I often feel mildly exhausted after being out and about socializing with Willow or having guests visit. Yesterday we had two groups of visitors in the afternoon and I did NOT feel tired or run down afterward, despite dealing with a projectile vomiting incident just before the first group showed up.
These visits were neither incredibly short nor boring. The last group even included two curious, active, cutie patootie little boys. So, as a closeted quasi-introvert who was pretty isolated for almost four months before a sudden rush of visitors in the last few weeks, why was I not tired after the stimulation of two sets of visitors?
I’ve been mulling it over during some marathon nursing sessions (one of the blessings of a “grazer” is the gift of time to rest, reflect, meditate and write) and I think I understand now. I was NOT emotionally drained by an onslaught of well-intentioned but unwelcome advice. Even though three of the adult visitors are teachers, three have biological children and one has step-children, not a single one of them told me how my parenting was lacking in some way, or how their parenting choices would better suit my child. I was not told how to force her to sleep for longer periods or how to nurse more efficiently. I was not given pointers on how to help my child stop from fussing when she decided to make her barnyard noises while enjoying a cuddle. I was not told that my baby “must be teething” (yes she is a miracle baby, but I’ve never met a five week old who is cutting teeth), or given home remedies to address her baby acne. I was not told to “sleep when the baby sleeps” or any number of things that people seem almost hard-wired to say to new mothers in this culture. I was not told what or how to feed my child or which brand of cloth diapers I “should” have purchased (or that I should not be using cloth diapers). I was not given a play by play of the foods I should or should not have consumed in the last 24 hours which may have led to the aforementioned projectile vomiting incident (which shall henceforth be referred to as “the incident”). I was not told what sorts of exercises I should do to “get my body back” (apparently I’ve lost it somewhere?!?). I was not chastised for how frequently or infrequently I held Willow, or how much daily household noise I allowed her to experience. In short, we just visited. We talked, we caught up, and nobody felt the need to rescue my child from my inexperience by teaching me how to be a good mother. Kind of awesome.
I often hear the phrase “babies should come with an instruction manual” being bandied about. I would argue that there ARE instruction manuals. There are, in fact, altogether too many instruction manuals. There is no shortage of advice for new parents, whether it is from well-meaning strangers in the grocery store, friends, relatives, doctors, lactation consultants, etc. I’ve read dozens of books on infant and child growth and emotional and social development, parenting, sleep, breastfeeding, etc. I read internet articles every day on “the next best thing” in parenting trends. Much of the advice is contradictory: Co-sleeping decreases SIDS risk. Co-sleeping increases SIDS risk. Vaccinate. Don’t vaccinate. Pick up your child the moment she whimpers or else she will become a sociopath. Let your child “cry it out” or else she will become a sociopath. Feed on demand. Feed on a strict schedule. Expose your child to household noise during daytime naps. Keep the house silent during daytime naps. Use a pacifier. Don’t use a pacifier. Swaddle. Don’t swaddle. Eat peanuts whilst nursing or else your baby will have allergies. Avoid peanuts whilst nursing or else your baby will have allergies. You get the drift.
When I started my teaching career I had two wonderful associate teachers who told me that I had great instincts. They bolstered my confidence and taught me to trust my instincts. They allowed me to make mistakes and learn from them. They modelled life long learning while showing me that it was possible to intentionally “pick and choose” ideas that resonated with them from a variety of programs and sources and apply them as needed to each unique child and group of children. The Ministry of Education or school boards may dictate the use of a specific reading or writing program or a style of teaching mathematics in any given year, but the good teachers take the best of each new approach that is presented as “THE way” and find and use what works for the human beings in their rooms.
I have read a zillion books on pedagogy and attended countless workshops and courses. I have presented at workshops and spoken on panels about teaching. In the end there is no one set program or one right way to be a teacher, just as there is no one right way to be a parent. Good teachers observe and listen more than we engage in “teacher talk”. We allow children to be our teachers. We differentiate based on the needs of the children in our care, including providing thoughtful and meaningful feedback. We use our observations and assessments to inform our lessons and interactions with our kids. Similarly, successful parents do not just read the hottest “how to parent” book on the New York Bestsellers list or take a parenting course and instantly become super moms or super dads by following a strict program. They follow their instincts and speak and act from a place of love. They unapologetically do what is right for their child and their entire family, even if it didn’t work for the neighbour’s kid. They make mistakes along the way, and they humbly learn from them without anyone pointing out their foibles or saying “I told you so”.
One of the sweetest things Willow’s honorary Grandmother, a retired teacher, said to me in the postpartum period was: “You were a natural teacher. I think you are just a natural mother, too”. I will never forget that beautiful comment and the way it made my heart soar with pride and gratitude after a week during which I had been beaten down repeatedly with well-intentioned “advice” about my sick baby from seemingly every person I encountered.
Thank you to those of you who can love me, love my husband, and love my daughter just as we are, without trying to change us or trying to force us to fit into your idea of what a functional family should look like. Thank you for letting us make and learn from our own mistakes. Thank you for not rushing in to save us from ourselves, and for recognizing that maybe, just maybe… we actually don’t need to be saved after all.