Monday, August 12, 2013

The Sea of "Supposed To" and Attachment Parenting

Ever since I found out that Little Man was on his way here, I've been trying to figure out what kind of mother I want to be and how I can reconcile my instincts to what I'm supposed to be doing. Being a new mother in our society is tough because we are so bombarded by these messages about what we're supposed to be doing, how we're supposed to look, what our babies are supposed to be like, etc. In short, I felt like I was swimming in a sea of supposed to.

*I was supposed to be reading my scriptures everyday.
*I was supposed to be keeping a daily journal full of meaningful, spiritual insights as well as a concise family history.
*I was supposed to be working on family history work.
*I was supposed to be losing that baby weight as soon as possible by working out the second that Little Man reached 6 weeks of age (thanks a lot, Heidi Klum).
*I was supposed to be keeping up on my housework and making sure that my home looked gorgeous and company-ready
*I was supposed to be breastfeeding on demand, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but also not offending anyone by (*gasp!*) breastfeeding in public or where anyone might possibly see me.
*I was supposed to be making this motherhood thing look easy breezy, keeping up my appearance, dressing to the 9s, and cooking scrumptious meals full of whole, unprocessed foods- all on about 4 hours of sleep a night.
*I was supposed to know exactly what I was doing in every situation and remain calm at all times, even when Little Man was crying constantly, pooping about 75 times a day, and my hormones were more up and down than a seismometer on the San Andreas Fault.

The truth? I was exhausted. And overwhelmed. I cried a lot. I didn't know what I was doing and I was stressed out. This little bitty person that had been entrusted to my care didn't come with any on the job training or a manual of any kind and yet I was expected to just jump in with both feet, knowing what I was supposed to be doing. Add to that the fact that I was indescribably stressed out and terrified, watching him constantly, praying that he would live, and I was a complete basket case.

I tried cloth diapering right off of the bat, and that failed. And I cried because I so believe in cloth diapering.
I tried breastfeeding and that was a roaring success immediately following his birth- and I cried because it was painful and because it was an overwhelming change to my schedule and lifestyle.
I tried giving him a bottle once in awhile to take some of the pressure off of me to nurse 24/7 in those first few weeks when all I wanted to do was sleep a tiny bit- and I cried because I felt guilty and like I was a failure as a mother.
I tried sleep training him so that he would be a "good sleeper" - and we both cried. A lot.

The first two months of Little Man's life left me feeling like a giant failure by the world's standards. I wasn't living up to anyone's expectations of me, society's or my own. I felt like pretty much anyone would have been a better mother to this little boy than I was. I just felt helpless, hopeless, and terrified. Every time I went into public, I kept waiting for other parents to come up to me and point out all of the things I was doing wrong that would ruin my baby irreparably.

And then, at around the 3 month mark, I read The Attachment Parenting Book by Dr William and Martha Sears and it was like the sun came out from behind the clouds. I was able to relax. My confidence shot up and I started to forget about all of the things that I was supposed to be doing and started trusting my own instincts. I realized that even though I didn't know exactly what I was supposed to do in every single foreseeable situation, I knew what to do in this moment and that was all that mattered. I realized that, contrary to what anyone might say, I knew by instinct what my baby needed and that my trying to fight against that instinct in order to appease the supposed tos was what was causing my misery.

To paraphrase a phrase from the book, attachment parenting is what you would do as a parent if you were parenting on a desert island without any outside pressure and expectations. Babywearing, breast feeding, bed sharing, birth bonding, avoiding "baby trainers," and the other points in attachment parenting as a philosophy felt just like coming home. It all seemed to logical and sensible! And it acknowledged that I, the mother, had exactly what it took to raise my child to be the best person that he's capable of being just by doing what came naturally to me regardless of what the so-called experts might say. That meant a lot to me, I can tell you!

And I love that according to the Sears' book, I get to decide what's best for my baby, not anyone else - including the Searses. I wear my baby, yes, but I also let him rock in a swing when he's having trouble sleeping and let him play on the floor in his play gym when he gets restless. Yes, we co-sleep most of the time, but Little Man also has his own co-sleeper crib attached to our bed that he sleeps in on his own when I need a little extra space. Yes, we avoid "baby trainers," but we do try to keep some consistency in his schedule where sleep is concerned, especially at nighttime. And no one can tell us that we're doing it wrong!

I love this philosophy and I love what it's done for me and my relationship with my son. I love the lack of stress over doing it "right" and the knowledge that my instincts are trustworthy. I love the gentle approach and the fact that I don't have to let my child scream or treat him like he's a manipulative little criminal. (For more information on attachment parenting as well as other parenting tidbits, you can click on my "Parenting" tab above!)

Most of all? I love that I get to let go of the supposed to and just enjoy the want to and the going to and the feeling able to.


  1. There is so much pressure on women to be a certain way, look a certain way, act a certain way! I have not experienced the pressure placed on mothers first hand, but do see the pressure put on all women to meet some outrageous (and false!) standard! I applaud you taking a stand as a mother... and a woman to follow your instincts and be content.

    We are daughters of an almighty God (a statement that has been deeply affecting my recent train of thought)..... our instinct is therefore pure and right.

    Go ahead, sister susie!

  2. I've felt lots of pressure to get Seth to meet certain milestones "on schedule." Sleeping through the night, and eating solid foods are two that he still doesn't do. I've tried every method to encourage him to sleep through the night. Nothing helps. I've tried introducing food in a number of different ways. Nothing has worked yet. So...what?! He's healthy, happy, growing as expected. Sure, it would be nice if we didn't have to get up with him at night. But I cannot force him to do that. He'll figure it out when he's ready to figure it out.

    Anyway, thanks for your post. You are not alone in how you think and feel. :-)