Monday, December 12, 2011

My Misguided Quest to Raise "Normal" Children, Part 2 of 3

When I was a fear-ridden new mother, I assessed my competency as a parent by asking one question repeatedly: is my baby normal? Normal was determined by whether he met (or better yet, exceeded) every item on the developmental checklists for kids his age.

For the first year of his life, my oldest child accomplished most of those checklist items right on target, and each time this happened, I congratulated myself for being such a great mother. But the tide turned when his first birthday came and went, and he still showed no signs of walking. A concerned person called once a week to check on his progress, and she always asked, “Aren’t you worried? This doesn’t seem normal. You should get him checked out.” Although I repeatedly reassured this person that my son was well within the guidelines for normal development, I still found myself fretting after I hung up the phone each week.

My anxiety grew, as week after week passed without any signs of my son walking. Our pediatrician examined him and reassured me that he was fine, but even so, I continued fretting. Now, I was no longer patting myself on the back for my parenting prowess. Instead, I worried that my son's inability to walk meant that I was (gasp!) a bad mother. This led to a downward spiral of obsessive second guessing. Had I done something wrong? Not enough tummy time? Too much time in his Exersaucer? Not enough of the right foods? Was it too late to turn things around? Had I damaged my son for life? Finally, my husband could stand this no longer, and he offered a piece of advice I’ll never forget.

“Marlene,” he asked in exasperation, “How many adults do you see crawling down the street, because they never learned to walk?”

“Um, none,” I responded.

“That’s right,” he replied. “He’ll walk when he’s good and ready. So stop worrying so much, and let the poor kid develop at his own pace!”

He was right. Our son finally began walking when he was fourteen and a half months old. Our next three children walked at twenty, seventeen, and fourteen months, and today, they all walk, run, and jump with no problems whatsoever. I learned a good lesson from this experience: my children are all individuals who develop according to their own timetables. It's okay for them to be late bloomers, and this doesn't make me a bad parent!

I’m glad I learned this lesson early in parenting, because as it turns out, our two oldest children were late bloomers, most notably in their language development. Raising them those first few years was a huge parenting challenge that really forced me to rethink the entire concept of normal, as well as its role in my parenting.

In fact, looking back on those difficult early years of parenting, I can now see that God wanted me to remove the entire concept of "normal" from the pedestal on which I had placed it. This involved asking questions such as: what IS normal? Who defines what is normal? And is it really important for my kids to be completely normal?

I'll discuss these thoughts further in my next posting.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

My Misguided Quest to Raise "Normal" Children, Part I of 3

Snuggling with my oldest child a few hours
after he was born. Although I was smiling on the 
outside, I was completely terrified on the inside!

In 1995, I became pregnant with the first of our five children. I immediately read every parenting resource I could find, believing this would transform me into a competent and confident mother. But it actually had the opposite effect.

One book advocated nursing on demand, while the next advocated nursing on a schedule. Another book advised picking up my baby immediately when he cried at night, but the next warned that I absolutely shouldn’t. All predicted dire long-term consequences if I didn’t do things their way. The result of all this reading? By the time my son was born, I knew dozens of conflicting ways to be a bad mother and damage him for life. I also knew dozens of ways my son could be accidentally maimed or killed while in my care. In fact, it seemed that anything I did would damage him in some way!

As a result, I approached parenting decisions with great fear and trembling. Before making a decision, I first consulted a huge stack of books and developmental checklists. My goal: to figure out which parenting method would be least damaging, while producing a child who was normal in every way. But after making any decision, I continuously second guessed myself and worried that I had chosen incorrectly. This left me in a state of perpetual fear and anxiety, unable to truly enjoy parenthood or life.

I eventually joined a wonderful playgroup, and when the other moms and I finally got real with each other, I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my anxieties! We all felt uncertain of our parenting abilities, and we all worried about making mistakes that might screw up our children for life. This truth—that I'm not alone in my parenting anxieties—has been repeatedly confirmed over the years, in many conversations with friends. It has also been confirmed through conversations with strangers who share their parenting fears with me, after I speak at church retreats and women’s events.

This all makes me wonder. We’re a nation of parents who are highly educated about parenting, and while being informed is a good thing, there comes a point when too much information becomes paralyzing. It also seems to magnify our natural fear of being bad parents, which in turn drives reactive parenting decisions that aren’t necessarily best for our children.

After years of feeling stressed as a parent, I made a conscious decision to stop living this way. It was making me miserable, and I could stand it no longer! My longsuffering husband could stand it no longer, either. Making this change involved rethinking how I respond to the things I read, and throwing off what I call the “tyranny of norms”. I’ll write about this topic in my next post. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Facing My Scarecrows

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

"A wise bird knows that a scarecrow is simply an advertisement. It announces that some very juicy and delicious fruit is to be had for the picking. There are scarecrows in all the best gardens... If I am wise, I too shall treat the scarecrow as though it were an invitation. Every giant in the way which makes me feel like a grasshopper is only a scarecrow beckoning me to God's richest blessings... faith is a bird which loves to perch on scarecrows." (Hannah Hurnard, quoting a sermon she once heard)

I've thought about starting up this blog for about six months now. I hope to get a book published someday, and this is a necessary part of the process. But until today, various fears have hindered me from doing this:

• Fear of not being self-disciplined enough to write regularly.
• Fear of making myself known in a public forum.
• Fear of nobody reading my blog posts.
• Fear of people reading my blog posts and finding them dull or irrelevant.

You know what, when these fears are typed out, they don't look even half as scary as they did when they were knocking around my brain and harassing me. In fact, they look a lot like scarecrows. So today I face my blogging scarecrows, with the hope that they do stand between me and an abundant harvest of God's blessings!

In this blog, I intend to share my thoughts on topics that have impacted me the most, in my ongoing journey to know and be the person God created me to be. These topics include: identity, purpose in life, parenting, homeschooling, race relations, and the writing life. Undergirding most of what I write is a sociological question that constantly runs through my head: why do we do the things we do?

I hope you'll find my blog posts thought provoking and relevant to your own unique journey through life. Thanks for joining me!

What are some of the scarecrows in your life?