Parenting and politics are a lot alike. They both require a certain measure of idealism, but in order to get the job done, require an even bigger measure of compromise. That is if two opposing forces are ever going to come to terms in a way that benefits both parties.
I was listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR and linguist Geoff Nunberg, author of The Way We Talk Now, was discussing the word compromise, in relation to our country’s current debt ceiling debates. Nunberg said, “Compromise is the basis of human society itself.” He referenced Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit who suggests “we really should be judged by our compromises more than by our ideals.” As Margalit puts it: "Ideals may tell us something important about what we would like to be. But compromises tell us who we are."
Just consider the conversations I heard at a recent baby shower as moms and dads discussed baby names, labor plans, sleeping arrangements, pacifiers, baby carriers, attachment parenting, breastfeeding, etc. The parents who hadn’t had babies yet had some of the strongest opinions on these subjects. They made comments like: I will
• Never let the baby go to the nursery,
• Never get an epidural,
• Never do co-sleeping,
• Never give a bottle,
• Never let the baby cry it out.
This is what I call the “ideal parent” perspective. It’s based on a parent’s highest standards for what they think their parenting style will be. Compromise isn’t an option (yet) because they believe their child’s needs (and their own) will conform to their ideal standards, no matter what. This perspective is refreshing, inspiring, hopeful, and just a little misinformed.
The more experienced parents in the room were divided into two camps:
• Those who had adjusted their ideals to make room for the parenting realities they’d never considered and
• Those who’d adjusted their ideals but felt bad about it.
There was a pretty big variety of parenting ideals represented. Some parents were attachment-parenting devotees and others were a little more old school and hands off. Some were breast feeders, others bottle feeders; some went all natural and others used epidurals. There were stay-at-home parents and working parents. No matter what parenting style, ideals or standards they started with, they’d all learned the most important parenting lesson of all: How to compromise and why it’s essential to raising children.
Becoming a parent is a bit like entering into an arranged marriage to someone you’ve never met. You can make all the plans you want, but until you know your partner, you don’t know if your plans will work out. Until your baby is born, you don’t know who they are. You don’t know who you are as their parent. How can you know for sure what you will and won’t do? You don’t have all the information yet.
Compromise starts the moment our child is born. That’s when we learn to parent based on our child’s (and our own) unique needs rather than preconceived notions.
• One mom said, “Before I had my son, I said I’d never put my baby down if he was crying. If I’d stuck to that ideal, I wouldn’t have taken a shower during the eight weeks he had colic. When I finally couldn’t stand the smell of myself, I strapped him in his baby carrier next to the shower. He’d been hollering for hours, but five minutes later, he was sound asleep. Ten minutes later, I was clean, calm and had learned a good lesson. He didn’t need me to hold him every moment. He needed me to take a shower.”
• One dad said, “I wasn’t going to be one of those crazy co-sleeping parents. No sir, my daughter was going to sleep in her own crib from day one. Yeah, that lasted about two nights. She cried in her crib and I couldn’t take it. She was so helpless and we were so exhausted. We caved in, brought her to our bed and everybody slept like a baby. We bought a bedside co-sleeper. It worked great.”
• There were adamant “no TV” moms who eventually reaped the benefits of a half-hour break while her kids watched a DVD.
• There were “breastfeeding only” moms who learned that giving their baby the occasional bottle gave them a couple of hours of independence.
• The most poignant story of compromise came from a woman who said that when she quit insisting her husband parent her way, she discovered he was as passionate, creative and dedicated a father as any child could ever need. She learned there are times for idealism, but far more for compromise.
Maybe our country’s leaders could take notes from a baby shower or look back on their own parenting years. It might remind them that meeting in the middle is usually more productive than stubbornly standing on one side, unwilling to budge.
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