Since Julia was born, I have received criticism for how Dave and I have chosen to parent her. Something about being a parent, especially a first-time parent, seems to invite advice and judgement upon you. From the moment my baby bump showed, it started.
“You shouldn’t be carrying all those groceries. Think about your baby,” a woman at the grocery store told me.
Yet another insisted, “Do not raise your arms over your head. The umbilical cord will get tangled around your baby’s neck.”
After Julia arrived, it continued. And increased.
I’ve been given some very useful advice along the way, and there are have been some judgements I’ve heard that have made me think about my choices – and thoughtfulness in parenting is not a bad thing. I can respect someone who imparts what they feel is widsom to me because of a genuine desire to be caring and helpful. It is when opinions are barked from a high horse that’s hard for me to take.
Much of the disapproval Dave and I have heard has been about cosleeping and extended breastfeeding, two things we thoughtfully elected to offer our daughter. Time and again, we’ve been asked to justify our reasoning for those choices, particularly from our former family doctor.
You see, that family doctor insisted that because I had chosen cosleeping and extended breastfeeding for my daughter that she would be crippled by the social ineptitude that comes from that kind of cockamamie hoo-ha parenting. I was told that I’d be lucky if she would be able to talk to others or go to school because of the debilitating separation anxiety my selfish actions would cause (because you know I was forcing her to sleep with me and breastfeed to fulfill my own needs). Nevermind that my then 20 month old child, who had been moved to the 3-4 year old group in her Montessori class because she fit in better there, would wave and tell me bye-bye and skip off happily to join her class while the door shut before my tear-filled eyes. I thought this was a sign that she didn’t have separation anxiety and could go to school and talk to others, but clearly I was blinded by my ignorance and selfishness. A 20 month old is too young to know what is going on. As soon as she does, she’d have separation anxiety I was told. My substandard parenting practices guaranteed it. “You won’t be able to tear her away from you,” the doctor said, “And you’re never going to get her out of your bed.”
But here were are. Julia is now 2 years, 7 months and 26 days old and three days this past week, she put herself to bed.
On three separate occasions, as bedtime neared she approached me and said, “Mom, I’m tired. I’m going to bed,” and proceeded to go get herself ready for bed, lay down and go to sleep. For the night. On her own. All by herself.
The first night, I was surprised. I shook my head and laughed at the ways she can amaze me. The second night, I was equally stunned and began to think there might be something to this. The third night, I was ready to call that old family doctor to laugh and shout, “I told you!”
Not to say, “I told you that cosleeping and extended breastfeeding are the best,” but to say, “I told you I wasn’t clueless.”
There are many ways to parent a child – not just a right way and a wrong way. There isn’t a one size fits all method for raising children. Every family has a unique set of challenges and advantages, a special blend of talents and personalities, so it makes sense for parents to fulfill the needs of their child in a way that fits their situation.
I used to get a lot of advice from a wonderful Kindermusik teacher who was also the mother of six children. I always listened carefully to the information she passed along, because I figured the parent of six children has to know quite a bit more about parenting than me. I felt I could learn a lot from her and I did. But, I made the mistake of believing that she was a better, smarter, more capable parent until she gave me a piece of advice that just didn’t jive with me. I thought about it for a long time before I came to an important conclusion: she knows a lot about parenting, but no one knows more about parenting my child than me.
Confidence in parenting can be a hard thing to achieve. There is always someone out there to tell you what you’re doing wrong or someone that appears to be doing it better. I often have to remind myself that there is no one better equipped to parent my child than me. I know her best. I live with her. I’ve got the genes. No one cares about her well-being like me. And when it is all said and done, what matters is that my daughter feels loved and knows her worth. I think I am achieving that.
Tonight, Julia may decide she wants to sleep with Mommy and Daddy and that’s fine. But for three nights this past week, she went to sleep on her own, in her own bed.
“You’ll never get her out of your bed?”
I’m pleased to say that you were wrong, dear doctor. And for the first time in a year, your disapproving words have gone silent and I know I am a good mother. I have been all along.