I sat on the porch last weekend with a good friend. We've been friends for 20 years and met in the sandbox of our neighborhood playground. I sat on one side and she sat on the other. Our one-year-olds played with cups and shovels while we held our newborns and tried to keep the sand out of their mouths. At one point, we looked up, noticed each other and recognized the excited, exhausted expressions on our faces as if we were looking in the mirror. It's a look that's unique to mothers of back-to-back babies—something like fatigue, amusement, confusion and triumph. It says, "I don't know how I got here or what the heck I'm doing but I'm sure glad it's happening to me. I'm not sure what to call that specific "look" but I'll call it extreme mothering. We recognized each other and struck a bond. Fortunately, our one-year-old daughters bonded too and from there they went on to share birthdays, playdates, clothes, and preschools while Tamara and I shared childcare, got advice from each other, compared notes and learned how to do this job. We no longer live in the same city and our daughters are adults now but we're still comparing notes. When they went off to college a couple of years ago, I knew Tamara was feeling the same wrench in the heart that I was and we burned up the telephone lines talking it out.
As we sat on the porch last weekend we talked about how hard it is for new mothers nowadays. There are so many more opinions, experts, books, websites and rules to follow than even 20 years ago. Since every one of them seem to contradict each other, new mothers we meet seem so confused, adrift and lack basic confidence in their ability to raise their kids. We all want to do our best and really, there is no more important job than raising our children but it seems we're living in fearful crazy-making times and it's making young parents feel out of touch with their ability to protect and nurture their young.
Tamara knows a young woman who's worried about whether she's set up her "baby stations" correctly. "What's a baby station?" I asked. Tamara explained that parents today are supposed to set up different neuro-sensory learning areas around their house that stimulate different areas of the brain. The goal is to keep the child entertained and learning at all times. This same young woman had received a set of baby-courses on CD to play for her child so she'd learn different languages, composers, cultural facts and concepts from day one. Geez! They're babies. How exhausting. Why are they studying for the SATs?
Tamara said she thought these things were designed so people didn't have to pick up their babies and actually interact with them. We joked about our own stations: 1) strap baby into the sling and proceed to the "wash the dishes" station. 2) hold baby on hip and move to the "answer the phone" station. 3) sit with baby between legs and attempt the "type an invoice" on your laptop station. 4) push baby in cart (option—put baby back in sling) and push through the "buy groceries" station. Other stations might include walking the dog, cooking dinner, sweeping up cheerios and my favorite, collapsing on the couch with a pile of magazines station. What are the babies learning here? Heck if I know. We're learning together. If we get to the end of the day and we're both content and a minimum of work got done—isn't that it's own reward?
A young mom I met recently was stressed-out about how to manage her baby's crying. She'd been told not to pick him up every time he squawked or he'd learn to manipulate her by crying. I asked her how that was working for her. "Not very well. He's unhappy. I'm unhappy. He wants to be held and I want to hold him but I don't want him to be a crybaby." I asked her what happens if she picks him up? "Well, he stops crying." And how does Mom feel? "So much better because I don't feel like I'm denying him what he needs. But I feel guilty because I'm not following expert advice." I asked her to try looking at picking up her crying baby differently. Instead of being a manipulative ploy her baby's mastering (and really, he'd have to be an emotional genius to have all that figured out during infancy), look at it as her baby just asking her to meet his needs. He needs to be held. What's wrong with that? I like to be held. Don't you? What does your instinct tell you as a mother to do? Hold the baby. It's simple enough. Do what your heart and instincts tell you to do.
We've made this whole parenting-thing way more complicated than it needs to be. We have so much stuff, so many concepts and rules. Who even knows how to keep track of them? Let's simplify, shall we? Just do your very best. Follow your heart and instincts. Do your homework but balance it out with what feels right. There are millions of babies born every year and they're all unique. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all parenting. The only expert on how to raise your baby is you. That's right. You. You'll know what to do. You don't need a lot of stuff. You've got two strong arms, a great big heart and a head on your shoulders. If you're lucky, you've got a partner with the same set of tools. When you're confused, talk to your friends who are raising babies along with you. Call your Mom or your grandma. Then do what feels right. Relax, honey, it's going to be all right.
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