As an expectant first-time mother, I did what every expectant first-time mother does. No, not mainline Nutella (well, yes, I did do that, but that’s not what I am talking about). I read. Because that’s what good parents do, they read, right?
I had books for different moods. When I was feeling like I just wanted the plain facts in chronological order, I read Murkoff and Mazel’s “What to Expect” books. When I was feeling hormonal and earth-mothery, I turned to Dr. Sears’ “The Baby Book,” and when I was feeling snarky (in other words, feeling like myself), I picked up Lovine’s “The Girlfriends’ Guides” (to Pregnancy and to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood).
So, before my baby came, my husband and I decided we would be Attachment-lite parents. I was planning on breastfeeding and nursing on demand, and we set up my daughter’s bassinet next to our bed.
Flash forward about three and a half weeks after the arrival of my beautiful but non-sleeping daughter. It’s 2 a.m. My husband is in the hospital with a post-op fever following emergency gallbladder surgery, and I am home alone in a country where I don’t (yet) speak the language with my infant daughter who has refused to sleep for three nights running. I’ve got my mom in Miami on speaker (yay for being in different time zones for once–I could call her at 2 a.m. because it was 8 p.m. her time) and she is asking me for the fifth time that phone call, “Are you sure she’s not hungry?”
Very confidently I tell my mom what I read straight out of both Dr. Sears and Murkoff and Mazel.
“Mom, not every cry is for hunger. If you feed every cry then your child will develop bad eating habits.”
My mom, without any inkling of sarcasm said, “Honey, we’ve been on the phone for an hour and a half and she was crying already when you called, so even if she may not have been hungry when you first called, she might be now. Are you sure?”
Desperate and so tired and feeling like the most incompetent mother around, I plopped down on the couch and within 30 seconds my daughter was nursing happily and 15 minutes later she was asleep.
That was the very first time that I realized that a book shouldn’t be parenting my child, but that I should be.
The next morning, feeling a renewed lust for life due to the five hours of uninterrupted sleep I got for the first time since her birth, it dawned on me.
Parenting philosophies are limiting.
It’s not that they are not useful or don’t offer good information or suggestions, but when you rely too much on them and try to do everything right, you run the risk of forgetting one very important thing.
The thing you are trying to fix is not a toaster; she is a living, breathing human.
While some of her wants and needs are predictable, we are dealing with flesh, blood, heart, and soul and sometimes you just have to feel your way through it. You have to figure out what works for you and for your family and some problems are textbook and others aren’t.
So, I breastfed on demand, but let my husband give her an occasional bottle before quitting breastfeeding altogether at 7 months when my daughter developed enough teeth that I couldn’t get through nursing her without being bit. I was both a stroller and a marsupial mom, depending on what mood I was in. My daughter slept with us until she was 4 and I never let her cry it out. I sometimes err on doing too much for her but at 11, she’s a happy, kind-hearted, confident girl. She may have no idea where her stuff is, but man, if a kid is upset, she’s right there, holding hands, speaking soothing words and making you feel better.
Philosophies are fine, but it’s the circumstances that should dictate. No one philosophy is one size fits all, all the time. Each has their upsides and downsides, particularly when they are practiced out of balance. By all means, read books and gather all the information you can from different sources. But don’t let attachment, free-range, authoritative, or nurturant define you or your child.
Because that thing that we are all trying to do well, the parenting? It’s not done by books, and it’s not about perfection. It’s trial and error each and every day.