You know what they say . . . wisdom comes with age? You learn through experience? Your first child suffers from all your experimental parenting? Oh, maybe they don’t say the third. Maybe it’s just me.
When people see the baby and I running errands, he is highly complimented on his blue eyes and sweet clutching chubby hands. I get knowing looks from older women, the look of oh, to have a baby again–so simple, so sweet. I want to assure them all that I’m no spring-chick mother. I have two older kids. I know all the unsolicited advice they’re wishing they could mombard me with because it’s along the same lines of what I’d harbor in my head seeing a new mom.
What I’d really want to tell her, though, isn’t to make sure to air dry if he has a diaper rash before you slather all that stuff on his bottom. What I’d really want to tell her, in a clutching her shoulders, crazed sort of way, is to not repeat the mistakes I made when I was a first time mom. She’s probably smarter and wiser than I was, so perhaps she’s graduated to her own level of errors.
1) I was afraid to look like a first-time mom.
Wiping toys and pacifiers that fell on the floor? Should I? I don’t want to look like a germaphobe, or worse, a first-time mom. Insistent he receive reassurance the second his toddler padded cloth diaper bum hit the ground after smashing into the wall? Should I? Or should I say something like “rub dirt on it”? I really don’t want to look like I’m hovering to my mom, my aunts, my older friends. I want to look very comfortable at this.
But the worries and fears? They were okay. They were hormonally driven, in part, to ensure the species carries on. It’s okay to be a worrisome fussing first-time mom. I *knew* that but I remember distinctly feeling self-conscious that I didn’t have a handle on this whole thing yet.
Be where you are.
2) I was afraid to let my husband parent too.
Can’t he just be my clone and do everything the researched, perfected, tried and true, correct way:aka the way I do it? What if he let him sit in a dirty diaper too long? What if the diaper change took too long? And what if, well, what about when, the diaper was on differently than I would do it and as a result, the cover to the pre fold got wet too. Another item of laundry? Why can’t he just be me.
I think we all go through this in phases. Wanting our co-parent to do things our way. Letting go and letting their relationship with the child blossom the way it’s going to isn’t easy on some levels. I’ve written about dealing with parenting differences constructively. A work in progress, I assure you. Three kids in and he is easily their favorite person on this earth. Even the nursling tot!!
Let the other parent be where they are, too.
3) I confused parenting styles with parenting values.
I’ll readily admit that a number of our parenting choices have been off-the-beaten path, unusual, or simply put: downright weird. Our kids still don’t want any television shows or play on iPads or iPhones and SuperBoy is closing in on 5 this month. We still don’t eat processed sugar hardly ever, and if my mom weren’t a baker extraordinare, they wouldn’t have any. My kids have never had pop, sugar cereal, or McDonalds. They don’t attend preschool or have a regular babysitter. I’ve had unmedicated labors, extended nursed each of them and we cosleep. We also don’t do any cry-it-out until they reach my breaking point of after one year old and then it’s more like a cry-with-them.
These aren’t moral choices. Or value choices. They’re just styles and how life works out, whether the parent outright chooses it or not. And when I started out, I thought these choices defined me as a mom. I was a NATURAL MOM and a CRUNCHY MOM and an ORGANIC MOM. Mostly we hung with people who felt similarly. And while I still love my natural world village, but my very immature view that this were “correct” choices and that by definition not living this way was really less-than has since been modified.
I have close friends who love epidurals, disposable diapers, pre-k, work full time, and have no-guilt fast food nights at their houses. I love them. I love their kids. My kids love their kids. These are not the hills to die on. Of course, first-time mom Nell thought deep within that these moguls were mountains. I’ve softened and grown up and learned that being totally black & white is never ever a good thing.
I parent this way because it’s working for our family. I reserve the right to change at any time, as all of you should.
4) I thought my child’s behavior was a direct reflection of my parenting skills.
He was my walking review. My walking report card. His two year old temper tantrum meant I wasn’t a good disciplinarian. (HA! Like you can stop a two year old’s prefrontal cortex from flipping out. The things you learn along the way.) His early speaking meant all that classical music and book reading paid off and my moral smugness could fog an entire city.
I love playing stimulating music for their minds and of course literacy is so wonderful! But he probably was an early talker for a variety of reasons, perhaps mostly because he was being raised with five adults in and out of the house all the time. Thank you, intergenerational living.
I wrote about how we are not defined by our children. And it has taken me three kids to really really believe it.
5) I couldn’t trust that he would ever be self-sufficient.
I’m staring down at this very tall almost five year old boy and marvel.
He takes care of his bathroom business alone. He showers with little help. He pages through books and gleans words and information from them. He pours his own milk, gets water for he and his sister, and feeds his little brother while fending off the biting teeth of the babe.
He tells me, Mama, I love you so much, unsolicited.
Time will pass, your baby will grow into a young person, and paving the way for self-sufficiency for my oldest has taken my confidence in his abilities, and slowly letting him make decisions, call the shots, and determine whether or not he’s going to play shortstop or pitcher when he makes it to the major leagues.
When he cries out in rage, I’m so sick of you always telling me how to do everything! I realize, he actually has a right to say that. Not to say it rudely to his mother, but to express a desire to flap his wings and try to fly a little. And I’m far more encouraging than instructional as a result of this realization. Mentally I limit how many instructions I give in one day. Like to 10,000 instead of 100,000.
Confidence is contagious. Be confident in your child and he’ll be confident in himself, too.
pic by Emily Rumsey in 2010. Oh! How young we were!
I’m sure you were a more keen first-time mom than me. I hope you’re enjoying this journey, even the crappy sucky parts!