Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Unsolicited Advice from an Old-Style Mom


I begin this post with a disclaimer. What I'm talking about today does not apply to every mother, so if the shoe doesn't fit, please feel free to kick it off and move on. The woman I'm speaking to is the one trudging wearily along in parenting shoes that are pinching a bit too much at the heels and toes. For these, I suggest that it might be possible to stretch those tight tootsies out a little.

I'm sure all of you know by now that I'm staying with my sister this week. Yesterday, we got a distress call from her daughter, frantically relaying the parenting situation of one of her friends and asking for advice. Apparently, this young woman has a 4-month-old baby who wakes up four times a night and feeds every two hours all day long. Needless to say, Mom is at the end of her rope. She is feeling like a failure and teetering on the edge of exhaustion.

Her plight has moved me to share a few thoughts about parenting, a subject I generally avoid unless asked. After all, whatever works for a given mom or family is their own business, and my parenting theories (yes, I do have them!) might be construed as criticism. I'd hate for that to happen, because today’s mothers work harder at that job than any I have ever seen.

Okay (deep breath), here goes: The thing is, I think many of the young moms I see are working too hard, harder than those of my generation did…and I suggest that what they expect of themselves is unreasonable. Or maybe I should say, what they are allowing their children to expect of them is unreasonable.

I do not fault the mothers at all for this situation. They are following current parenting theories, carefully doing what is recommended by pediatricians and psychologists in increasing numbers. Having said that, I remain highly skeptical of these “new” parenting techniques (skepticism shared by more than a few women my age), and the evidence around me fails to prove otherwise. I see a lot of moms giving everything they have and then some to their kids, 24 hours a day, every day. They are loving parents...dedicated, devoted parents...who are running on or even below empty, with sleep deficits that won't quit. Having been placed squarely at the mercy of their children's every whim by so-called "experts" who confuse establishing reasonable boundaries with "stifling," these beleaguered parents are simply not free to relax and enjoy their children as I remember doing. Even worse, the prevailing mantra of "free expression" is translating into kids whose behavior can only be described as demanding, self-centered, and entitled.

Of course, children come that way automatically…They are children, after all, and they are born thinking the world is all about them. What’s more, they are right, at first. They want what they want when they want it, and for the initial few weeks (maybe the first three months or so), they need what they want when they want it. And that’s as it should be.

But here’s where I see the “new” parenting and the parenting “as my friends and I did it” part ways. It used to be that when a child was three months old, the mother began to differentiate between when the baby truly needed her and when the baby just thought he needed her. In other words, if the baby was fed and dry and well-rested but still crying, the mother would elect not to run over and pick the baby up every time. This decision wasn’t because she was mean or lazy or selfish, and it was hard (then, as now) for a mom to do, but we were specifically taught that the baby would be gaining valuable knowledge by learning that sometimes he needed to rely upon his own resources to entertain or soothe himself. We were encouraged to simply make eye contact with our baby, smile, and reassure him that “You’re okay. Mommy’s here, but she’s doing the dishes”…or “tending to your sister”…or whatever.

Letting a baby cry was more “okay” then. Crying is what babies do. After all, they can’t speak, right? So the crying is not in and of itself a bad thing. It’s a communication, pure and simple. Sometimes a baby is protesting because that baby thinks it needs to be held and entertained every minute of every day and into the night. After all, it’s fun to be held and entertained and loved on….but ALL of the time, on demand, is neither realistic nor reasonable. In fact, I propose that it’s not even helpful. I mean, life goes on, right? And there are other people in the family with needs, too. But the baby doesn’t automatically realize this. He cries. He gets mad. He may even throw a fit. And that’s okay if he does. He still needs to be taught that sometimes it’s all right, even good, for him to entertain and nurture himself. (Not most of the time, mind you, but some of the time.) Before long, the baby learns how to please himself and becomes a happier, more adaptive and competent child as a result. Self-esteem ensues, REAL self esteem, not the trumped-up (fragile) kind that comes from too many undeserved compliments (another issue of mine). And not the grandiosity (dependent upon external factors) that comes from constant subjugation of everyone else’s needs to his.

The truth is, learning to be depend upon oneself sometimes is a good thing. It’s called independence, and some kinds of independence can and should be learned at a very young age, when children are most easily taught and before entitlement and its underlying over-dependence upon others for well-being sets in. Becoming self-reliant is a gift parents can help their children receive.

