Once upon a time I was newly married and freshly pregnant with our first little bundle of joy, and I had all kinds of plans and ideas for how we were going to raise him. For starters, I would be delivering him naturally because birth is exactly like a marathon and you just need to train for it, everybody knows that.
My little sister who’d flown across the country with her her 6-week old son to stand up in our wedding should have known that, but since she ended up getting an epidural, she obviously hadn’t put in the work to train for it. (Somehow, she refrained from punching me in the face. Bless her.)
But I was going to do it differently. I was going to birth my baby naturally, with my husband-coach standing supportively at my side, and then I was going to exclusively breast feed because of course it was best for his little brain and it would handily assist me in losing all 55 lbs. of baby weight within 6 weeks of giving birth.
I remember vividly the first time we gave him a pacifier. He was about 3 weeks old, neither of us had slept in as many days, and one evening during an hours-long scream fest I furtively pleaded for my husband to run down to the car and dig around in the backseat where I thought I’d remembered throwing the free sample pacifier from the hospital.
“Nobody has to know, we’ll just give it to him this once. He’ll still nurse, right? Right?!” Sobbing, second-guessing, and then, wonder of wonders…a calmed and soothed baby. Who went on to breastfeed for 13 grueling and occasionally rewarding months. I remember being so proud that his first beverage other than breast milk was plain old dairy milk. No nasty formula for my little prince, I was mommy, hear me roar.
About a year and a half later I was standing in an Italian farmacia on a Roman street corner, anxiously scanning the shelves of baby supplies, trying to select a formula that might be good enough for my colicky 10 month old who’d never slept through the night and who had injured me so severely with his budding teeth that I had to supplement for a couple days. Let’s just say I chose unwisely.
By our third trip down L&D lane, I swung merrily into the nurses’ station after 3 days of prodromal labor and announced that I’d like my epidural placed now-ish, and that I didn’t want to feel anything other than joy for the next 12 hours.
The unifying theme to all of the above? Well, aside from the obvious you don’t know parenting until you’ve done it with each particular child, the common thread is this: never say never.
Unless, of course, it’s truly an issue of good versus evil.
I’ve learned to pick my battles in the ongoing drama that is the mommy wars, and there are only a handful of hills I’m willing to die on. They all have something in common though: they deal in objective moral reality.
Have a different style of discipline than we do? Great! We can still totally be friends. Super into co-sleeping and attachment style parenting? Okay, well that’s cool if it works for your family. Feeding your children conventional dairy products and processed chicken nuggets? Hey, if the grocery budget balances, who am I to judge?
But seriously, none of those issues deal in moral objectives. There is no black and white when it comes to pacifiers vs. nursing on demand, sleeping at mommy’s bedside vs. a room with a view down the hall, and appropriate spanking vs. love and logic.
The issues I will do battle over? Exposing our kids to evil via inappropriate television or movies. Vulgar or sexual language in front of them. Violence – true violence, not playground scuffles – against them or by them. Those are moral issues. Those are the times when parents must stand up and fight.
But for the love of all the loves, let’s back the flip down when it comes to co-sleeping. Let’s stop spamming up threads all over social media about immunization. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back so hard we fall flat on our faces if we’ve been blessed with an unusually compliant toddler who doesn’t need to be leashed near traffic, because we all know it’s our immaculate parenting practices that are responsible for his angelic nature.
The truth of it is, kids are a crazy combination of genetics and gentrification, nature and nurture. And for the most part, every parent is doing their best with what they’ve been given. And please, please let this filter down deep inside your mommy brain: nobody is parenting at you. If your sister posts a Dr. Sears article on her Facebook page, you don’t need to feel affronted. If your best friend chooses not to vaccinate with morally-questionable (NOT illicit, mind you, but questionable, i.e. up for determination by the individual conscience) formulations, she is not trying to kill your newborn. And if your mother in law chides you for not giving that squalling 4 month old a hearty bottle of cow’s milk, smile kindly and thank her for her suggestion. No need to whip out The Womanly Art and start quoting scripture to her.
You are not a hero for birthing a baby without drugs. You are not a criminal for putting your child in day care. You are not a negligent mother for working outside the home. And you are not a thoughtless breeder for having your children 15 months apart. You are an unique, unrepeatable individual and a highly-specialized expert in your field: your kids.
Nobody else has the right to raise them. God knows, because He’s the one who gave them to you. So strap on that Ergo. Or don’t! Toss that chubby baby in an exersaucer and hit the treadmill next to them. Hell, switch on that iPad and take a shower by yourself. And be confident enough in your decision that you don’t waste precious time and energy defending your choices to strangers on the internet or your comrades in arms at play group.
Because whatever else you’re choosing to do for your child, in your home, in your family…you surely don’t have the time for that.