As soon as I discovered that I was pregnant with my son, it seemed like there was a whole world of decisions that had to be made. None of these choices were to be made idly; in fact, it felt as though every single one of them would have a huge, life-altering impact on my son and his future. As if that were not overwhelming enough, it seemed like there wasn’t a clear-cut, “right” answer that everyone could agree on.
Formula feeding? You’re poisoning your kids. Breastfeeding? You have to make sure you do it the right way: totally in private and kids should be weaned as early as possible. Sleep training? Your kids will always feel like you have abandoned them. Co-sleeping? Not only might you roll over and kill your child, he will still be sleeping in your bed when he’s in high school. Cloth diapers? Your whole life will be consumed by doing laundry. Disposable diapers? You are single-handedly ruining the environment for your child and his entire generation. Staying at home? You’re wasting your potential, your education and your brain, and your child won’t be able to socialize appropriately with his peers. Going back to work? You’re missing your child’s development and milestones by having someone else raise him, and you won’t be able to connect with him even when you are home.
Having struggled with perfectionism all my life, trying to figure out the “right” way to parent felt like navigating a minefield. To tell the truth, it was very hard for me to reach out to other parents for their help, support and experience for fear of being exposed in some way as a “bad parent.” After all, being a parent is all about doing what’s best for your child, right? What kind of parent would I be if I couldn’t even “correctly” decide whether to use a stroller or a baby carrier?
There is so much pressure to do everything perfectly as a parent and so much judgment when you don’t measure up to some random standard. Part of the reason why we try to identify and conform to one of the many parenting philosophies out there is to try to alleviate some of the isolation all of this judgment brings. Another part is that we truly want to provide our kids with the best life possible by making all the “right” choices, as prescribed by one parenting method or another.
As the saying goes, there is no handbook for parenting. Every parent, even those who appear to have it all together and are perfectly competent and “naturals” when it comes to parenting, lies awake at night wondering, did I do the right thing? Did I say the right thing? Am I failing as a parent? All of us are just trying to do the best we can, with the information and tools we have, to address any given situation. We are all working toward a common goal of trying to raise our kids to confidently and competently face the world. It helps to keep in mind that there’s more than one route to get to that endpoint.
The thing is, there is no one right way that is going to work for everyone. Every family is different and has different needs and values. The right decision is what works best for you, your child and your family as a whole. If you’re showing up for your child, making mistakes, learning from them, and doing the best you can to teach your child, then you are doing a great job as a parent (even if it may not feel like it at every moment!). The fact that you are here, reading Empowering Parents and reaching out for support, speaks to how hard you are trying—and that is to be commended.
So which parenting camp do I belong to? Helicopter mom? Free range mom? Attachment parent? I breastfed my son and also supplemented with formula as needed. I co-slept until he stopped feeding at night, and then he slept in his crib. I made all of his baby food myself and used disposable diapers. I wore him using various baby wraps and carriers and also used a stroller. I currently work full-time from home and have him in daycare part-time. I let him take risks at times; other times I tell him no, due more to my anxiety than his ability. From all accounts, he seems to be a healthy, typical toddler. I have not ruined his life by any of my choices. (At least not yet, anyway; I’m just biding my time until adolescence!) I think the title that best fits me is the one given to me by my son: Momma.