And that brings us to the issue of sleep, which I will address tomorrow, in part two of this overlong essay. Again, take what you like and leave the rest. This is only one (admittedly oldish and moldyish) person's opinion...

=)

23 comments:

Terra said...

AMEN. I have a pediatrician who is in his 80's he has been through every theory imaginable...so when I had a child that wouldn't sleep on her back for nothing...he told me the old theory the one after that the one after that that was like the old when and the new one which was like the middle one...are you confused? So was I, it is so hard to know what is right when the media and perhaps even proven medical science is screaming at you in one direction...he basically gave me permission to put my daughter to sleep in a position that she would actually sleep in. And guess what, for us it worked out ok. One of my daughters learned to sleep by crying it out a bit, the other...crying it out would have NEVER worked. As a mom, trusting your gut is sometimes the best advice you have.

Wendy said...

Thanks for reminding me that parenting can be fun.

Darlene said...

Sue, I am so very glad you are doing this. It is so hard for an old grandma like me to see how young mothers are killing themselves by giving in to every single little cry their babies have learned will get them everything they want. We certainly did differently with all five of you. I might add that you were the hardest. Mostly that was because you really were sick for a time. It was pretty awful because for some reason your digestive system wasn't working well and as soon as you were fed, it would all come squirting out. You cried incessantly and I needed help just to keep you half way comfortable. My pediatrician assured me that this would pass and that as soon as you were well, I would have some serious re-training to do. I trusted him to let me know just when you were totally well. When you were, he told me that I must put you down to sleep at the same time each night and just let you cry. He strongly felt that crying was a good form of exercise that would strengthen your lungs and every part of your body. He advised your father that if I couldn't stand to let you cry, he should arrange for me to be gone about a week, which was the time he felt it would take to get you established on a good sleeping pattern. I didn't want to leave you so I just gritted my teeth and kept repeating to myself, "this is good for her, she is getting her exercise." It didn't take a week, by the way, it only took five nights before you were sleeping through the night. What a great relief this was for everyone.

I am so glad you are addressing this problem, and I truly think you need to write a complete book and have it published.

I am also certain that if a lot of mother's take the advise that you are so qualified to give, it would make their lives much more enjoyable. Their babies would thrive and do so much better in every way. Children should be able to entertain themselves for long periods of time.

And while we are on this subject, why in heavens name did they stop marketing play pens, or play yards? What a grave mistake that was!

Sue said...

Not sure how qualified I am, Mom, but I am definitely opinionated!

;)

Farmer's Wyfe said...

Good reminder, indeed. Thank you. It seems so many of the "older" ways were wiser. It is freeing to not feel like we HAVE to be there for our babies/kids every moment they make a noise. I was going BERSERK with my youngest b/c she cried much more than the other two. And then I just decided that when it was time to make dinner, she was just GOING to be up in her playpen while I made dinner. She shrieked at first, for the entire hour. I just turned the monitor off and cooked away. I gave her little toys and books and her pacifier and knew she was okay. Now we both love this time: I can cook in peace and have a nice supper for my husband when he gets home, she actually enjoys that hour by herself looking at books, often taking a little nap. It's WONDERFUL to let go, and good for ALL involved.
Thank you. We need more "advice" from MOTHERS and GRANDMOTHERS not just book smart college grads. :) Great post, no mold involved (although that comment did make me laugh):) And yes, your mom is right. You do need to write a complete book!

Laraine Eddington said...

Your baby will thank you for letting them adjust to a schedule that allows everyone to sleep. Good advice Sue.

Jess said...

Sue- you're not oldish or moldish! I love that there are still people out there with common sense, and you my friend, are one of them. I have a few friends who've not sleep trained their children (and as I watch them- I had to do it)- they just bring them into bed with them and then blame the naps during the day for the poor sleep quality at night.

Jackie said...

Sue! I couldn't agree more. But it sure is nice to hear it from someone else. It makes me feel less guilty for making my baby cry it out at 4 months because colic did me it!

(Truth be told I still make her cry. She's 15 months now, and as much as she would like it, I just cannot hold her all day.)

I think the very worst is when I hear people that set their alarm clock in the middle of the night to wake their babies up to feed them! ARE YOU KIDDING! I'd be angry too if someone woke me up to make me eat.

Em said...

