Thursday, July 15, 2010

Proudly "doing it wrong"

This post is dedicated to my friend and former colleague Stacy and all the other brand new moms who think they're doing it all wrong. Trust me and millions of other moms: You're not.

I've broken with the accepted parenting orthodoxy on quite a few issues since the birth of our son three years ago. Maybe I'm just lazy, but I prefer to think that my tolerance for frustration or just plain inconvenience is very low. Our culture tells us to keep trying even when it seems hopeless and we moms inevitably wind up adhering to experts' theories even when it's clearly not working for our families. Many of the theories seem to hinge on parental consistency, or what I like to call the "failure is all your fault" clause. And failure is made to seem like a permanent stain rather than a bump in the road.

"Just keep plugging along," they say. "You're kid will eventually come around." (By the way, when I was a kid, that was known as "growing out of it.") And if you fail, according to the latest study, you're kid will be fat, lazy, fall behind in school, have sleep problems, have nipple confusion, be  undernourished, never become interested in reading, and on and on.

My approach? Stop trying if it's not working—do something different, or, my personal favorite, do nothing at all. Of course, this approach often looks (and sometimes feels even to us) like we're lazy or just throwing stuff at the wall to see what will stick. As you can tell, I have no patience for "programs" that don't seem to be working. My limit for how long I'll stick to one thing is directly related to how frustrated I or my child become.

So I've decided to let you all in on a few of the things that I've done "wrong" so far. I'm limiting it to the first year of my kids' lives since the verdict is still out on some things we've done and, really, I could fill a book with all the things I've done "wrong." I am starting to sense, though, that there's not too much you can do to permanently screw up your kid.
  • My kids all took a bottle of breast milk within two weeks of birth. They did not become confused about how to eat. They went from breast to bottle and back again beautifully and hungrily.
  • I actually put my first infant in front of Sesame Street when I ran out of ideas and patience in trying to soothe him. He now has a fabulous vocabulary and likes to read books with us and by himself. These days he watches Curious George and Word Girl before bed. He doesn't beg to watch television all day long and I don't feel guilty if, on some days, he watches television or movies while I catch a break. 
  • My kids all slept with me for much of their first year. Danny slept with us for the longest period of time. He has been sleeping on his own in a twin sized bed since shortly before his second birthday. He does not beg to come sleep with us. Fiona sleeps in her own crib, even climbs in herself these days. Owen sleeps in a bassinet and in our bed and hasn't yet shown a clear preference for either. 
  • I began feeding Danny and Fiona solid foods at four months. Actually, I started Fiona a week before she was four months because she was just plain hungry and I was just plain exhausted. Danny and Fiona are both healthy and fit for their age and don't have any food allergies. My milk supply did not suffer one bit.
  • I didn't start them on rice cereal, either. I gave them bananas and yogurt and sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash. They currently eat a variety of foods including vegetables. My son loves raw red peppers. Fiona prefers green beans.
  • When I did give my kids cereal, it wasn't the overpriced, vitamin supplemented baby cereal. It was brown rice or oatmeal ground into a fine powder in the coffee grinder. Both my older kids had excellent iron counts at a year old.
  • I also never gave my kids iron supplements their first year.
  • My daughter started eating finger foods at around 6.5 months because it became an epic battle to get her to submit to spoon feeding. She never choked. Not once. (Recently, though, we had to Heimlich her when she got a piece of chewable vitamin stuck in her throat.)
  • We didn't have an established bedtime routine for much of Danny's first year. As new  parents, maybe we just didn't recognize the signs that he was tired. There were some nights when we just let him hang out with us playing quietly on the floor until he was sleepy. Fiona began choosing her bedtime at around 6 months. Owen seems to prefer an 8 pm bedtime right now. This is all flexible, of course. There's no sense forcing a child who's not sleepy go to bed.
  • I never fed my babies on a schedule. A feeding schedule emerged eventually, but it wasn't at my prompting. The downside to this was that I became a one trick pony, sticking a boob in their face whenever they cried. The upside? Both of the older kids were easy to wean. Danny walked away at 16 months. Fiona weaned at 13 months, which brings me to this ...
  • I weaned my daughter to a pacifier. (hey, don't judge, I was desperately tired and seven months pregnant at the time) She uses it only at naptime and at night. How we'll wean her from that, I surely don't know yet. But I'm confident that she'll give it up in her own time and on her own terms. 
  • I turned my kids' car seats around early. Danny was a year old but still 18 pounds. Fiona was 20 pounds but a few weeks shy of a year.
 So there you have it. I've been proudly doing it wrong and actually proclaiming it on this blog for more than  three years—enough time in parenthood years to be considered an expert, actually. In fact, I've created a new label called "Doing it wrong" and am in the process of relabeling three years worth of posts. (I know, I'm an anal retentive geek. Sue me.)

No one knows a child and a family's needs like a parent. Trust your instincts and tell those experts and "by the book" moms to just go to ... well, you know.


    Stacy said...

    Here's to doing it wrong! :)

    Jax and company said...

    I was regularly attending LaLeche meetings when I had babies six to ten years ago. A popular conversation topic was that too many moms were reading books for parenting advice and not paying enough attention to their babies. Then a *book* surfaced addressing this issue, titled "Let the Baby Drive". Sadly, the irony was lost on most of the sleep-deprived moms.

    Raleigh foodie said...

    A book that you might find comes down on your side of the matter: "The Mommy Myth" by Susan Douglas. I'd be curious to hear your opinion on this one, which is very pro-woman and pro-child but against mainstream images and propaganda regarding motherhood.

    Josee said...

    I have that book, Jax. It really helped me when Danny was a newborn. It's still in my bedside table ... not that I've had much time to read since he was a baby!