I was destined to be a “crunchy mom.” My mom breastfed and co-slept with us forever. I planned (and had) a homebirth—and a water birth to boot. And as soon as my son was born, my husband and I jumped on the attachment-parenting bandwagon.
We purchased the attachment parenting bible: The Baby Book, by Dr. Sears. Dr. Sears reassured me that I simply could not hold my baby too much—a mother’s arms were the rightful landing spot for all newborn babes. I don’t think our son was put down at all in his first few weeks. When he wasn’t nursing (which was pretty much every freaking second), we wore him in a baby carrier or let him sleep on our chests
In reality, Dr. Sears never says you can’t put your baby down. He makes it clear that parents need to take care of themselves too. But when I was a new (and very sleep-deprived) mom, I missed some of that nuance. At that moment, I needed something absolute, even dogmatic, to cling to, so I somehow got the idea in my head that my baby needed my undivided attention at all times.
Of course, sticking to a plan like that didn’t mean that my baby was always happy, or that I was. In fact, my newborn son cried—a lot, every night, for hours and hours on end. I remember one night in particular. I tried to nurse him, and he pushed me away with his little tiny fists. I tried to babywear him, but he stiffened up his whole body and wouldn’t let me fold him into the carrier. My husband was working, so there were no other arms for me to place him in.
As I was walking around our little apartment with a screaming baby in my arms, I wanted to scream too. Instead, I tried to keep it together. I asked myself, “What would Dr. Sears do?”
And as the question flashed across my mind, I realized how completely absurd that was. Here was a dude who seemed very nice, but who I didn’t know, who didn’t know me, and who certainly wasn’t with me right now while my baby was screaming like a banshee. Why the hell was I asking him for parenting advice?
We had a baby swing that someone had given us. I frantically put the thing together (yep, with a screaming babe in my other arm; I didn’t realize yet that I was supermom), plopped him into the swing, and turned it on.
And he stopped crying.
Oops. I guess I wasn’t such an attachment parent after all.
But the thing is this: No one is any one parenting style. You take a little from every book and article you read, every person you talk to, and then you piece it together and make it your own. Yes, as my parenting journey unfolded, I ended up following in my mom’s footsteps and breastfed and co-slept forever, but I also used disposable diapers, vaccinated my kids, and sometimes stopped at McDonald’s for fries.
And more than any of that, if you get stuck on any one parenting philosophy, you won’t be able to trust the person who knows your kids best: You. Our parenting instincts run deep, if we’d only listen to them. We are the ones who are with our kids all the time. We know what might work for them, and what simply doesn’t apply at all.
It’s not that advice from others isn’t useful. It often is. But parenting is almost never a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, and it’s best to have an open mind about it all. Take what works for you, and throw the rest in the trash where it belongs.
I will always have a soft spot for Dr. Sears—partly because I did end up using so much of his advice (especially the part about trusting your instincts, which almost any good parenting coach will recommend). But the thing I remember most when I think of him is the day he helped me realize that parenting philosophies are bullshit.