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When my son Hayes was born 15 years ago, I had strong convictions about how to raise him. Cotton diapers, homemade baby food and at least 18 months of breastfeeding were all part of the plan. He had no sugar until after his first birthday, and I never left him with a babysitter until then.
His room, his toys, his stroller, his car seat: Everything was chosen with care. Every decision, from immunizations to nap schedule to toddler disciplinary style, was the result of research and discussion. Weaning and toilet training turned out to be easier than I thought, but that didn’t mean I didn’t study up on them.
When Vince was born two years later, I raised him much the same way. But when their little sister Jane arrived a decade later, I did almost everything differently.
I did breastfeed Jane—I considered it the greatest pleasure of early motherhood—but there were some differences. I got up at 5 every morning to pump so Hayes’ dad could give him breast milk while I was at work. For Jane, I never pumped once. If I wasn’t around, she had formula. By 9 months of age, she could be seen nursing with a lollipop in one hand; she weaned herself to chocolate milk at 1 1/2. The crib, the car seat, the clothes: hand-me-downs from wherever I could get them.
Jane had preteens—her siblings—watching her from about 2 weeks of age, and she started watching TV not long after. She designed her own sleep and nap schedule; I left weaning and toilet training up to her as well.
I don’t regret a thing I did with Hayes and Vince, not a moment of the effort I put into all my earnest decisions. I was following my instincts and my heart, and I’m doing the same thing now. But I’m a different person. I’m 45, I’m tired, I have four other kids (a few stepchildren arrived along the way) and a much bigger house. It may sound as if Jane’s getting the leftovers now that the good mom’s all used up, but I think Leftover Mom brings something that balances everything out.
In the past 15 years, I’ve known many children raised many different ways. And I’ve seen that as long as there’s love, attention, and basic safety, hygiene and medical care, just about any way of doing it has a decent chance of working out. What gets undervalued in the quest to do everything right is the need to take some of the pressure off yourself. Even more important than the right food and the right toy is taking care of your own sanity, happiness and self-worth.
The most important choice you can make is to choose to trust that you are the mother your baby needs. You’re going to have some bad days, and you’re going to make some mistakes, and the best thing you can do is forgive yourself and move on. Your inner peace and strength are your child’s greatest resource.
Our babies love and trust us so much, it’s nerve-wracking. But the most obsessive, detail-oriented parenting doesn’t change the one thing that has the biggest effect on our kids: who we are. Like Hayes and Vince before her, Jane has an impatient, intense, cranky, hardworking, affectionate, outspoken, forgiving mom who loves her madly.
That’s the sky. Everything else is just the weather, the passing clouds.