Before my son was born, I had a lot of plans for how I was going to parent. I read lots of books and made assessments based on what I observed from my friends’ parenting challenges. I thought that I was lucky to be a mom who was on the “older” side because I had watched my friends and siblings with their babies and could learn from their mistakes.
What I hadn’t counted on was that parenting throws you curve balls and that you’re going to feel judged by someone — especially yourself — for nearly decision you make. Even though I wasn’t sure if I would describe myself as a future “attachment parent,” I thought that attachment parenting included a lot of good ideas for how I wanted to parent.
Here are five decisions that I made before my son was born and how each of those decisions ended up with drastically different results than what I had anticipated:
vow #1. I planned for a natural childbirth. I hired a doula as a birthing coach, wanted to avoid being induced or having an epidural, and practiced breathing and birthing exercises for months before my due date.
What actually happened: A few hours into labor, I begged for an epidural and refused to do any of the breathing or labor exercises that I had practiced with the doula. I was so happy for the drugs that I nearly cried. Then, near the end of labor, I was rushed into the operating room for an emergency c-section after my son’s heart rate dropped fast and wouldn’t return to normal. My son had an extremely short umbilical cord and was in fetal distress because he couldn’t make it out of the cervix.
vow #2. I planned to breastfeed for one year. Before my son was born, I took a breastfeeding class and bought breast pumps and all of the equipment, books, and clothing that I thought I would need.
What actually happened: After my c-section, breastfeeding went well for a few weeks. Then I got a yeast infection that wouldn’t go away, and my son started to have colic. From a pediatric gastroenterologist, we found out that he had a severe milk and soy allergy. She gave me the choice of starting a hypoallergenic formula or working with a dietician to begin a new diet eliminating all allergens. Already in severe pain from breastfeeding, I chose to start feeding my son formula.
vow #3. I planned to carry my baby in a sling or wrap for much of the day during his first months. Before my son was born, I tried out and bought various wraps and slings. I visited babywearing forums. I loved the idea of carrying my baby close while being able to walk around, get chores done, and get out of the house.
What actually happened: Despite endless attempts at every type of babywearing hold and wrap, my son hated it. He would protest, writhe, and wail. We used a stroller instead. Next, we bought a swing in desperation, despite vowing never to get one, and he spent his happiest moments of being a newborn in his swing.
vow #4. I planned to develop good sleep habits and routines for my newborn so that “cry it out” would never be necessary. Before my son was born, I read about infant sleep patterns and methods for assisting babies to learn how to sleep through the night. My sister and brother both had babies who had slept through the night easily and quickly, and I figured my son would be the same.
What actually happened: By the time he was four months old, my son was still waking up every two hours. He had no sleep routine, despite our continuous efforts to help him develop them. He was miserable and we were miserable. We hired a sleep consultant, who created a sleep training plan, and we did the dreaded “Ferber”-izing. Even after several rounds of sleep training, my son is still not a great sleeper but sleep training saved our sanity and my son became a happier, healthier baby.
vow #5. I would only practice “positive discipline.” Before my son was born, I vowed never to yell at my child and to use meaningful, age-appropriate connections between behavior and consequences. As a teacher who had been successful at classroom management for more than a decade, I thought that I knew everything I needed to know about how to use a combination of warmth, flexibility, and structure to guide kids into better behavior.
What actually happened: When my son turned into a toddler, he began to have tantrums. Lots of them. Almost two, he is loud and opinionated and doesn’t often respond to my gentle, respectful approach. I tried using patience, encouraging good behavior, teaching sign language, repeating and affirming his language, using short phrases. But sometimes I end up in tears, and sometimes I get so frustrated that I want to run away. Yes, sometimes I’ve been known to yell too.
All of these experiences in failure are helping me to become a better parent. What is often missing in all the debates about parenting styles is the key ingredient to good parenting: flexibility.
Whether you want to become an attachment parent or not, just know that life doesn’t work out exactly as you plan. Kids respond to different approaches. You may want to co-sleep more than anything in the world, but your kid may hate it or you may not be able to sleep well or your spouse may hate it. You may believe breastfeeding is always best, but you might have trouble and decide that it’s not working for your family. Be open to the possibilities: that’s what “good” parenting is.
Janine Huldie says
I could have totally written this down to the colic, the no breast feeding because milk/soy allergies and so much more. Thank you for sharing and please know you aren’t alone. After two kids, who are now pretty much pre-school age and being almost 36 years old, this is why as much as I love my girls I am so done.
Thank you, Janine. It does help to know that others have shared these experiences. I’m 38, and my biological clock is definitely ticking. But the idea of starting over at this point with a newborn is so overwhelming!
Other than knowing I was interested in an epidural, formula-feeding, and sleep training – I had no plan! Eight years ago the spotlight was not on attachment parenting or “crunchy” moms (at least, it definitely wasn’t in the midwest). Now there is SO MUCH pressure to be a super-parent, its overwhelming. I’m about to have baby #2, and it is pretty easy to get sucked into the idea that a mom HAS to do A. B. & C. in order to be a “good” mom. In fact, there are some who argue that if you don’t do A. B. & C. that you aren’t fit to be a parent. It’s intensely demoralizing as a person and a mother. Good for you for being flexible, and for finding what was right for your family, your child, and your self!
