I had the opportunity last weekend to hear Mayim Bialim speak at the Atlanta Birth Center campaign fundraiser kick-off. I’ll probably write several blogs about what she said, but there was one thing that really struck me as good advice for everyone, especially new moms. Parenting is scary, and there are so many forces in our culture that work to make it scarier. These days, we’re expected to protect our children from everything, and if anything ever goes wrong with your child, from the moment it’s conceived till it’s an adult, then it’s probably mom’s fault. That’s just how our society thinks.
And so even if you find a parenting style that you think will work for you–and this could be anything, in any style of parenting–I guarantee there will be someone who will criticize what you’re doing. There will be someone who will tell you not only that you’re doing it wrong, but that you’re doing the worst possible thing for your child and you’re creating problems that your child will never overcome, not with a lifetime of doctors and therapy. I’ve been told that elimination communication will cause bedwetting and infections and urinary incontinence in adulthood–and I’ve also heard people say that using diapers at all (much less disposable diapers!) will cause infections and infertility and utter environmental destruction. I’ve been told that breastfeeding past a certain age will cause serious emotional problems–and I’ve heard people talk as though using formula, at all, is barely better than poison. I’ve been told that cosleeping will kill my baby–and I’ve heard people say that using a crib is emotional abandonment and causes SIDS. It really doesn’t matter what choices you make. When it comes to other people’s opinions, you can’t win.
But here’s what Mayim said, or at least what I took from it. She said you can parent the way you want to even if you don’t fit the stereotype of what that kind of mom is supposed to be. You don’t have to be a stay-at-home mom to breastfeed exclusively. You don’t have to be a granola hippie to practice elimination communication. You don’t have to be a health nut who grows all her own food to eat organic. These things are not all or nothing. You can take what you want to do and leave the rest. You can do them when you feel like it. You can do what you want to, or what you can.
I know a lot of moms who won’t go to attachment parenting playgroups because they’re afraid they’re “not AP enough” to fit in. I know people who are afraid to go to La Leche League meetings because they’re afraid they’ll be judged for not achieving all the ideal criteria that the organization encourages. I know people who won’t admit the whole truth about their parenting practices to any one friend because they expect judgement on all sides–they’re too crunchy for mainstream parents and too mainstream for crunchy parents. I know so many parents who feel like they don’t fit in.
I don’t want to talk about the mommy wars, because really, it’s been said enough. Of course we need to stop judging each other; we need to encourage and support each other; we need to let go of guilt and guilting. But apart from what other people tell you as a new mom, apart from all pressure on all sides, I wish I could look every pregnant woman in the eye and tell her this: trust yourself. Believe your instincts. You know what you’re doing, and you know what your baby needs. Stop trying to choose one “expert” to be your guru–whether it’s Dr. Sears or Dr. Ferber. Read them both if you want to, and take what you like from each. Or read neither of them, and do what feels right for your family, your baby, your life.
And stop worrying that you’ll screw up your kid. If you read enough studies, you can find evidence that every single parenting choice out there will screw up your kid in one way or another. Every parent fails. The best we can do is admit it, and help our kids recognize our failures so they can improve on them someday.