THE BEST ADVICE I EVER RECEIVED
As a new mother four years ago, I felt lost in a world full of competent and happy parents who appeared to have this “parenting thing” figured out; of course, I accepted their unsolicited advice, which I soon discovered was anything but empathetic or compassionate. Until becoming a mom was a personal experience, I truly was clueless that people are so extremely opinionated and often judgmental or abrasive when it comes to (what I call) different “camps” of parenting extremes.
On the one hand, I had veteran moms telling me that breastfeeding is the only way to go, and they were such purists that their worldview included the belief that feeding your baby formula was almost a sacrilege, because it was so unnatural. Personally, I struggled with nursing due to postpartum issues and a general lack of knowledge or will to exclusively do so; there is an independent and often fiery spirit in my nature that beckons for me to rediscover my identity apart from the title of “mom” or “wife.” At times, I simply felt smothered and suffocated if glued to my newborn baby 24/7. These purists were also the ones who suggested we try co-sleeping and skin-to-skin contact in between co-sleeping sessions.
The thought of this made me nauseated, mostly because these were practices that had not occurred to me prior to our oldest daughter’s birth. Ben and I had a nursery all set up, complete with new crib, and we fully intended to use the crib immediately upon taking our daughter home from the hospital. But I also felt sick due to guilt, because I truly felt these women were those “supermoms” you read about who can honestly do anything and do it with incredible fervor and gusto. Alas, I fell short of this title, and so I thought myself a total failure.
Then there were the parents who cautioned me about discipline once our daughter approached her first birthday. “Spanking is so passé,” they would explain with nonchalance mixed with self-righteousness. “Corporal punishment simply doesn’t work and isn’t rooted in any scientific evidence.” There I went again with that internal dialogue as I listened to these soliloquies from different moms – some close friends, others acquaintances and still others who were strangers. In my mind, I assumed that a quick swat on the rear now and again wasn’t going to permanently damage my child; of course, I concluded this would be a last resort for discipline and not my go-to response every time a behavior needed to be corrected. Yet I still felt inferior in some way and as if my parenting style was “wrong” or “bad.”
Then along came a wise sage of a woman – my own mother. “You do what is best for your family,” she assured me one day as I sobbed to her of my interminable faults and failings as a mom. “No one has all the answers to parenting, even with all of the books out there on the subject. You have to follow your own conscience and be at peace with the decisions you know are best for your child and your situation.”
Somehow in hearing that simple wisdom, my interior storm ceased raging and was replaced by the serene waters of truth. From that day onward, I have come back to this beautiful and timeless piece of advice, and it has centered me, calmed me and otherwise helped me stay focused on taking each day at a time to do what is best for our daughters – knowing they are unique and cannot be stuffed into a universal box.