Raising children is not for the faint of heart. Hell, life is not for the faint of heart and when you add two little people who depend upon you to keep their world right side up, motherhood can be daunting. I’m not a parenting expert, I’m not a pediatrician, or child psychologist; I do not possess a degree in early childhood education. I’ve never taught public school. I am not a perfect mother, although I believe if ever two children existed in the world that were close to perfection, mine would be them. My only qualifications to speak about motherhood at all is my own personal experience.
I’m a voracious reader and would like to become a writer that voracious readers read. I encourage reading in everyone I know: my children, my husband, my friends. However, there is one small group to which I actually discourage too much reading. That group is new mothers. Why? Well, because from my perspective most of what is written about how to mother is not helpful. What a new mother needs more than anything is to learn how to mother her particular baby. And if you can encourage a new mother to listen, her baby will teach her all she needs to know.
Now, I’m not talking about chucking all the technical manuals out there that serve as much needed reference guides on the topics of diaper rash, colic, or how much breast milk or formula a baby of x months of age should be eating. I’m not talking about the books that guide new mothers’ expectations as to when their baby may roll over, crawl, or walk. I’m talking about books that make sweeping generalizations about the kind of mother one should be. Books that set an expectation that if a mother is not doing her mothering a certain type of way, then she’s not doing it correctly. New mothers are insecure enough, they don’t need reading material that speaks in absolutes. Absolutes like: working outside of the home and mothering a young child are incompatible; you must always feed on demand and never let your baby cry, or the reverse of you must keep your baby on a strict feeding schedule even if that means letting him cry; never, ever let your children sleep in your bed, or the reverse of co-sleeping is the only way to insure a proper mother-child bond.
Here is what I know to be true. Each child is unique, special, and unlike any other. Just as each new mother comes to the task of mothering with her own history, background, and expectations, so does each child come into the world with its own temperament, personality, and set of needs. My son, a snugly sleeper who was only contented by being next to me while he slept. My daughter, an independent sleeper that would only sleep after being laid down awake in her crib. My son, a happy homebody who thrived on me being a stay-at-home mom. My daughter, a restless and curious child who was never happier than the day I dropped her off at full-time daycare. My son, a pacifier-sucking, formula-loving, happy, and chubby baby. My daughter, a pacifier-rejecting, stubborn, and screaming baby. Same gene pool, same parents, different children.
Here’s the point. If you’re a new mother, get quiet and still and listen to your heart and to your child. If you want to be a stay-at-home and you and your child have the temperament and financial situation to support that, DO IT. If you cry every morning while watching with envy as other women drive out their driveways to work, find the best available care for your baby and go back to work. You choose. Not someone who has never met you or your child. If you want to breastfeed until your baby is two, go for it. If the thought of having a baby clamp down on your tender and swollen nipples makes you want to scream, ask your pediatrician what bottles and formula he recommends. If you want to co-sleep, take down the crib and slap a double bed in the nursery (it’s allowed, I’ve done it). If your baby needs to be put to bed awake, then kiss her goodnight, lay her in the crib, and turn the monitor on.
If you were a fly on the wall in my home, you would often hear me say, “Because I’m the mommy, that’s why.” If you’re a new mother, be the mommy you know you are. As your baby responds positively to whatever decisions you’ve made about working, pacifiers, or sleeping arrangements, trust the confidence you feel and roll with it. Know this: whatever you decide, there will be a library full of reading material to support your decision. Go ahead and decide first and save yourself a lot of unnecessary and unhelpful reading written by people you will never meet and who have no business expressing their opinion about the kind of mommy you’ve decided to be.