Monday, January 31, 2011

Mothering: Trying to Find a Middle Ground

Before Kate was born, I never gave much thought to my parenting style. I think I thought parenting, or mothering, would come natural. By instinct. I knew about "maternal instinct:" Mothers know when their babies are tired, when their cries communicate hunger, and when their little ones just need to be snuggled. And I believed that once my child was born, I would attain this instinct and only have to act. Boy was I wrong!

Like most first time moms, I made A LOT of mistakes (still do)! I nursed Kate every time she cried. I didn't realize that sometimes babies cry because they're bored or lonely or wet. I just assumed she was always hungry, and her incessant wailing sent me over the edge. A good mommy, I thought, could stop the crying. I couldn't. Therefore, I thought, I must not be a good mommy. I rocked and nursed and rocked and nursed, and when Kate was finally asleep, I would tip-toe to the crib and very, very gently lay her down. Of course not a minute later she would wake up crying. I couldn't let her lie there and cry so I would repeat the process over and over until we both fell asleep in the glider. This happened for many nights until I realized how much I missed my bed! But at that point instead of putting Kate in the crib, I brought her into bed with us. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. I could nurse so much easier without getting up and then we could both go right back to sleep. But then as babies do, Kate grew bigger and bigger until at a year she was still in our bed. Daniel ended up sleeping in another room and Kate and I in another. Our full-sized bed just wouldn't cut it with three.

I was exhausted too! Kate was not a good sleeper, and she would only fall asleep either in the Ergo (baby carrier) or nursing. So, when she needed to nap, I had to either walk for an hour or lie down with her. While the exercise and rest were good for me, I felt trapped, enslaved to my child. Needless to say, my parenting style was to do whatever it took to keep Kate from crying and becoming sleep-deprived.

I remember thinking that if I ever had another child, I would do everything differently. So, when I found out I was pregnant with Cora, I began to do some serious soul-searching and research to determine the best way to mother my children without losing myself and my mind in the process. What I found was a parenting style that fit my type-A organized personality to the T. First of all, Cora would sleep in her crib, not in Mommy and Daddy's bed, and when she cried, I would not automatically assume she needed food. She would eat every 3 hours, give or take, followed by some playtime and then nap time. I liked the idea of knowing exactly when she would need to eat and that I didn't have to nurse her every time she cried. Everything about this parenting style seemed perfect until Cora came and I had to implement it. Then, I learned that while having a schedule served me very well, it did not always consider her unique needs. Sometimes she needs to eat before the three hour mark, and sometimes she needs to sleep longer than the schedule allows. And sometimes Mommy has to get out of the house or she'll go nuts!! This time I was not a slave to my child but to my schedule.

Let's just say I am still learning how to become the mother God wants me to be. He is teaching me how to love my babies and meet their needs while at the same time remembering the needs of my husband and myself. A strict schedule isn't the answer and neither is no schedule. Crying is part of being a baby and will not traumatize my children so that they become serial killers later in life. There has to be a middle ground. On my journey to joyful motherhood, I am developing a maternal instinct that is in tune with myself and my little ones. I can only imagine what the Lord will teach me next!

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