Three years ago now, a friend asked if she could come over and talk to me – she wanted to know ‘how do I parent’ (to those of you with a teenager, quit laughing). We walked to the grocery store in the snow, and I remember that I purposely left Marin’s pacifier at home. By the time we were walking home and Marin was screaming her head off, I was regretting my decision and getting out of Stop n’ Shop as quickly as I could to avoid the embarrassing glances of nearby onlookers. I’d convinced myself that Marin shouldn’t be napping so regularly, and that her naps should be longer instead – Marin just didn’t get the memo and I was clearly wrong. (For those of you without small children, people with small children, with me being at the top of this list, *obsess* over their sleep).
I remember the question as we scurried back to my apartment – “do you do BabyWise or do you Attachment Parent?” – two camps that I think parents of the 21st century are forced into non-consensually. (Or maybe too consensually). And I saw in her eyes that same look of confusion and need-to-figure-it-all-out-right-then-and-there, that resides in my heart then and today. The ugly, awkward, hypocritical grey – because I’m neither and sometimes, I’m both.
With Marin, I wrote down on sheets upon sheets of paper when she ate, how long she ate, and what side she ate on FOR EVERY FEEDING FOR WEEKS. (If you know anything about how we’ve raised Isaac, you know that I have not been doing this for 3.5 years now). I worried if I nursed Marin to sleep, I worried if she hiccupped when she was tired, or if she woke up too soon. I thought that if I didn’t have the answer to what was wrong with her, or why she was ____ way, I wasn’t paying attention enough or I could formulate a better strategy to execute. Every question about Marin felt like a pop quiz and everyday there was room for improvement on my score – the least of which was forgetting her pacifier that day. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault for asking, it was mine for not looking to God for security in my parenting. I was the Mom who devoured books, information and resources up to my eyeballs, and I was sitting in the mess of an uncomfortable, hypocritical grey.
What do I mean by ‘the hypocritical grey’? I mean that place we all find ourselves in where we say we are one thing – maybe 90% of the time – but there’s that pestering 10% of space we need to be allowed to do it differently too. I wanted to avoid (more than like a large number of things) *ever* giving my baby a pacifier at 4 days old (or ever). But you know what? I gave her one after a horrible bout of mastitis and the prescription to rest with a newborn and not much help. It means that I think breastfeeding is the standard for infant feeding, and as a result, I think every woman should be able to nurse her baby wherever she wants, but I’ve done it in a public bathroom stall or a car to avoid nursing in public out of fear. It means that I dream of 8 kids on a day when I wonder how I will ever be able to raise just 2. It means that I’m a “stay-at-home Mom” because I want to be with my children as much as humanly possible, but I still love the weekends when I am free to be a single adult woman without a tiny human crawling on me. It means I think that childbirth is hard, painful work, and I think it is the most joyous, pivotal experience (potentially) in a woman’s life. It means that I do (still) value naptimes, but sometimes I push my kids a little too long and get frustrated when we are all cranky simultaneously. It means 95% of the time, I let my kids get bored, but there are days where we are putting on Curious George and calling it ‘till-Daddy-gets-home’ time. It means that I’m going to do my best, and that I’m still going to mess it up (that’s technically more than 10% of the time, but I think you get the point).
And you know why I hate it? Because there’s no room for the 10% of space when you become a Mom. There’s not – and it has had the ability to turn one of God’s greatest gifts in my life to be suffocating and heavy enough to stop me in my tracks. We sell Moms on camps from the second they announce to their employers about becoming one. Immediately, Moms are met with the question “are you going to work or stay home?”. There is some backlash from women to say “why can’t I be both?”, but then there’s struggle to fight the balance when they want to pump in a space bigger than a broom closet or they fight to come home when their child is sick. (I’ve not worked full time as a parent, but these are accounts I’ve witnessed). The ‘options’ can feel like false hope and the complexity over our decisions all too casually assumed . Then once Camp #1 is settled, then we assess those women by “Moms who want a career” and “Moms who want to be with their kids”. (Newsflash: I want a career and I want to be with my kids – I just believe that I want my career after my kids are adults). Then the camps become even more diverse – Do you cry it out? Do you sleep train? Do you co-sleep? (I’m telling you, *obsessed* with sleep) Do you do Montessori? Do you do screen time? Do you do preschool? Do you homeschool? Do you plan to homeschool or public school or private school? Do you, do you, do you…
And we wonder why Moms are showing unprecedented rates historically of postpartum depression and anxiety – Motherhood is constantly promoted as a list of high-risk decisions that are expected to be more rewarding than vacation and sleep. Last time, I checked there weren’t palm trees in the playroom and Marin wasn’t offering me a Mei Tei as I laid and read a book on the couch while her and Isaac played silently alone.
Do you know what Moms need more than camps? Support, love, prayers, and according to the Bible, Jesus Himself. When’s the last time you just listened to a Mom, stopped her in her fear and guilt and just prayed for her? When’s the last time you looked at a Mom and encouraged the crap out of her and quieted the doubt? When’s the last time you told her to trust her gut and silence the noise? When’s the last time you told her “I think you are doing a really great job, I’m so proud of you!” and meant it?
So three and a half years ago, what I told my friend, is that I’m not a BabyWise Mom and I’m not an Attachment Parent Mom, I’m Marin’s Mom. And now, I’m Isaac’s Mom too. And I was made to be the perfect Mom for them – whatever that looks like, whatever the books say about me and my parenting. I rely on my instincts, much of what I believe is the Holy Spirit in me as a Christian, to guide my motherhood. God has really allowed me to be a great Mom, and I am learning to be secure in Him, wherever He takes me – but I am still struggling to keep that perspective when I lose my patience that Isaac found the toilet bowl before I closed to the bathroom door or that I burnt the turkey bacon…again. The little day-to-day things are what make motherhood so heavy, and it is therefore, no wonder why we feel ridiculous and justified in complaining when our spouse doesn’t take out the trash or that we need some ‘alone time’ (or actual vacation). So do what you can to lighten that load for a Mom in your life, and instead of asking about it, or witnessing it passively, carry it along with her.