Parenting is an art, not a formula.
In bookstores, online, and among local communities, we have available to us countless offerings of formulaic “If you parent OUR way, your progeny will grow up full of awesome! No, really. Trust us!”
I call B.S.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all method to every child. (What you’re likely thinking: “We already know that, Tiffany, what’s the point of bringing this up?”)
The point, my friends, is that there are too many people who cognitively acknowledge this fact, but do not acknowledge it by their actions or in their conversation. Or worse, use it to justify very poor parenting decisions.
“Well, if She would just take a switch to his backside once in awhile, she wouldn’t have this problem.”
“Well, if She would just wear her baby 24 hours a day, she wouldn’t have this problem.”
“Well, if She hadn’t given in to every little cry, she wouldn’t have this problem.”
“Well, if She had only breastfed longer, she wouldn’t have this problem.”
Now, I am just as guilty of this kind of statement as the next mom. It’s too easy to lapse into competition and criticism when it comes to our children and their behavior. From before they are born, to the day we die, we are judged by how our children seem to be turning out.
However, what we need to realize is that parenting is an art, not a formula.
It’s time that we truly realize a few things as Moms.
1) To be repetitive: There is no one “right” way to raise a child – no matter what anyone with any semblance of “authority” tells you. (Be especially wary of religious “methods” that claim to know “God’s way” of raising babies. The last time I checked, God doesn’t promote any particular method over another.) In other words:
“The most important thing she’d learned over the years was that there was no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” ~Jill Churchill
2) There are no guarantees in parenting.
No, wait! I can think of at least one guarantee: Your kids will have issues. They will sometimes reflect badly on you – even if it’s only in the perception of others. And another one: They will sometimes delight and amaze you in the most unexpected moments.
Some kids who are raised in terrible, abusive environments grow up to blossom into amazingly healthy individuals. Some kids who are raised in a loving, healthy environment grow up and go to jail. That’s just reality.
Don’t get me wrong. Parenting matters. It matters a lot. All I’m saying is that we need to come down off our high horses and realize that there is more than one right way.
3) That said; there are an overwhelming number of biological bases for some types of parenting. There are biological, physiologic reasons that babies cry, want to be held a lot, and need their parents around the clock. There are reasons babies don’t read clocks, calendars, or schedules.
Aside from all philosophical and religious reasoning, there is something woven into the very creation of mothers and babies that tells us something we already know: That babies and mothers are designed to be together. A lot. That babies are adorable, soft, warm, and sweet-smelling so that we will want them close to us more often than not. To ignore that normal, instinctual response is foolish at best, and harmful at the worst.
4) There is wiggle room for various methods. Some things are arguably, measurably harmful to children. Things like yelling, hitting, disciplining in anger, ignoring legitimate needs (and yes, the need for a baby to be held is physiologically legitimate), and abuse.
However, there are just as many, if not more things that are wonderful, beneficial, and work wonders for most children. Affection, trust built on the security of relationship with both parents (when possible), safe and healthy boundaries firmly and gently enforced, natural consequences, and play, for example. And those are just a few of the core ones.
From a mother who rarely reads parenting books any more, my advice to parents consists in a few simple principles.
First, find a philosophy that offers no promises or formulas or specific “steps” to raising children. Secondly, learn to understand the basics of normal child development, starting with how birth and breastfeeding work (yes, it really starts there).
Thirdly, discard anything that gives you a negative, sometimes physical, reaction. If it makes your stomach knot up, or seems to fly in the face of your own instincts, drop it. It’s very likely not right for you or your children. Pay attention to your instincts – they were given you for a reason.
Last, but not least, find a group of like-minded parents who can support you in whatever decisions you make, and are willing to share tips and advice without dictating anything to you, or presuming they know your child as well as they know their own.
Parenting is a complicated mish-mash of instincts, emotions, and cognitive ability. To ignore any of these components would be foolish. To place undue emphasis on one of the three is just as foolish. As parents, we need all three to do a good job.
Ultimately, I’d like you to keep in mind the following quote as you raise your precious little one.
“Remember, you are not managing an inconvenience; You are raising a human being.” ~Kittie Franz
It’s one that has alternately convicted and encouraged me. Let it sink in. Evaluate yourself and how you view your role, then grow from there.
Share your favorite piece of parenting advice you’ve ever received, or your favorite parenting quote. Mine is summed up in the quote I just shared, honestly. I really want it on a plaque somewhere…
Grace & Peace,
Tiffany Miller, CLD, CCCE