everyone's an expert
sabina is 20 months old. i got pregnant with her in september of 2014. it seems like as soon as you're visibly pregnant, the unsolicited advice comes rolling in. i remember sitting at a table for a church thanksgiving potluck listening to the person sitting across from me lecture me on acceptable and unacceptable food to eat during pregnancy (at this point, the only thing that sounded appetizing to eat was mac n cheese and hot dogs and mcdonald's sausage mcmuffins). about how anxiety during pregnancy can change the brain formation (or something like that) of a baby (an idea that everyone who struggles with anxiety wants to hear, totally not anxiety inducing at all). about how i could take mushroom supplements to help with that (seriously?). of course, i did not ask this person what they thought on the matter. they just freely gave all of their expert non-parent, never-been-pregnant advice on pregnancy. it's almost as if as a pregnant woman you walk around with a big sign that says "please tell me everything i'm doing to screw up my child in utero." because everyone. EVERYONE. is an expert. whether you're a man or a woman, married or single, a parent for three years or 30 years, or not. you're an expert on the life of someone else.
and then once the baby is out, it gets more fun. and then if 20 months later you start talking about expanding your family through adoption, it gets EVEN MORE fun. and full disclosure here, i've totally been on the giving end of the unsolicited advice. i had a friend who used x book on sleep training and it worked. i spread the gospel of x strategy of sleep training before i had a kid of my own. i thought the moms whose kids didn't sleep through the night shouldn't complain if they were unwilling to use x sleep training strategy. because of course everyone who did anything besides x sleep training strategy was an idiot (ahem, i gave up on x sleep training strategy after trying it for two days with two week old bina and never looked back). i judged the moms with the crazy kids in the store (my kid will NEVER be like that. famous last words). i got annoyed with the screaming kid on the airplane. i thought i knew lots of things about parenting and how to do it right. and i liked sharing my non-parent parenting knowledge (and no, owning a dog is not like raising a child. i have two dogs. you can crate dogs and leave them alone all day if you really want. you cannot crate children). then i had a kid and am finding that i realize more and more every day: the only thing i know for sure is that things are always always changing. every mama is different. every daddy is different. every baby is different. every family is different. i am stumbling through this journey called motherhood and i love my child more than i ever thought possible. i'm messing up every day and admitting when i do wrong and apologizing. i'm trying new things. some of them work, some of them don't. and i keep trying new things. and you know what? so are all the moms who do things the same or differently than me. all i know is my own experience. and all you know is yours. and sometimes as mamas we ask other mamas to share their experiences. and sometimes we don't. when i do ask for the experience of others, i'm not fishing for "this is how i do it and if you don't do it my way you are wrong." i'm looking for different experiences to consider, and then weigh them and consider how to best handle x situation in my own family.
look at this beautiful little human. my "bina the explorer." i think we're doing just fine. but when those moments hit when she's meltdowning, inconsolable, refusing to eat, fighting sleep, a disaster after waking from nap or nighttime sleep, having a poop-a-thon, wanting to nurse like a newborn again. sometimes i wonder. am i doing this right?
lately i've been second guessing myself and my decisions for sabina. listening to all the different unsolicited voices and opinions (some solicited too). of course, most are coming with the best of intentions. i try to keep that in perspective, but it's still hard to hear. it's still hard not to feel judged constantly and like i'm managing to screw up my kid no matter what i do. and so the questions and comments swirl around in my head: you're still breastfeeding her? you shouldn't nurse her to sleep. how long are you going to breastfeed her? you have to stop before she goes to kindergarten (who says she's going to kindergarten? do you know my education plans?). it's weird when they're old enough to ask for it. you shouldn't home school. the kids who are home schooled are weird. the kids who are home schooled miss out on x (aren't there advantages and disadvantages to every method of schooling?). that behavior should be ignored. don't pick her up when she's doing x. stop doing that. you need to teach her how to self soothe. i could never let my babies cry. i let my babies cry it out. the food industry is an industry that doesn't care about the well being of our children (as if the organic food industry is not an industry, they're handing out free organic food. oh wait...). you're doing x too much. you're not doing x enough. why do you let her do x. why don't you let her do x.
