I’m all about the paradigms. I like to have a model, masterplan or general theory to guide pretty much anything I do. So when it comes to parenting, I’ve been both amazed at how untheoretical (i.e., random) I am in my approach, and also eager to apply something that I can believe in (i.e., attachment parenting).
Lately I’ve really been wondering if I’m an okay parent. This self-questioning has been triggered by two main things: questions about how to raise our girl with respect to religion and spirituality; and reading Bringing Up Bebe.
The religion thing I’ll have to deal with separately. The essence of the struggle is that 1) it’s a struggle in general for us to find the time to sit, talk and develop plans and approaches to parenting, among other topics, 2) I’m amazingly inconsistent in my routines post-baby and with baby, and 3) we both think the issue is very important, but have very very different ideas about how we should go about it. Fun!!!
Bringing up Bebe has been more of a slap with a wet towel wake-up call. I really did not want to read the book and expected to hate it. Why? Because the bits I’d heard about it and French parenting in general indicated that it would be an approach that ignored baby’s needs; put undue emphasis on the “independence” and materialistic needs of the mothers; and was littered with sundry annoyances, like an indulgent approach to alcohol and low levels of breastfeeding.
Fortunately, in spite of these concerns, I decided to read it. I won’t say with an open mind, because my attitude was more to learn the enemy’s arguments to refute them, but I did approach with at least curiosity. I have somewhat of a fascination with France (who doesn’t? Paris! French! Cheese! Provence and a myriad other delicious place names), and a mother expat’s writing is bound to be interesting. What I found wasn’t what I expected. The materialistic mother-centered baby-ignoring approach I’d anticipated wasn’t really there. What I’ve read so far, instead, describes respecting the independence and ability of babies & toddlers; giving them the freedom to explore, learn and mature; caring for the well-being of the rest of the family and thus teaching the child how to balance their needs with others’; and raising kids that behave well, so that parents can enjoy parenting.
Pretty much all of these struck home. I do want to respect my baby’s independence, treat her with respect, and give her the space to develop her abilities. I want her to think about others, to be well-behaved (though from a place of understanding and self-focus, rather than simple obedience), to be able to persist in difficult tasks. And I have to say, reading some descriptions of parents enjoying relaxing times with their young children – talking with friends, talking on the phone, eating, vacationing – I suddenly realized that while I love my girl and love parenting, there are a few too many unenjoyable moments. And gosh, I’m a better mom when I”m enjoying things!
A few insights I’ve pulled so far. From attachment parenting I have a really firm idea that it’s very very important to listen to and respond to kids. From the book I suddenly realized that hearing a child doesn’t mean you have to do what the child wants. I realize this is beyond basic (and no, I don’t always do what my girl wants) but I suddenly realized that I could both hear her and consider her wishes while setting the rules for what we are doing. Be flexible based on what your child tells you (she isn’t hungry; he’d rather stay home than go out; etc.) but if something needs to happen, you can empathize and explain and, well, insist. In a calm, authoritative way, because you as parent aren’t trying to win an argument with your child. You are listening, considering, showing love and respect, and also providing leadership as appropriate.
Another point that really struck me is the emphasis placed on children learning to deal with frustration, wait a bit, and play by themselves. Essentially, teaching children to be self-sufficient. I believe in this! I don’t buy into letting children cry when they’re young, but I do recognize now in a way I didn’t before that children can learn – in small, age-appropriate ways – to calm themselves and settle back into sleep. I think I could have let baby wiggle more when she stirred before rushing in. I can also see that asking a child to wait is different from ignoring his/her needs. You can ask a child to wait lovingly, face to face, hearing what they are asking and explaining that you can’t provide it at that moment. I tried this a few times today, and I have to say, today was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had with baby in a while. She played by herself; let me make lunch; and rested in bed in a half-nap while I finished eating. It was simply a matter of calmly letting her know that I couldn’t help her immediately because I was doing something else, but that I would be with her shortly. I also noticed how frequently I interrupt her, jumping into her monologue, offering food, redirecting her action. I want to stop doing that. Now.
Another element is calmly setting the limits and boundaries for your child and firmly but lovingly enforcing them. Within boundaries, they’re free to play (without your interference!). This is where my attachment principles feel conflicted. I’m not really about consistency, since I think that means you’re not being flexible. And setting boundaries feels very rule-based versus relationship- or morality-based. I’ve been able to integrate them to see that parents do need to be authority figures, and those limits can be set with discussions that help children understand why those limits are there – they’re not arbitrary.
Finally, independence. There’s a lot in the book about baking. So baby & I baked a “banana cake” today. I told her we would make a cake today and she kept saying how she and mama were making a banana cake. She helped mash the bananas and mix up the ingredients. We waited for it to bake and cool, then enjoyed some. It was totally delightful, and I can’t wait to involve her more in real work around the house. She is ready and willing.