So true!!! I really struggled with that with Brennan. It was like I spent all oft energy focusing on him. Makin sure I was doing everything by the book and just perfect. Thank Goodness my best friend was the exact opposite. It's amazing we were even able to be friends bc now women that are like the way inwas driving me insane. Can't even hang out! I sometimes hinder on the side of too mellow, some may say, but when I was teaching school I learned a valuable lesson. What works for me is not necessarily what works for you, but don't come into my classroom and make me try to do what you do in yours! Lol. Things that bother me might not bother you. Things that don't bother me might bother you. The biggest key for me is surrounding myself with moms like me:) and for me, I just don't sweat the small stuff anymore. I try to make my children independent, but still be there, and teach social skills on the way. And steer clear from the helicopter mom. It's just not pretty.

Stef said...

I totally agree with you. And there are several areas in my parenting where I need to expect more from my children.
The whole sleeping issue, though, is not one of those. I am good at letting my child/ren comfort themselves...cry it out. It's hard...but only for a couple days. Then it is a whole lot better.

yaya said...

I think we are reaping the rewards of entitlement already...who made up the junk that the 30's are the new 20's? Kids who don't want to work, or those that do and want just what took Mom and Dad ions to achieve. There are many theories out there but I agree with you, we need to bust a few parenting "myths".

Dixie Mom said...

I absolutely agree with you! 100%. And I'm not even qualified to have an opinion yet!

Mumsy, Chancy and Company said...

Bravo!!! Sweet Sue. This post and coming posts should be available to every parent. I totally agree with you. Hugs

Donna said...

I agree too...there are so many new rules for parenting...put children in the back seat, make them sleep rolled in a back position where they can't roll over, etc. (Do you think Mary did that with Jesus?) There are so many rules that one thinks this must be very hard on mothers which equates to pressure. When I was a new mother, I actually wished for more of a parenting manual to come with the new purchase.
If a child is loved, and disciplined within reason, they will grow well, I think. I could go on and on too...but I will leave that to your excellant expertise and read tomorrow's continuation!

Cherie said...

I am also very opinionated (guffaw) and I agree with what you said. I did not and do not give into every whim of my children I don't think it is good for them.
Independence is NOT overrated it is something that is very much needed.

Stacy Crawford said...

Amen! I teach 5th and 6th graders who can't wait for me to finish a thought with another student because their needs come first. They are entitled to get things their own way or they complaining or disrespectful. Interesting thoughts...

Jocelyn Christensen said...

I totally agree.

tattytiara said...

And I'm a person who doesn't have kids at all, but it does often seem to me that "new parenting" is parenting that's micromanaged by the entire world. I don't think parents feel like they're allowed to trust their instincts anymore.

Myrna Foster said...

Your advice sounds very much like what my own mother would have said, and she was the best mom in the world. I'm glad she taught us to be independent.

Grandma Honey said...

I read this with great interest because my experience has been very different than yours. I feel like I was the mother who tried too hard, who hovered, who worried, who never let her babies cry if I could possibly help it. I see this generation of parents now being distracted by so-so-so many things, that parenting often takes a back seat. I wore my babies and slept with them. But I was not a permissive parent. I expected lots from them as far as character was concerned, as they grew.

I watch so many parents around me raising their children with constant and continual electronics, fast food, rarely sit down meals, etc. While this generation has many great parents, I also see lots that just don't worry and dare I say, care, as much as our generation did.

So very interesting, that your experience has been opposite of mine. I'm looking forward to reading more.

karen said...

Amen. And Amen. I couldn't agree more. Katie caught a lot of flak for letting her babies "cry it out" when they were several months old and just wanted to be played with at 3am. She would change them, make sure they weren't hungry and then put them back to bed. They learned to self soothe in one night. Mama can't be at her best when she's so tired she can't see straight.

Kristin Klein said...

I'm with you sistah! I think babies learning to comfort and entertain themselves is one of life's first important lessons. What are you going to do when they are 21 (or 31) and still needing all that attention and entertainment.

Love the post!

Kristin

spontaneouschick.com said...

I'm so happy that I came across your site and agree with what you said here. I see a lot of moms who bend over backwards for their kids and put the child's needs before anyone else's, but it's because they don't want the child to feel unloved or undeserving. I have a little girl and I see how the other moms regard each other in the park if you're not always on top of your kid so part of it may also be because we as parents don't want to be judged harshly by other parents. Anyway, as an older generation mom, thanks for understanding and for your advice.

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