Probably so, I told myself.
Probably so, I tell myself even now.
And yet, it continues to strike me over and over that there is something missing in much of the everyday conversation and especially literature about early childhood parenting that I have encountered so far.
Too often, we lack down-to-earth, yet Heaven-focused balance.
Bottle versus breast. Co-sleeping. The family bed. Baby wearing. Stay-at-home mom versus working mom. Schedules. Pacifiers. Demand feeding. Attachment parenting. Time outs. Spanking.
Which one of these words sets off an Alarm in your head?
I've read (and probably own, thanks to the used books section of Amazon.com) popular books about all of these topics. My husband Michael and I have connected with some ideas and passed over others. The mindset and ideas that we have implemented in our home are a mish-mash of bits and pieces of every parenting book we own.
It can be tough to stay balanced when many of these early childhood parenting books try to subtly or not-so-subtly demonize other methods and mindsets of parenting. Even among friends and family, I've seen that sometimes conversations about parenting become judgmental and polarized incredibly quickly.
Michael and I have definitely made plenty of young parent mistakes, had some sleepless nights, done some crying (both parents and baby), and had plenty of we're-so-clueless-let's-just-laugh-at-ourselves moments. Overall, however, we have been comfortable with and blessed by our parenting choices in our home.
I think that a major part of why we are happy with our parenting choices so far is that we have tailor-made all of them for our particular family. We have read many books and talked with many other parents, but all with a grain of salt. The salt being the reminder that every parent and parenting writer out there wants to raise happy and healthy children, and their is probably at least one tiny nugget of good advice that each of them can give us. It is impossible to claim otherwise--and also claim to have any balance.
Michael and I are not worried anymore about what our friends and family think. We are not worried about using one of the Alarm words above, even with friends or family who have strong Alarm word opinions. We are not worried about following one method or another to a "T," or completely avoiding another method in order not to spoil our children for life.
That's because our children are happy and healthy, and so are we. In the end, happiness speaks louder than words.
As Catholics, we believe that the dignity and the work of the married vocation is to lead our families and others to Heaven. It is important to remember, however, that marriage is the vocation. Beyond centering our lives on God, our marriage should be a priority for us--even above our children. Our parenting decisions should be such that they are not a source of strain in our marriage. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to have parents with a strong marriage.
We all have the same goal, but we also all come to the table with complex factors that go into what is the best, the most peaceful, the most effective way for our particular family, in a particular season or state in life, to reach that goal.
Whatever parenting choices clearly lead you, your spouse, and your children to grow steadily in grace and virtue, whatever supports a strong marriage and a happy, healthy, holy home on every level--those choices are what is right for you and your family. That's all there is to it.
Every family has a different set of needs. Just in my own experience, I know families with a wide range of circumstances that necessarily call for different methods of parenting their children, sometimes even from birth.
I know a family of five in which one spouse has been deployed for long periods of time.
I know a family in which an older child has special needs that require huge amounts of time, money and energy.
I know a family in which both parents must work full-time, in addition to the mother attending school at night and the father working a second job on the weekends.
I know a family with triplets.
There are also many not-so-obvious situations that each family can bring to the table. Some babies come out of the womb more needy and and sensitive than others. Some parents are more high-strung than others. One spouse may be an incredibly light sleeper. Dad may work nights. A couple may find intimacy and communication especially difficult without regular time away from their children together.
All of these are examples of factors that parents should include in prayerful discernment of their parenting choices.
These past 2 1/2 years as a young mother, I have stumbled through some tough lessons, feasted on humble pie, laughed at my hilarious kids every single day, and learned little by little about real teamwork in my marriage.
I know I have many more lessons to learn and bridges to cross (and possibly babies to bear!) before this parenting adventure is done. For now, I am humbly thankful that Michael and I have simply managed not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" in making our choices so far in parenting. We have truly tried to be open to taking precious nuggets of wisdom from wherever we could. I have an imperfect, but happy little family, whose image and witness I hope points others to the Lord--as our wise and merciful God designed every family to do.