Not so Perfect Parent...Seriously Not

Monday, June 27, 2011

Have you read the book "Freakonomics"?

If you haven't, you should. It is a quick read and spins a lot of every day life issues from vastly different angles, all gong back to the economics of each situation.

However, it is Chapter 5 "What makes a perfect parent", which really gripped me. I am in the profession of child development. I advise parents on what to expect, what to look for and, in many cases, what to do.  I am one of the societal bell ringers of the "what makes a perfect parent" cabal.

This chapter sat me up and bitchslapped me in the face. Hard. It lists all the mommy debates:

Breast of Bottle?
Back or Belly?
Family bed or Ferber?
Too much stimulation or a baby who is bored and not thriving?
Nature or Nurture?

OF course, at every choice, you can be told you're wrong.  Have a belly sleeper? Nice. Let your child die of SIDS. Bottle feed? Great, your child's long term intelligence is in jeopardy. Sleep with your baby? Super, you'll roll on him and smother him in the middle of the night.

The fear that drive parents is one that marketers have capitalized on , admirably. Since many of us live apart from our families, and our societal structure is such that the "neighborhoods" of the pre-industrial revolution no longer exist, today's parents tend to get their information in bits and pieces from the "talking heads" of the world. Yes, I am one of those "talking heads".

The difference? I had a child who humbled me to my knees. Who fit none of my visions of what a child does, or what she should do. I learned, through a great deal of trial and error, that I had to do it my way - cause the other ways were killing us.

Our first parenting decision? Emily was a belly sleeper.

Put the phones down. You don't need to call the SIDS police or child protective services on us. We tried to get her to sleep on her back. For three weeks. It was horrendous. She only slept on her belly. At first, I reasoned that if she slept on MY belly, while on her belly, I would instaneously become aware of any breathing irregularities. Um. Bad plan. Since Emily wanted to nurse constantly, this created a system when I had a child strapped to my bosom nursing 24/7. I can only assume that this didn't help the post partum depression.

At her three week check up, I looked her pediatrician in the eye. "Claire", I said, "I want you to give me permission to put her on her belly to sleep." Screw professional Dawn. Mommy Dawn needed some sleep.

Permission was given. A note was written for child care, as licensing laws now dictate that all babies be placed on their back to sleep, unless deemed necessary by a doctor. As Claire said to me, the risk of SIDS was less than the much more likely risk of my losing my mind.

Now before the Mommy police descend upon me with their judgments that I was attempting to kill my baby by my bad parenting, I'd like each of you adults to call your parents and ask how YOU slept as an infant. I'll wait. Yeah. I thought so. On your bellies. 

The bottom line is that medical professionals don't exactly know WHAT causes SIDS. Yes, they have some theories. Yes, there are certain patterns present in babies who die of SIDS. But there is no definitive.

This same line of thought extends to breast feeding or bottle feeding. I did breast feed- for 18 months. This was a choice I made and stuck with. It wasn't always easy. At nine months, Emily boycotted my left breast. She was not having it - at all. No matter how hungry or sleepy. No thank you. The lactation coach and I decided that  I would just pump  on that breast to keep my girls even and producing. 

Emily had a lot of ear infections, and ended up with tubes. She did not read any sooner than her peers. It did not cause or reduce her ADD. At 8, you can not look at her and tell if she was breast or bottle fed, nor can you tell with any of her peers. In the larger scheme of things, it wasn't THAT important.

"What was important?" the authors contend. Not what we Do, but who we Are. It doesn't matter if your child is strapped into an expensive car seat, or the no-name brand. What matters is that the safest place for any child is the back seat - not the type of car seat. It doesn't matter if you read to your child 20 minutes every day, but that the child has access to books and parents who value education.It doesn't matter if the child has a mother who works in or outside of the home, but the overall state of the mental health of the mother does effect the child's future.

What does this tell us? I say it lets us all off the hook. As parents, as women, we need to be able to stand up and say what is right for US and what isn't right for US. We need to trust that our way is not the right way for everyone. We need to understand that our opinion does not mean that those who feel differently are bad parents, bad mothers, bad women.

