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. 

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