30 October 2015

thoughts on parenting styles

Today I find myself thinking about my parenting style. I am tending a 7-month-old baby in addition to my kids. This baby normally goes to day care while her parents work outside the home, but her mom needed a back-up today.

It's interesting to think about the difference in experience and environment for different children. Does it really matter that much? After 3.5 years into this parenting game, I find myself on the rather extreme end of the attachment spectrum. It was a little bit on accident that I got here. I would have said when Shep was a baby that I didn't feel like I had a choice. His temperament seemed to demand constant, exhausting attention in mostly one form: nursing. I avoided going in the car and leaving the house by myself with him because he screamed in his car seat every time, unless I was in the back seat with him, playing with him, leaning over his seat to nurse, etc. When I tried sleep training, it seemed to backfire. After a few days of trying to do cry it out, he started screaming bloody murder every time we even walked into the room that his crib was in. So I abandoned that attempt, despite being desperately sleep deprived. (I might have been doing sleep training wrong. It definitely didn't feel intuitive, so I adopted a method that seemed effective for others and probably didn't even follow the program correctly.)

Maya is a bit more adaptable. I think she would sleep by herself and sleep through the night if I taught her to. She would probably also be a bit more independent if I didn't hold and carry her all the time.

Being a parent always changes your lifestyle, but my life revolves around my kids in obvious ways. I don't do this because I have passionately strong beliefs that this is the right way to parent, and I don't pity every child who doesn't get the same parenting. I respect many parents who make different choices. I nurse my kids and I'm glad that there is some evidence out there that this is a good choice because it feels like a validating balm on my self-doubt, but at the same time, is the difference between formula and breastmilk enough to support the controversy that surrounds the issue? There are healthy, thriving children who develop into mature, responsible adults upon an infant diet of formula. Go figure. We humans are kind of resilient and adaptable, I guess.

So why do I parent the way I do? Am I just making things harder than they need to be? Am I exhausting and wearing myself more than necessary and thereby compromising my ability to contribute in more meaningful and impactful ways? I worry that I'm missing something, but I do this intuitively. It feels comfortable and natural. I do admit that it's a sacrifice. And maybe the sacrifices I make at times are not to the benefit of my family, even though I hope they are. It's a lot more work in certain ways and it comes at the cost of some things that might be good for both my children, my husband, and me. I'm sure some nights we really wish we didn't share the same bed and that everybody slept through the night because some degree of sleep deprivation seems to be a constant around here. I actually worry sometimes that I'm doing my kids a disservice. Maybe they would benefit from learning some independence skills. It might be a good thing overall if they could do some self-soothing, fall asleep without nursing, and spend time with someone other than me without their world falling apart. And while I'm fairly good at holding and nursing, I'm not very good at other things like making sure they get dressed or have stimulating activities that are engaging and developmentally appropriate. I see gaping holes in my disciplinary methods and find it difficult to enforce behavior standards with my toddler. I think it probably says something about me, not Maya, that I've never left her with anyone else besides Tim and even then, only for a few hours in the 10 months she's been alive. I like feeling needed and important, and my parenting style is a bit self-serving because it makes me feel good to be needed. I value being self-sacrificing in order to make a "contribution," so it behooves me personally to at least pretend that's what I'm doing. I don't really prioritize time to enjoy life and have fun, and I think that comes at a certain cost?

I don't know if I am doing this right, but I do know this: there is no one single right way. There are multiple ways to get this right, and every parent makes mistakes. I just hope that I can learn from mine and not cause my kids more issues to work through as a byproduct of being raised by me. Life brings enough problems on its own.


Tim said...

Good point that there can be many successful parenting types and that each should be validated, including yours. Here, you seem to emphasize the disadvantages of your parenting approach, but I know that there are a lot of pluses that our family enjoys. It is good to be reflective and self-aware too in this whole parenting game. And regardles, kids benefit a lot from the structure and stability that results when parents are committed to particular parenting approach.

Lauren Mc said...

I wished we lived closer together. Reading how you have found yourself mothering sounds so much like how I fell into the 'extreme end of attachment parenting.' It is rather glorious knowing someone else who has found their way there by accident rather than by conscious choice. But it has subsequently surprised me how much I have become attached to attachment parenting. I tend to chafe at the idea that I have come to love it because I like feeling needed ... but that is probably a large part of it. I think I also love it though because to me it's what helps me feel like I am sacrificing for my children. And honestly I feel like the approach makes me slow down in areas where I would otherwise, with my personality would take for granted or overlook. I feel like it has been instrumental in teaching me how to love and enjoy my kids in ways that maybe come more naturally to other mother's.

Anyway, from one mother to another who had to move to a place she knew no one with two small children; it gets better.

Anonymous said...

I think you are raising smart and thoughtful children. Parenting is as much a learning experience for parents as children. I love how open minded you are. I think you are also a fun parent, you were so clever in keeping your kids entertained on the long layover at the Denver airport. I think raising children not only helps us find out who our kids are, but who we are. Mom

Anonymous said...

This is Luke in case it doesn't show up somehow.

First of all, I've been reading this blog for like five years and I think I just "got" or at least related to the title (perfect thought at the wrong time). I love it! Second of all, what an absolutely fantastic comment Tim! I love it in so many ways. Thoughtful, insightful, validating, positive, fair, supportive . . . I'm clapping inside. I'm very sincerely impressed with your husbandry.

I really like what you said too Amanda, about intuition.

Hope all is well!

Tim said...

You are too sweet Luke. We miss you guys a ton

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