Many years ago there were no parenting books, no parenting styles or labels, just parents. People learned from (and were assisted by) their own parents as well as other family members, friends and neighbors how to care for and raise children. It really did take a village. In stark contrast is the journey of a new parent today with myriad choices to make and lines in the sand to draw. Here is my journey.
Before Z was born, I mostly thought about
1. Surviving those 9 months
2. Surviving her birth
3. Everything that I needed to buy
4. Newborn care
I did not know almost anything about parenting beyond the basics of caring for a new baby. Luckily the one thing I did know was that I wanted to have a natural childbirth. Maybe it is because that is how I was born into this world (there is a theory and I believe some studies on this by the way, that women are more likely to give birth the way they themselves were given birth to…but I digress). That experience, having Z in a natural water birth, was so incredibly transformational for me. It was as if that accomplishment set the tone for the mother I was becoming and began me on the path I was meant for.
I also had planned to breastfeed “if I could.” This was a little more difficult at first, mainly because of that crazy anxiety I felt as a first time mother. For a few months, I was harried. It was lovely, but terrifying. Z seemed to want only to be held and nursed literally all day (and night). She did not follow what all the baby books said about nursing schedules and the like (as I later joked, she never read “the book”). Finally, I came across some information on Attachment Parenting and the idea that it is not wrong to freely feed and hold and share sleep with our babies. I felt a monumental sigh of relief. I was validated. My instincts, which to that point I had followed with a great deal of nervousness and uncertainty, were not wrong nor was I the only mother in the whole world who did those things.
Most of the other “choices” I have made were just the natural unfolding of who I was as a person into who I am as a mother. For instance, I already had a strong dislike of plastic toys for children and Z happened to be of chewing age when all the made in China/ lead/ BPA problems with toys and products for kids was a hot topic. For these reasons, I have always tried to exclusively have natural materials and beautiful things surrounding my children. I later learned even more reasons to stay true to this ideal, more about this soon.
I also experienced a deep sense of responsibility for for the images and situations that Z, a perfect, impressionable, innocent being, was exposed to. I realized that it was mostly up to me to either protect this innocence or fill it and truly alter it with things out of my control. This led me very easily and early to the belief that television is inappropriate for small children. I wanted the pictures and voices in her mind to be something natural that she either already had in her or that she absorbed from the real world, not something someone else created on a screen. I would laugh that Z knew who Elmo was from a book someone had given her but had no idea he was a character in a show. This is still true of many “characters.”
Similarly, I have always been interested in eating healthy, organic foods and that definitely became heightened when I became a mother and was in charge of nourishing such a small body. Food is very similar (and linked) to television this . A small child is in many ways a blank slate and that purity of both mind and body needs protection. It is worth the difficulty and eye-rolling from others because the foods children eat in early life have a huge impact on the foods they choose later in life. I want my children to enjoy good health and the pride of taking care of themselves all through their lives. I also find that when my kids do eat junk or almost any amount of sugar, it changes them for the worse. Even though this effect is short lived, the phenomenon tells me clearly that there is something wrong with these foods.
The final thing I felt very strongly about at this time (and certainly still do) is the knowledge of developmental stages. It is so comforting and helpful to know that behaviors kids engage in during these challenging years are completely normal, even healthy. Punishing a baby for anything or believing them to be manipulative or spoiled is insane. Or, for example, expecting a toddler to sit patiently through a long meal in a restaurant is akin to expecting your dog to pick up their own droppings, impossible and silly (that’s not to say you shouldn’t ever eat out, just that you should have realistic expectations and not blame the child because they can’t do what you want them to do). Also, when little ones can speak so well, we naturally assume that they think like us and understand us. This is not remotely true. Understanding that fact has made everything easier for me.
For the first few years, these few ideals were enough. Breastfeeding, co-sleeping, natural materials, reasonable expectations, holding and closeness, very little separation, and healthy nurturing foods were all she needed those first few years. Finally, I began doing some reading on different types of positive discipline when we started to get to that age. With each book I began to feel I was coming closer to what I was looking for, but not quite there and so I kept searching and did the best I could in the meantime.
to be continued soon…