So stop listening to the experts. Stop listening to ME. Start listening to the inner voices of your  souls and finding the best way for you each to navigate the unsteady waters of parenting. I sincerely trust that you will each choose the best path for you and your children. I have that much faith in you.

And when one of the "Uber-Mom's" comes to tell you that without the 300 dollar car seat your child is as good as dead, and Oh you DON"T feed them all organic homemade baby food?, and OH, You DON'T have them enrolled in Preschool yet, or in Baby and Me class?

I give you permission to tell them that Dawn told you that you can do whatever the hell you want. And that they, frankly, can suck it.

6 Baleful Regards:

Petrat said...

HUZZAH! Seriously

Dawn said...

Except vaccinations. You can do a modified schedule, but that issue is a no debate one for me. There is NO credible medical science. None.

Otherwise, carry on.

I wrote this ages ago, and it still stands. Em is 13 and I can't tell you who in her class was breast or bottle feed....or who had all organic food.

I'll save my pissing matches for the stuff I really need my energy for - and there are going to be aplenty of those. Doing the parenting oneupmanship dance is not one on them.

Mary_Flashlight said...

Dale Jr was a belly sleeper too. Granted, at birth he had head control (it was a little scary), so we didn't think he was going to smother or something, but at 2 weeks, we started putting him on his belly because his reflux was SO BAD... and it worked (well, that and Prevacid). Kid slept so well that Tim and I would wake up to make sure he was OK because he had slept so long between feedings!

One of my friends is a post-partum doula, and was telling me today that she has a client whose kid has terrible silent reflux, and the DOCTOR is chastising them for wanting to put the kid on Prevacid (since Zantac doesn't work. Here's a hint: Zantac NEVER works!). So doctors are certainly making parents feel guilty, and in this case, the parents are SO RIGHT! We asked for Prevacid for Dale Jr while still in the hospital - after having had such a bad experience with the J-man's reflux, we knew the signs.

Fully vaccinated kids here. A couple of the kids in the J-man's class can't get some vaccines because of egg allergies and such. One of them just came down with chicken pox. All we can do is hope the J-man doesn't bring it home to Dale Jr, since you don't get the second booster until age 4.

Pearl said...

Love this. I've been asked in the past for my opinion on various parenting number one piece of advice is always "Trust your instincts." You can read all the books in the world, ask all the supposed experts and fellow parents, but in the end--take what you want and leave the rest. Women have borne children for millenia...trends change (the belly/back sleep issue is a perfect example), but amazingly, the human race has soldiered on.

I think the next time I hear a request for parenting advice, I'll just point them to this post. :)

E. said...

First of all, 18 months is a long time to breastfeed! Sure, many babies go longer, but a lot of mothers who consider themselves devoted breastfeeders quit after a year or so.

But, in general, I love this post. The only unsought advice I give new or impending moms is this: what keeps you sane is good for your baby, in almost every case. We worry so much about our babies/kids that we drive ourselves nuts trying to do "the right thing." When, as your post points out, "right" is different for different babies/kids. But it's definitely good for babies and kids to have moms and/or dads who are as sane, well rested, and happy as they can realistically be.

Heather said...

Kurt loved Freakonomics. I haven't because I have a hard time concentrating on books of that style.

While parenting, I mostly do what I feel is right. Common sense stuff (which apparently isn't that common). There ARE no MOmmy and me classes here in podunk so that's not an issue.

I babysat as a teen in the late 80's. My main family had three kids. I was the first babysitter for all of them. The first one slept on her back as was recommended. Then with kid 2 it switched to the belly but by kid 3 it was back to sleeping on their back. All 3 have made it to adulthood. I always find that interesting.

I find parenting hardwork. I don't really find it that difficult/agonizing-omg-what-should-I-do though/ I go with my gut, consult with my husband, and most of all pay attention to my kid.

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