Working with other children (and their parents!) before I had kids caused me to swear there were a lot of things I would NEVER do once I had my own. My baby would be sleep trained at 3 months. My baby would be nursed for 6 months if I could make it that long. My baby would not have any baby gadgets. My baby would not have tacky plastic toys. My baby would cry it out if he couldn’t sleep. My baby wouldn’t be like other babies.
I had a typical case of “know-it-all”. You know, the kind that people without kids have? Just like people who aren’t married know how everyone else’s marriages should be run? Yeah. Things are always so much clearer when you aren’t in the trenches. I have judged how people cared for their children, how their children have turned out, and often thought how much better I would have done in their situation.
Fast forward to being a parent. My baby, The Captain, doesn’t sleep, if the Lord allows it, I want to nurse til he self weans, my mother bought him a jumperoo that is plastic and makes noise, and he loves it, when my baby cries too much, he chokes, vomits and becomes inconsolable. My baby would be labeled “high needs,” “colicky,” and maybe even “difficult.” I have spent many nights, and continue to, awake, feeling alone, beside myself, and frustrated. I haven’t gotten more than 90 minutes of straight sleep in Lord knows how long, and I often tell my husband, The Milkman, that the longer this goes on, the more alone I feel. No one seems to understand. It’s amazing how many people stop you when you have a baby to smile at them and look at their drooly, toothless little faces, and the questioning goes like this, “Oh! How precious! Boy or girl?”
I respond, “Boy!”
“Oh, wonderful. He your first?”
“Mhm. Sure is!”
“Congratulations! How old is he?”
“Thank you! He’s four months old!”
“Oh, well isn’t he a happy little guy! Does he sleep through the night?”
And then I get anxious. Here we go again. Why do they want to know? I already know what their response is going to be. I answer with a smile, “No, no… He isn’t much for sleep at night. It’s rough, but he’s worth it.”
And then the response I know is coming, first a furrowing of the brow, a pursed lip, and a lower tone of voice than before responds, “Oh, that’s too bad. Are you letting him cry it out? That’s really the best way to get them to sleep at this age. And if you are nursing, don’t let yourself become a pacifier. They really don’t need to eat through the night at this age.”
I smile hesitantly, and nod my head slowly. I didn’t ask for their advice, but they sure gave it. The don’t know me, but with my response, they began judging me, just as I would have done to another mother before I had my own. I thank them for their concern and give a general, “Well, we are working our way through it.” They are no longer smiling, we part ways with them giving a concerned head shake and walk away.
Alone. No one seems to understand. And can I blame them, when I did the same to others just months ago?
Everyone is an expert. Everyone knows how you should rear YOUR child. Everyone thinks that how they did it was the best and only way.
There is a fable of Aesop about a man, his son, and a donkey. Here’s what it says:
A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”
So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”
So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”
Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said:
“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?”
The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.
“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them:
Moral of Aesop’s Fable: Please all, and you will please none
This is a lesson I am having to learn. I am bombarded from all sides by well meaning people. Their voices all jumble into one voice in my head. “Put him on a schedule… stop spoiling him… let him cry it out… stop eating this… stop eating that… start him on formula… start him on rice cereal… stop tending to him every time he cries… stop spoiling him… he can’t be hungry AGAIN… toughen him up, he can handle it… he needs to conform to you, not you to him… have a consistent routine… get his daytime naps down… forget the daytime naps, get his nighttime sleep down… put him in another room…” So, I second guess my maternal instincts that tell me that when my son is crying, he is trying to communicate with me. I tell myself maybe I should try that. So, I do. And I cry, and Milkman holds my hand. And after testing each thing out, we agree, it isn’t a good idea, and we need to trust our instincts. We have tried to please everyone, and have pleased no one. We have tried to do what other’s tell us, rather than doing what seems instinctive for loving parents to do, and Captain ends up exasperated, and we feel defeated.
A dear friend of mine offered me the following bit of advice (hope she doesn’t mind that I am quoting her!): “ I just keep coming back to the conviction that you can’t know ‘all about babies’ any more than you can know all about Koreans or all about autism. Babies are individual people and no one who doesn’t know my baby and love him can advise me on how to ‘handle’ him. He isn’t a Buick.” So, each time someone offers me their “expert” advice, I have to remind myself of this. No one is better suited to read and care for Captain’s needs than Milkman and I. But the thing that I keep coming back to is that once again, I am the student in this life lesson. I am having to eat my words, thoughts, advice and expertise that I have used to silently judge other’s kids and parenting styles.
You wanna nurse your kid til they are 3 years old? Go for it. You wanna co-sleep? Go for it. You think your kid needs to cry it out? Go for it. You wanna give your kid solids before 6 months? Why, not? See, unless you are doing something that will harm your child, cause them emotional trauma, asking my advice, or putting them in danger’s way, it’s really none of my business.
I feel like God has had to teach me so many hard lessons since becoming a mother. Most days, I realize that there is no better gauge for raising your own child, than following common sense and doing what you feel most comfortable with. I told a longtime friend of mine today as we were out for a walk that I want to scream, “Okay, God, I get it. Can we stop learning this lesson now? I won’t judge people anymore!” But I suppose there is more to learn.
In the meantime, I still feel alone. I still feel a bit depressed. I still cry a lot. I still break down after the 6th wake up every night saying that I don’t know what to do anymore. I still second guess myself. And Milkman and I still have many conversations about what we should do. In the end, the answer is always the same. We are doing what we can. We are doing what we are most comfortable with. Milkman reminds me all the time that the 3 of us are all that is allowed in our family’s inner circle, and that since we are the one’s getting up all hours, tending to our child’s needs, and are responsible for Captain, we oughtn’t to let other’s advice upset us or penetrate our family choices.
All that being said, I can’t change other people. And though I know I will be tempted to be judgmental again, I hope that I can look back on this chapter of my life and remember to be charitable. To be gracious. To be loving. And to remember how I have had to learn this lesson the hard way.
So if I have judged you or offered unsolicited advice, I am so sorry. And if you have ever felt judged because of something you cannot control (like your baby not wanting to sleep, or take a bottle, or weaning early, or have become super forgetful), you aren’t alone. I’ll listen and unless you ask for advice, I promise to do my best not to offer it and just listen.
Okay, Lord, NOW can he sleep through the night, I get it!
On second thought, maybe I don’t quite have the patience lesson down, just yet!