Tuesday, October 4, 2011

well-intended parenting advice

once we become parents (or pregnant for that matter) the advice invitational is open. at times it’s a bit excessive, and our filters and happy faces need to be on full force. but alas…advice shapes parenting, and being mindful in what advice we accept, disregard, and pass along is an effort in itself. a wise friend recently made the point that maternal instinct is real and part of our evolutionary makeup. it’s taken me 3+ years to trust in it, and it gets both blurred and been matured by parenting advice.

starting early, I was given several different books and advice tidbits on how to help my baby sleep (a desperate need as a new mother!!). I remember how I thought I could just dabble in a bit of several and mix them up to what worked. I vividly remember being with my bff (with my 2wk old son) in a book store and asking her about a sleep book (I had been given) that claimed to make me ‘wise’ about my baby, and what she thought about it. She’s not one to typically give strong advice, but from her mouth came “that book is evil” (and then she walked away, without elaborating or trying to convince me of the point). I was shocked that a book written on becoming wise to your baby could provoke such a comment. it wasn’t right away that I realized why (I didn’t think to google why it was so controversial)… then come to find out years later it’s actually recommended against by the AAP and has been linked to dehydration and failure to thrive. it’s built on the philosophy to help your child detach from communicating their needs, and allowing the parent to be in charge. why in the world would a well intending mama pass this advice along and swear by it?!?! because it works for some…it gives a plan a schedule, and for some that’s most important. how can I argue with that? but then what…then if we teach our kids to detach at a young age, how does this impact how they respond as toddlers or teenagers?? does it affect them all of them, or just the ones who really need more attachment? do some kids need more attachment and/or to trust in their voice at a very young age than others?

I am learning that there are many different philosophies to parenting…child centered (attach to your child, read their behavior as a clue to something deeper), parent centered (parents are in control and teach children control), and then there are ones that are centered around making money (think Disney or McDonalds, and how they market to our children and teach them certain lessons) (as a side note, I recently attended a conference (on nutrition and the brain) that noted we are the ONLY country that allows fast food to market to kids (?) and that meat is steamed until all flavor is gone (thankfully to prevent ecoli), and then synthetic flavor (what kind of chemicals are those?) is added back into the food- thus it will always taste the same…creating a comfort food that lasts through generations, that we neurochemically associate with good times and an exact flavor/smell). (I never had to think from a point of view where companies are marketing to my kids with a certain agenda…not all bad, but I now realize I have to question what they teach kids, and at such a young age, depending on what we expose them too).

we parent with the best tools we have available. my mother in law (who i consider very wise) has noted we don’t have to be perfect parents (that’s not possible) just good enough parents. sometimes (or most times!) we don’t have time or energy to seek out other tools, sometimes we listen to advice that enhances our intuition and other times advice that works but doesn’t always feel right. (recently a mama on a listserve im on asked if it was a good idea if she locked her son in his room at bedtime b/c he kept coming out, or if that would scare him? some of the advice (parent centered) said that ‘threats go a long way’ and that it would keep him contained; other advice (child centered) questioned if his behavior was a sign to something deeper going on with him. ultimately, it seemed to me that the mama’s intuition was that it would likely scare her 4 year old to be locked up, but she was asking the question b/c she was questioning her intuition, and at a loss for other tools to use. as parents we’ve probably all been in a situation where we’ve been at a loss and questioned our intuition, or we certainly will at many points along the way.

I recently read a blog that talked about the reality of being an imperfect parent and making mistakes…she commented that our main goal in parenting is to 1- accept that we are human (thus we’ll always make mistakes) 2- help teach our children what it means to be human (accepting mistakes and learning from them). I go back and read that blog regularly.

when I turn on the news (which is rare these days) i wonder why do we have so much violence and detachment (is it more than usual or just the nature of humans). is there something we can do as a community of parents raising the next generation?

my mother in law has been teaching a parenting class that touches on these concerns. shes compiled brain research that notes the brain has such significant development in the first 3 years of life (nurture vs. nature), and that the human brain can change with stimulation (at any age), that babies can’t self sooth until 18 mos, that kids who have secure attachment, especially at a young age, have higher self confidence and lower depression when they are in high school, that wrestling with kids (dad attachment- as males are evolutionarily are physical) is showing kids are better learners…the list goes on and on. she implies that we as a community of parents can raise the next generation to be attached and secure and make positive changes in our world. it's quite a heavy task.

then I have to stop reading and thinking too hard on how to change the world. i remember im human, we’re all human. we’re trying to teach my kids to be human and grow up in the world around them. (then i think of steve martin in parenthood and smile). don’t we all want the same thing, to be a good parent and to have good kids. to be a good enough parent. to be human and to teach kids to be human.

then I have to start reading again….and find my intuition…it’s in there somewhere if I can continue to figure out how to listen to it and use it.