I remember it clearly. I was in the last stretch of pregnancy, feeling pretty prepared for our little guy’s arrival. I had taken all the classes at the hospital, built the crib and stocked the nursery, and was all but twiddling my thumbs as I read books and watched movies “for fun” – something I had been told I should really take advantage of before finishing a film at home became akin to passing a law through congress – so long and drawn out and diverted by tangents that the whole point is forgotten by the time the credits roll.
So I was feeling pretty ready for this baby to arrive and to get this party started (Oh, if I only knew how I’d come to mock that thumb twiddling), when I realized – we don’t have a thing. You know, a schedule-y, routine-y, “I will religiously follow this book or that blog or this pediatrician’s methods” THING. I didn’t have a child-rearing, sleep-training, milk-producing Bible, and suddenly – when I would talk to other parents I knew who did – a wave of “how could I have missed this?” insecurity washed over me.
One particular parent who comes to mind is a neighbor I like and respect, who praised the Baby Wise method of parenting. It includes a book that’s sold millions of copies, a blog fervent followers appear to read daily, a movement of parents and pediatricians who passionately oppose its methods, and a whole new language that the unindoctrinated must learn (PDF is no longer a file you save on your computer, but parent-directed feeding, and Eat, Play, Sleep is NOT a sequel to a Julia Roberts movie).
“Aaron!” my third trimester self said, semi-panicked, to my husband one still winter afternoon, “Has it occurred to you we don’t have a thing? Like, a schedule for the baby? I mean, what are we doing and how are we going to know when and how much our baby needs to do important things, like eat and sleep? What is OUR PLAN???”
A few deep breaths and blank stares from my husband later, I did what I usually do to re-center myself when this whole parenting thing starts to feel like a contest – remind myself that parents have been doing this for thousands of years without books or blogs or PDFs of either variety.
I will be my baby’s mother.
I will get to know his needs.
I will be OK.
As you may guess, I never did catch on to the Baby Wise method. I spent a few minutes skimming my neighbor’s copy of the book once, and tried Eat, Play, Sleep due to an open mind and love for Elizabeth Gilbert. But in the end, I realized my baby was just fine – his needs were being more than met – and trying to force a popular bestselling “infant management” program (Wikipedia’s term, not mine) was – for us – like trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. I gave myself the grace to truly trust that as long as parents are within the parameters of lovingly sustaining their child’s basic eating and sleeping needs, there is no one right way to parent.
Now of course this story is just one of a bazillion examples of the ways we may feel pressured, left out, or judged in our society as parents striving to be educated yet flexible, “a natural at it” while sometimes scared as hell, present yet always planning the next naptime, return from maternity leave or college fund.
I’ve learned to trust that, for me, it’s OK if my child hangs out with us while we watch football (he’s usually way more interested in the books in his lap, anyway), even though other parents cringe at the thought of even a passing glance of “screen time.” It’s OK if my son starts preschool at age 2, or age 5. And that baby food maker I never got around to using (sincere apologies to my mother-in-law — I will use it with the next baby)? Think of all the extra time I got back by simply clicking the “add to cart” button on Amazon Fresh instead.
The reason I am so passionate about leading PEPS groups is because I want to encourage other parents to trust themselves. Don’t let yourself be bullied by a book, or intoxicated by a trend, at the expense of being the exact parent your baby needs.
There is no perfect. There is no magic wand. There is no fool-proof guide book for baby-raising and if there were you’d go broke buying the next edition and the newest revision tomorrow and the next day, and the next.
Your gut feelings exist for a reason.
I’m certainly not against books, and I’m happy for whatever works for you, but I am against anything that makes good, well-meaning parents feel bad – whether it’s an unhealthy addiction to Pinterest, or the woman in Starbucks who told me on a particularly rainy day that “You know, they make rain covers for the BOB stroller” and “Really, you should get one.” She actually repeated “You should get one” as if the existing massive stroller canopy covering all but a few inches of my child’s blanketed legs would surely lead to immediate pneumonia.
But I digress and, as usual, I’m over my word count. Be kind to yourself and savor those books and blogs and DIY projects in responsible doses, like a good glass of wine. And if you find yourself putting down Eat, Play, Sleep in favor of Eat, Pray, Love – you won’t find any judgment here.
**Originally published on the PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) blog, Highs and Lows