Before I got pregnant I was a really good parent. I knew exactly what to do. I knew all the rules and was sure that I would be able make sure my kiddo knew exactly how to follow them. I didn’t have a fucking clue.
Soon my boy came along and was very quick to show me just how wrong I was. A friend of mine gently pointed out that babies have really poor reading levels and are awful at telling time. I was surprised at how hard this hit me. I expected him and I to be on the same page. I assumed the books knew something about him that I didn’t and they were doing me a favour by letting me in on the secret. But he was not a baby from a book. He was a unique person who has unique needs.
I wasted a lot of hours, stress and money trying to get him to follow these rules. I bought the right crib, the perfect stroller, the sleep sacks and gear that I was supposed to. He hated it all.
That crib became a place to store laundry. Every time I saw it or tried to get my son to sleep in it I felt like I was failing some how. It was set up to follow all the rules, but he still wouldn’t have anything to do with it. After fighting with it for over a year and trying every single recommendation to make it work we finally threw in the towel and took it apart. I put a mattress on the floor and moved into his room. He needed me to sleep. He needed my touch and my presence to relax into dreamland. I embraced bedsharing and finally started to get some sleep. I fought against this instinct for way to long because it wasn’t one of the rules I was supposed to follow. We still are pretty flexible in our sleep arrangements and play a bit of musical beds. I have embraced that sleep is sleep. It doesn’t matter who I sleep beside or if anyone thinks our sleep arrangements are ideal. The only people that matter are the 3 of us. It took me a while to learn that all the rules out there are merely suggestions.
My sweet boy had an huge and intense need to be close to me. I was his safe place. It wasn’t just at night time but all day. He wouldn’t lay on the floor and play with toys. He needed me. I struggled to meet his needs and take care of my own. I couldn’t do simple things that I needed to do like eat or get a drink of water, let alone get out of the house to meet my needs for social contact.
This is where my baby carrier became a life line. It let him have everything he needed from me and let me take care of myself. I had to learn a few new skills - like eating while standing up and swaying back and forth and peeing with an audience. Slowly I learned to do everything with a cling on. I found it hard to ignore the advice that I was spoiling him or that I had some how “caused” him to be “too needy”. For a while I tried to force him to lay on the floor or sit in his stroller. He continued to tell me that was not ok with him.
I think it was probably exhaustion that forced me to change my mindset. I stopped caring about these rules and started embracing him for who he was. I also started to be more open about my parenting style. It found a lot more support than I thought was out there. I found online and in person communities of people who really changed the way I thought about parenting. I learned so much about the spectrum of options. I also learned about the difference between culture and biology. I always assumed that the rules as I knew them were based on brain science or at least some understanding of the biological needs of our babies. I soon learned there was a huge disconnect between our culture and our biology. These rules that were presented to me as absolute truths were in fact just one option on a spectrum.
I meet a lot of parents struggling to come to this realization or navigate their way out of these cultural rules. They are tired, stressed and usually very worried they are doing something wrong. When I talk with these parents I try to gently encourage them to see the spectrum and stay open to the possibilities of alternatives. There are very few black and white rules in this parenting world.
Take a deep breath. The fact that you are trying so hard to get it right means you are doing an awesome job. Next time someone gives you advice or tells you that you have to do this or that, just breath. Remember that this is merely a presentation of one alternative. Take what works for you and leave the rest