For the past half-hour, I've been soothing and rocking my two-week old baby --this tiny, very new, little person, who is completely dependent on me and whom I've just barely started to get to know-- to sleep for the night. It's not easy; I don't really know what he wants. I try different things over and over-- rocking, bouncing, nursing, shushing, swaddling, more nursing. He fusses and squirms, irritable, tired... until he finally gives in and drops off to sleep on my chest with his soft little head snuggled into my neck.
I don't dare lay him down just yet, so he sleeps on my chest while I browse the internet, reading articles that interest me. I just read something about the supposed dangers of swaddling babies-- just after I swaddled my baby to calm him and help him sleep (something to agonize and worry about? Nope. Not a bit.). Most of the articles I gravitate to lately seem to be about various aspects of mothering, so that's what I'm thinking about as I sit here, mothering my newest child. To add fuel to that line of thinking, today I attended a lovely gathering of like-minded mothers and I so enjoyed talking with them and hearing their stories and struggles. My thoughts may be raw and unformed, but I should get them all down anyway.
The opinions and methods and scientific studies and traditions of mothering are quite varied and diverse. And everyone feels so strongly about their own way. I used to find this so confusing-- what's the right thing to do? I agonized about it when Jonah was tiny and fussy and I didn't feel at all competent to mother him. Surely I was doing something wrong. It was all so much more complex than feeding, changing, and protecting from harm. These little people have intense needs, needs which must be met, but how?
Now, with my third baby, I'm feeling more competent, yes, and the only way to get to that point is experience. But I'm also finding myself more inclined to take or disregard advice as it suits me. I'm coming to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter how a mother mothers, so long as it works for her. I'd like to say "so long as no one is harmed" but that is often out of our control. My Dad says, "Every parent gives their child some kind of baggage." We are not all-knowing and can't forsee all the results of our actions.. We can just do the best we can with the information we have.
It seems like I read a lot of material supporting "attachment parenting". For various reason that I will not go into here, I've never really identified myself as an "attachment parent". Yes, I do a lot of things that fit in with that-- homebirth, exclusive breastfeeding, cloth diapers, baby-wearing, (limited) co-sleeping. But I don't actually consider myself an attachment parent. But then, I don't fit into the opposite end of that continuum, either (I have no idea what that would be called...). I'm just somewhere in the middle. Not to say I haven't tried many things that characterize either style of parenting. I've tried a whole range of different things with my kids, and I don't feel like they've been harmed by the things that didn't work. They've been well-loved through all my parental experimenting.
I've simply had to find what works for me and my kids. I try hard to avoid being too lenient, and yet I find that I can't be very hardnosed about everything, either, because I'm a softie and often don't have it in me. In the long run, is it really that important how I choose to diaper, feed, or sleep my children? If they are healthy, happy, and thriving, why does my particular method matter? But so much of what I'm reading lately is of mothers who are highly opinionated, vehement, militant, and often polarized about these basic family choices.
I guess I've decided that I would prefer to do whatever works and what I can handle in these areas, and save my thought and energy for the "long-term investments". I'd rather work hard at teaching them, training them, disciplining them, helping them learn what they need to be capable and well-developed people. I want to focus on being cheerful and patient and loving as they grow and challenge me. The specific methods I choose will be whatever works for us to achieve these goals. And don't get me wrong-- my choices are not arbitrary. I have very specific goals in mind and particular skills that I want my children to develop.
"What do you want me to be when I grow up?" Jonah asked me the other day. "It doesn't matter to me what job you have," I answered, "I only want you to work hard and serve God cheerfully in whatever He gives you to do." But he won't do that unless he's taught. There's the long-term work.
I recently read a piece that asserted that "we all have children for selfish reasons, anyway" and another that says "we're actually mammals and should remember that and take our mothering cues from other mammals." The problem with both of these opinions is that they leave out God. We may have selfish reasons for having children, but above that, parenting is a God-given vocation. We are human, created in the image of God and thus above other mammals in our calling. Raising and teaching children is actually very important work, not just something to do because we want to.
And along with my human-ness comes fallibility and imperfection. A lot of fallibility and imperfection. And the children I am raising are fallible, imperfect little sinners as well, and that bears remembering as I choose how to care for them. I can only try to make the best choices I can and trust the Lord to preserve my children from my mistakes and shortcomings.