all we know is our own experience. you know who the expert on my child is? me. and my husband. we're with her the most. god loves her the most because he loves her perfectly (how amazing that would be if we could love perfectly), but we're a close second. we want to raise a healthy, wholehearted little human being. we want her to know who she is, to love who she is and how god made her. to appreciate the unique personality and passions she has. to feel safe and loved and secure. we're making decisions that we think will foster that development. maybe they will, maybe they wont. but we are trying our very best. we do our own research and reading. we do ask for help. when we want advice, we ask for it. it's not that we're unwilling to ask. but we don't ask for it, we're not asking for it. ya know?
i knew i didn't want to spank, but i did think i wanted to do time outs. we were avid watchers of super nanny back in the day and worshiped at the altar of effective time outs. but now i don't want to do either. the parenting workshop we attended in the fall keeps ringing in my ears. every behavior is a communication. treat children with respect. our number one job as parents is to show our children that we love them. unconditionally. to show them that no matter what they do, no matter how hard they push against us, we're still going to be there. we still love them. we're not going anywhere. they can't break us. so when my kid is meltdowning. when i want to just lock myself in the bathroom because i'm about to lose my mind. i take a deep breath. repeat to myself "god loves bina, i love bina" (a trick i learned from a dear friend, it works). and then i do my best to be present with my child who has some very big emotions. every behavior is a communication. poor kid can't talk yet. so we talk in meltdowns. i'm sure even when she can talk we will still talk in meltdowns more that i would like. but hey, i'm 31 and i talk in meltdowns sometimes. ask my husband. big emotions. you know what helps me when i'm feeling big emotions? love. listening. presence. you know what doesn't help me? ignoring. invalidating. leaving. so i'm trying to show sabina the love and respect that i want shown towards me. only god loves perfectly. all we can do is love brokenly. but gosh darn it i'm going to do the best i can to love my heart out in its brokenness.
i was reading scary mommy last night about adoption. the author was relaying things she wished she had known before adopting. she shared a story of a nosy person in the store who was asking where she got her children (they looked different than her, so naturally there must be some explanation). when the person persisted in a rude way (where did you get them and how much were they) even though she was not interested in adoption herself (just nosy), the mom retorted "do you have children? did you have them vaginally or via c-section? what position did you use when you conceived? how much was your hospital bill?" sometimes people don't get how inappropriate their questions are until faced with similar ones themselves. most of the time, this author wrote, people have good intentions but just don't know how to ask the questions appropriately. have grace for the curious. but feel free to rebuke the jerks.
i'm sure there will be many, many, many more instances of unsolicited advice, comments, and nosy questions. because everyone is an expert. or at least they think they are. i have to learn to better filter out the noise. i have to keep going back to the true experts on my child, myself and my husband. we make decisions based on what we think is best for our family. that may look different than the decisions of others and that is just fine. there are plenty of ways to do things. as brene brown said in her book daring greatly, just because someone is doing something differently than you doesn't mean they're engaging in abuse or neglect. i'll do me, you do you. i'll pledge to do my best to catch myself before i let unsolicited advice, comments, and questions leak out of my mouth. and if i don't, i will apologize. i'm here to listen and support. and i would appreciate if others would do the same.
the same dear friend who gave me the "god loves bina, i love bina" tip also shared with me this quote from the 21st century stay at home mom this morning: the single greatest gift you can give to a mother is to say "you're doing a good job."
a little less judgment, a little more love. turns out, everyone is not an expert. most of us are just trying our best. lets all commit to holding our tongues and engaging our ears. i'm my own worst critic, i don't need any help with that. i'm also the queen of worst case scenarios. i don't need any help with those. but i could use a "you're doing a good job" every once in awhile. so mamas out there: i see you. i hear you. you're doing a good job.