklists for determining if you're really in labor or when to call the pediatrician. We spend hundreds of dollars on books and videos and subscriptions to magazines, hoping that somewhere we'll find the instruction manual to this little person who has suddenly and completely turned our world upside-down.
Don't get me wrong. I love parenting websites and magazines, and there is absolutely a place for checklists! But that little instruction manual we're hoping to find? We need to start first by looking into our own hearts.
I've said before in my posts on Attachment Parenting that the core of AP--and, truly, the core of any successful parenting approach--should be love. When we love someone, we long to know them as a person, as an individual. And as we get to know our babies as little people, we begin to know, instinctively, what they need. We become more responsive and more responsible. And when we place the priority first on knowing our babies as individuals, then we can use the information from other sources so much more effectively.
Our society doesn't always value intuition. Labor and delivery nurses perform a cervical exam, for instance, to make sure a mom is 10 cm dilated before beginning to push, even if the mom is already bearing down instinctively. (They have their clinical reasons for this, and please don't think I'm hating on L&D nurses for doing their job!) But by contrast, midwives will often simply watch the mother for signs that her body is ready, trusting the mother's instincts to tell her when it is time for birth.
Similarly, there are some parenting methods that advocate scheduling and methods of sleep training that more often than not bring mothers to tears. Why does a mother weep when she is told by a book or video to let her child "cry it out"? I suggest that it's because this method violates her maternal instincts. It's not right for her and for her child, and deep down she knows better. It takes courage to listen to that little voice over the stiff pages of a published book or the pixels of a computer screen. But mothers, take courage! Believe that you know how to mother your child.
Feed your desire for knowledge and understanding with books and classes, absolutely. We can all learn and grow, and sometimes it's easier to do what we know is right when we understand why we're doing it. But balance all of this knowledge with what you already know instinctively. Realize that you know your child best, and that the bond you share with that child goes deeper than thought.
Maybe it would help to liken this to tending a rose bush. We weed and feed and water and prune so that the rose (our intuition and love) can grow and bloom and reach their full potential. Nourish your instincts and your love through knowledge and learning, but don't let these things tell you that you are growing violets when you know you are tending a rose.
About S.K. Valenzuela
S.K. is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and teaches childbirth and baby care classes at a major Dallas hospital. She also enjoys freelancing about writing and all things mothering. Her book, Mothering the Mother of Many, will be released in 2013. She also enjoys writing fiction, and her second novel, The Lords of Askalon, is now available. For more information about her current projects, please visit her at www.skvalenzuela.com and follow her on Twitter at @skvalenzuela. She and her husband and their six beautiful children live in Dallas, Texas.