Friday, March 28, 2014

My Parenting Style May Raise Eyebrows, and I'm Okay With That: Part One

Here's some heads up for all the first time pregnant women out there: if you think people are opinionated about the baby in your belly, just wait until the baby is out. Every parenting decision you make, every reaction you have to something your child does, every moment your child misbehaves (which my child has never ever done so I wouldn't know but I've heard it does happen to some people), every bow you tie in her hair or piece of clothing you put on her or blanket you cover her with...all of it will be evaluated and either approved or disapproved by the public eye.

Don't get me wrong...I understand this is a normal part of human behavior. Whether we realize it or not, we all analyze situations and decide whether we think it's good or bad. I do it all the time. And advice is often very much appreciated, especially for people like me who are new at parenting. But I think what most parents really want and need is someone to give them a big hug (or perhaps a pat on the back, if they are not super touchy clingy people like I am) and tell them that they are doing a good job. Because I truly believe, most of the time, parents are really trying their darnedest. We are human just like everyone else, and we don't have all the answers. I mean, for Pete's sake, Mary and Joseph, the world's best parents, LOST their kid (who happened to be the Savior of all mankind) for three days. C'mon!

Gather 'round now and I'll tell y'all a story (I spent a semester student teaching in Kentucky so I feel like I have some sort of right to say "y'all" every once in awhile). Elizabeth was a few weeks old, and I had to go grocery shopping. Keep in mind that she was born the day after Christmas, so it was in the middle of winter. The winds were freezing and the snow was falling heavily to the ground. I parked at Aldi, inserted my quarter to get my shopping cart, and put Elizabeth, sound asleep in the car seat, into the cart. As I checked out my groceries and made my way to the car, I realized two things. A) I had not grabbed any boxes or bags to put my groceries in (for those of you unfamiliar with Aldi, they do not supply grocery bags for you), and B) I had not formulated a plan as to how I would return my groceries and sleeping baby to the car, while simultaneously returning the shopping cart to the racks. I stood outside in the freezing wind for about two minutes trying to decide which would be worse: should I put the car seat and groceries in the car before returning the cart, or should I return the cart and then put said baby and groceries in my car? The first option would risk judgment stares from many people: "That girl is leaving her baby in that freezing cold car? Who does she think she is!" The second option would be extremely difficult to pull off...I had a good amount of groceries with no bags, so carrying groceries and my baby in her car seat (and in case you didn't seats are HEAVY) would be nearly impossible.

I decided to go with option B. I was terrified of someone telling me off for leaving my baby unattended in the car, even if it was only for 30 seconds just to return my cart. For about five minutes, I struggled, trying to get all my groceries out of the cart while lifting the car seat while attempting to get the cart back in the rack. The snow was still falling, the wind was still howling. Tears sprang to my eyes as I juggled getting everything back to my car. A woman must have seen me struggling and offered to help me carry my groceries. I thanked her profusely and got everything back in the car. Then, as she was leaving, she said in a very stern, judgmental voice: "And honey, you REALLY need to put a warmer blanket on that baby. It's below freezing outside. Think about that."

I sobbed the whole way home (and a good part of the rest of the day), berating myself for being a horrible abusive mother who can't even manage to keep her three week old daughter warm. Now, this woman was right. Elizabeth should have had a warmer blanket. But I didn't need advice at that moment. I needed someone to tell me that everything was going to be okay.

Fast forward one year. We are at church on Sunday morning. We were in the cry room because Elizabeth was screaming bloody murder, kicking her legs, stomping her feet, and throwing her head around like an exorcist baby because we dared to put her empty bottle away making a bit of noise. I spent most of Mass praying for the poor soul who was in the cry room with us, trying to pay attention despite Elizabeth's yowling tiny squeaks. At the end of Mass, as Trent and I practically crawled out of the pew, our hair disheveled and clothes askew, looking as if we had just gotten in a fight with a half rabid bear, the aforementioned "pour soul" approached us. I immediately went to defense mode, preparing myself for a good "talking to" by this woman about the correct way to raise children. She looked at us, put her hand on my shoulder, and said, "I remember those days. They grow out of it, don't worry. You're doing a great job!" I could have kissed her. I probably would have if Elizabeth wouldn't have started screaming singing at that moment. That woman's encouragement made my whole bad experience seem like it wasn't so bad after all, and maybe I wasn't the worst parent in the world.

So what's the point of all these fascinating stories? I have lived in constant fear of disapproval from others. Even people I don't know. I have actually always been this way, but it has gotten much worse since I became a mother. And I think many of us, deep down, want approval, even though we may act like we don't care. That's why it's so humiliating when your child throws a tantrum in the middle of Target (that's never happened to me...). You know everyone is looking at you, judging your parenting skills, and many are thinking, "wow, if your child acts like this, what does that make you?" Then they proceed to judge your reaction to the misbehavior: "I can't believe she is yelling at her child like that." "I can't believe she's just ignoring it!" "I can't believe she put her child on the floor, left the store, and drove away!" Wait, what?

Jk, jk, I didn't leave my child at the store.


I have to admit: one of my biggest sins is being judgmental. I struggle greatly with it. And wooooo boy let me tell you, before I was a parent, I judged the pants off most parents. "When I'm a parent, that will not happen." Haaaahahahaha. If only my 20-year-old self could see me now!

This is Elizabeth's judgement face. I think she gets it from me.

I am slowly but surely learning, though, that my parenting style is good. I have gone through a long process full of blood, sweat, and tears to realize this. That I can, in fact, trust my instincts. I don't have to parent in the exact same way as someone else. I don't have to be filled with guilt every time I read an article telling me that the way I parent is wrong. Because here's what I now know: when it comes to parenting, what's right for me might not be right for someone else. And that's okay.

So, how exactly do I parent? I know you all are just dying to know, based on the results I have produced with a perfectly well behaved child who has never once stepped out of line.

I guess you'll have to wait until my next post to find out!

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