I cover my kids with kisses. My lap is open territory, but I don’t always use the most gentle voice, and sometimes my anger gets the best of me. I know what I’m supposed to do in certain situations (because, you know, I’ve read all the books) but when your kid refuses to poop after hours of fighting her and having her doctor tell you you’ve got to make her go for the sake of her future intestinal health, empathy falls by the wayside and you’re screeching, “Just poop! Everybody poops! What comes in, must come out and if it doesn’t, I’ll make it come out!” (Do what you will, but you can’t make a tenacious child poop, trust me.)
So, not surprisingly, I confessed to my information-seeking friend that I’m not privy to some well-kept secret on how to be the near-perfect parent or how to get it “right.” On the contrary, I’m still working on things (and always will be). Go ahead and voraciously read about all the parenting philosophies, birthing techniques, theories on attachment and child development you want, but the best lessons in parenthood often arise out of necessity. You get creative, for instance, when you have to convince a toddler to not wear a snow cap in 90 degree weather. And when someone tells you to not hug or kiss your child (or in my case when I was once told not to rock my baby to sleep; I break this rule all of the time), you say whatever and do what you want and what feels right.
I thought I knew a lot. Maybe not everything, but more than that mom in the grocery store knew who snapped at her sweet child just because she asked, “Why?” (probably for the 2,342nd time that day). I owe this mom a apology. I was next to her in the checkout line, my belly swollen with my first child, when she lashed out at her child, and I remember quite clearly thinking, “How dare she crush her child’s sense of wonder? I’ll never be annoyed when my child asks me, ‘Why?'”
If you’re already a mom reading this, I’m sure you find my uppity attitude hilarious. I know I do. My oldest asks, “Why?” with about as much frequency as my teenage cousins use the word “like” in conversation. In other words, a whole lot. Generally, I try to be patient with her questions, but I am, alas, not immune to occasionally responding in a way that won’t get me a nomination for Mommy of the Year.
Since giving birth to my first nearly six years ago, I’ve seen just how hard it is to put theory into practice. I’ve also began to see that “natural mothering” – the type of parenting style I decided to adopt long before I was even pregnant – isn’t just about a set of rules to follow (for example: wear your baby or breastfeed on demand and allow for child-led weaning). I realize I keep returning to this theme of “natural mothering.” Maybe because God continues to humble me with my kids; the three of them are so very different and the “rules” that worked for one are useless with another, although I have found great blessings (and graces) in extended breastfeeding, cuddling with little ones at night, and babywearing.
What “natural” parenting is really about is not only following your mothering instincts but believing that you have them in the first place. “Natural” is more about your God-given ability to nurture and to raise children the way He intended – with grace, love, and gentleness.
And circumstances are very, very important.
Being an “attached” mom, for example, was far easier with my first even though she was my most difficult baby. I only had one baby whose needs and wants were one in the same. In her first six months of life, I also had a husband around who could help with the night shift. With my second two children, I did not have any help at night. My husband has been able to cover one (maybe two?) night shifts since my 17-month-old was born due to his crazy work schedule; this translates to me sleeping a handful of eight-hour nights in over a year – but not really since I woke up, jolted out of a fitful sleep and rushed in to check on my baby who was snuggled close to her daddy. Whatever. Sleep is overrated.
The point is, where you’re at in your mothering journey and who’s plodding along with you makes a big difference in how you parent. My parental ego is not nearly as fragile as it once was; this definitely has impacted how I parent. When Madeline was a few months old, I took her out without a hat on a mild, winter day (I lived in Augusta, Georgia at the time, and it was mild, I promise). A man proceeded to tell me my child would catch a chill and went on and on about how I should dress her more warmly. I immediately began to question my instincts and stuffed her round head into a cozy hat before heading home. She began to cry and when I pulled the hat off at home, her hair was a matted, sweaty mess. My poor sweat hog. Nowadays I probably am more likely to under dress my kids. I’m also not going to collapse into a heap of guilt if my baby cries for point two seconds because I’m busy helping her big sister go potty.
Sometimes love means setting limits, saying “no.” Sometimes it means saying “yes.” Sometimes it means holding your child close and sometimes it means letting them go even though your arms aching to hold them tight. Sometimes loving your child hurts and isn’t easy. Other times, giving love is as natural as breathing. Sometimes it means saying, “I’m sorry. I screwed up.” Kids are very good at accepting apologies.
Sometimes parenting is tough, exhausting (like lately). Sometimes it’s lovely and fun (like lately; weird how it can be both tough and wonderful at the same time).
Sometimes Every single day it brings me to my knees in prayer, asking for patience, endurance, a moment’s peace, or on a really tough day, all three. Most days my children are absolutely lovable, but some days their behavior isn’t, and that’s when they deserve my love the most. (I’ve been known to write about parenting makes you less selfish, but I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe in the long haul that’s what happens. You give and give and it becomes more natural. But lately it’s felt like parenting makes me aware of just how selfish I am.)
I’ve asked my mom what she was most the afraid of, and she can’t really remember. She thinks a lot of today’s moms spend way too much time reading about motherhood and theories instead of just living it and learning by trial and error. She laughs and says she was absolutely clueless when she had my older brother at 21. Her mom had passed away when my mom was only 16, and there wasn’t the army of parenting gurus there are today. All she had was Dr. Spock’s handbook on baby and child care and she admits she didn’t even crack it open much. Yet, it is this “unread” mother who gave me some of the best advice I ever received when she told me, “All babies really need is love. You can make up the rest as you go.”
In the near (I hope) future I plan on sharing a list of some of my favorite parenting books, resources, etc., so please stay tuned…In the meantime, what’s some of the best mothering advice you’ve ever been given? Please do share!