I talk about parenthood a lot because it’s where my life is right now. I’m in the thick of it EVERY DAY. I don’t mean to play the same old tune…again, but there’s something about this assignment we (parents) have, to raise our monkeys into decent, well adjusted human adults, that I struggle with. I guess I struggle with many things, but one major aspect is the lack of a handbook.
Parenting is crazy hard! Even though I’m nearly 10 years in, some days I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. There's always this little temptation inside me to search for the 'holy grail' of parenting; the one glorious nugget of wisdom to end all my parenting woes.
After I became a mom, the self doubt set in immediately. I had this blob of a kid. He slept and slept and slept and then he’d wake for 5 minutes and fall back into a coma. Of course, I know now that this is what newborns do; but back then, I was clueless and bored to tears. There was no set pattern or schedule for his wake or sleep time. I felt really disorganized and so tired and dirty. Having just had a baby, I also had a gut that hung over the top of sweats and it really depressed me. I felt the opposite of cute...and super jiggley. I knew I needed to get a handle on my life and I did what any new mama seeking a little sanity might…I looked for a handbook.
At that time (10 years ago) that book, “On Being Baby Wise” was REALLY popular. Moms everywhere were raving about it. They bragged about their incredible sleep-filled nights and productive days. These moms would roll their strollers around, all blanketed over and their babies would nod off on queue (at the stroke of the perfect o’clock). It was as if those mamas had slipped their babies a Baby Wise mickey. I wanted in on that! (Let’s be clear here, I didn’t want in on any baby-drugging technique; I just wanted my baby to sleep at regular intervals and during the night.) It didn’t seem like too much to want. I desperately longed for a solid night of sleep. A lone tear of joy might have rolled down my cheek over a four hour block.
My sleep deprivation prevented me from accomplishing the most low-level tasks. I missed smelling clean…I missed showers. I missed feeling attractive. I’d gaze at old wedding photos, trying to convince myself that I could still clean up nicely. I wanted to put on more make up than my skin had ever seen and style my hair big! What I especially missed was feeling productive. So, I thought, “I’m a big girl! I can do this!! I can read a book and follow its directions. I’m going to become “Baby Wise”!” For a few weeks I worked that schedule; determined to reclaim…me.
After a few weeks of scheduling the life out of us, I still had an unscheduled, TERRIBLE night sleeping baby. I remember one morning trying to soothe us both in the rocking chair, sobbing along with my little son. That was just one of many melt downs. But that one...it's especially memorable because there, in the midst of my discouragement, I came to understand one VERY important thing: NO ONE HAS A HANDBOOK FOR PARENTING! There’s no magic elixir and even the “handbooks” aren’t really handbooks! They will always work for some, but not for all. And for the people they works for, there won't be success 100% of the time. Life just isn’t that tidy.
One might assume that my realization blessed me with mountains of grace for myself. I stopped all that nasty self-talk and just took deep “mindful”, cleansing breaths while chanting, “one foot in front of the other”. Sadly, not so. Instead I trudged along until my next major unraveling and then clawed around for a cure; a fix all. It was only a few weeks ago that this “handbook” revelation finally became truth in my heart.
I was having a conversation with a fellow mama. For my discouragement she offered some saintly advice, but it felt like a punch in the gut. I greatly admire this mama’s strategies and wisdom, but her suggestion felt unrealistic and impossible for me. I started resented myself for not being her. After a full week of inner scolding, I started to see that I’d set aside my handbook epiphany; wanting to trade clarity and wisdom for a regimen or a magic fix.
Although that conversation stung, the result was very valuable. If the advice I’d been given had been more manageable and less saintly, I wouldn’t have had to wrestle with it so. I wouldn’t have wrestled with myself. I needed to restore (for myself) the value of my job as a mother, with me in the equation. I’d forgotten the significance of carefully sifting ALL coaching and instruction. It's important for parenting and ALL aspects of life. My new motto: Hold on to the appropriate pieces and discard the rest! Maybe my greatest lesson was remembering that my job is to be the best mom I can be, NOT the best mom anyone else can be. Since I’m human, my impact on the world and on my kids will never be perfect, but if in my pursuit of great parenting (or anything else), I reject the person God made me to be, I fail!
And let's not forget, there are NO handbooks!
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.