Mothering and the Art of Shouldingby Rosalind Prather on Aug. 03, 2012, under Uncategorized
They say children don’t come with instruction books.
Whoever “they” are haven’t googled parenting advice.
If you search for parenting books on Amazon, over seventy-seven thousand results turn up. It’s all very tempting, really. For about fifteen bucks you can find out how to make your child the “happiest baby on the block” and when he or she gets older, you won’t have to worry about being one of those moms on the playground hollering for her kids to come “right this second!” because by then, you will have read “Scream Free Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids By Keeping Your Cool.”
The truth is, children DO come with manuals…lots and lots of them. And they all conflict and contradict and confuse. It’s enough to drive most well-intentioned mothers insane. We want to do everything right; the problem is, in an effort to read everything we can about how to raise our babies, the inner voice inside us becomes less and less audible. We are losing the ability to mother by instinct.
Right now, I am admittedly deep into multiple books about infant sleep, lingering on to every word, waiting desperately for that one magic system or trick or piece of advice that will help my four-month-old sleep through the night. I realize how insane that might sound to some parents who have already figured out that babies simply don’t sleep well—that’s why there are so many books written about it (as my husband aptly pointed out), but as a former nanny and now an owner of a nanny agency, my experience with multiple children has actually been a disadvantage to my own mothering. I thought that surely, the opposite would be true. But just like some parents fall into the “my-last-kid-didn’t-do-this” trap, I too, find myself comparing my own baby with the many I have worked with as a nanny.
I once nannied for a family that, in perfect engineeresque fashion, had their twins, on a perfectly synchronized schedule. They made perfect poops at the perfect times after perfectly portioned (and measured) homemade, unprocessed meals. They went down for naps and bedtime with ease after a flawless nighttime routine and for twelve straight hours, like clockwork, they slept without a peep. Much of my own parenting styles were inspired by this concept. I know from experience that children thrive on routines and need consistency, but somehow this is all easier said than done. And when I am unsuccessful at implementing these methods with my own baby, I spend time agonizing over what I am doing wrong. And I believe that other mothers experience similar emotions of frustration and self-doubt when their children don’t quite live up to the expectations set forth in the books they read.
In the popular show Sex and the City, the lead character Carrie, invites us to stop “shoulding all over ourselves.” I loved that line when I heard it the first time, and I love it even more now as a mom.
I come from an industry of shoulding. Every good nanny knows you should never put a child to sleep on her stomach, breast milk should never be microwaved, and children’s developing brains should be stimulated by hands-on activities rather than TV. The shoulding extends not only to what we should do but how and when we should do it. And it doesn’t stop there either.
We should all over our babies, too. By three months she should be sleeping through the night, by four months she should be rolling over, by six months she should be eating solids. We should in the present, in the future and even in the past. My mother still says she should have been less lenient about allowing my sister and me to talk back and argue with her. (Her regret likely stems from the fact that we still do this today!)
I am not suggesting that we throw caution to the wind, parent irresponsibly, and hope for the best. But like most things Americans do in extremes-diet and then binge, laze around in front of the TV for hours then run like a hamster on the treadmill, drink-we also need to restore the balance in our approaches to parenting. Believe me, I have met some parents who really needed to read some books on parenting. But I have also worked with incredibly well-versed parents who throw around trendy, philosophical parenting jargon who have just as poorly behaved children. So are all these books really creating better parents? Probably not.
Even before I could speak, I was rocking and “shhhing” my baby dolls to comfort them. In fact, as most moms know, this womb-simulating sound is one we are practically wired to make. My nana, who is a great grandmother to my daughter, caught herself swaying with concern the other day as she watched me rocking her as she cried. We both laughed about it a bit—I guess a mother never loses that inner, natural response upon hearing a child cry. We need to remember this when we digest the latest parenting advice. Somewhere inside of us is the right answer. Nature has already equipped us with most everything we need to know about raising our children.
So I figured this would be a perfect way to begin my blog. After all, as a modern day Mary Poppins, I will inevitably be sharing some tidbits of advice and discussing new issues relevant to parents. But I want you to know that I come from a place of genuine humility, compassion and understanding. And I ask you to never underestimate the inherent knowledge and wisdom you possess as a mother. At the end of the day, only you know what is best for your own unique child. So when advice inevitably comes your way, process it carefully, take the bits and pieces that make sense for your family and then let it go. In doing this you are mastering the art of shoulding. In the same way, let this blog give you something to consider…let it inspire you maybe, but never rule you.
Because as they say, no two children are alike and sometimes, the best expert is you.
Who are they anyway and where are they at 2 ‘o clock in the morning?
Rosalind Prather, a local “momtrepreneur,” is a former professional nanny and currently co-owns Trusting Connections, Tucson’s premier nanny agency. For more information visit www.trustingconnections.com.