The objective should be to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted children who have manners, respect, responsibility, and self-esteem. How we get there shouldn’t matter as much as the love we put into getting them there.
So true! I think there has been an explosion in the intensity of the standards for parenting. And I don’t think that it’s just because I never paid as much attention before. As you say, what’s lost in these conversations is the fact that it’s the goal (a happy, healthy kid) that matters, not the ways that you achieve this.
Ultimately, it boils down to trusting your gut rather than books and other people’s advice! That’s a nice analysis you did of your own experience!
Thanks, Roshni! You’re right. I think the books help, but you have to realize that they’re not always going to work in your situation, with your kid.
Sarah / Babytalk Bungalow says
I can so relate to this — before the birth of our daughter, I had all these lofty ambitions about how we were going to do all the bestest, trendiest, environmentally-friendliest parenting things. Breastfeeding, cloth diapering, babywearing, being a work-from-home mom. Not a single one of those things panned out in the end. But I think you’re 100% right about flexibility being the key to good parenting, and it’s important not to beat ourselves up over things that didn’t go exactly according to the plan. Thanks for writing this post.
Oh, a work from home mom — I could have added that one too! That was one of the hardest things that I had to realize give up that goal. It sounds like it would work so easily: you work at your computer while your baby plays or sleeps. For me, it was a complete disaster! And I did beat myself about it.
Wow, I could’ve written this! Our stories are so similar. I had the additional vow of “no Barbies” but alas I just took a break from typing this to put a dress on a Barbie. I also said I would never hide vegetables in my daughters food but tonight we’re having Mac and cheese with butternut squash hid in it. I just kind of chuckle to myself now when I hear new parents making similar pronouncements. 🙂
Oh, yes! I didn’t even get into my premature food pronouncements. I always made fun of parents whose kids only eat mac and cheese and chicken fingers, and now my toddler will only eat about three things.
Life with Kaishon says
Isn’t it interesting how we think we will handle things before we have kids? : ) The best thing we can do for our babies is love them just as they are. It is clear to me that you do that well! : ). Great post. So nice to meet you today.
I actually LOL at this…I always regarded my husband and I as cool, hip people who when we had kids wouldn’t end up like our lame friends who all they talk about is kids…well, we were out to dinner the other night with friends and the conversations all pretty much revolved around what stage all our kids were at. We also “judged” all our friends who co-slept and vowed never to do that. We were not earthy crunchy and everything we read about attachement parenting was for “crunchy”. Our 2.9 year old daughter has been sleeping in our bed since she was 18 months old! She also loved her swing so much, that I feel like she was putting herself in it at some point! ( I laugh but she was definitly in her swing beyond the weight limit!)
Now we have #2 on the way and I say no to this or no to that- the one thing I know for sure is being a perfectionist and a planner-goes out the window when you become a mother!
Thanks for the post! I feel relieved writing this! I will def follow your blog and good luck!
Kathy Slattengren says
Thanks for sharing your “best made plans” and how they actually turned out. It’s hard to know what is really going to work with you and your kids until your knee deep in it. I had no idea how challenged I would feel by my newborn daughter who cried inconsolably for hours and how thankful I would feel when my husband left the house with her for a long walk. I was surprised by how angry I felt when our children would look straight at me while doing something they knew was wrong. Parenting has been an amazing personal growth experience for me!
Sally N says
As much as I appreciate how the Sears family and books have helped normalize “attachment parenting” I’m often saddened when the tools he presents become considered “The Way,” especially when parents judge themselves harshly or judge/belittle other parents. It’s why I much prefer the “principles” that Attachment Parenting International put together (http://www.attachmentparenting.org/principles/principles.php). They are much more focused on the goal of connection, respect, and healthy attachment rather than the *how* a particular family meets those goals.
So to that end I say, please don’t consider yourself a “failed attachment parent”. You haven’t failed at anything. You had some ideals, and adapted along the way. And that’s a success.
Oh, I like these principles! And, yes, they can be interpreted in different ways. I like this way of thinking of them as “ideals.” There are other ways that attachment parenting is interpreted — babywearing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, etc. — that are more behavioral (what you do) and that’s what I was responding to. You’re right that if we focus more on connection, respect, and healthy relationships — and less on how we get to that place — we’d probably all feel like successes!
Thank you for sharing a link to my page and thank you for sharing your story. A lot of what you have written here is quite the same as my experience with my son.
Balancing Jane says
I completely empathize with this. Most of my best laid plans that went awry are fine with me, but the one that I share with you that frustrates me the most is losing my temper and yelling during a tantrum. I still completely believe the things I read/thought/learned while reading about positive parenting. I hate when I can’t put those principles into action when a meltdown on my toddler’s part becomes a meltdown on my part, too.
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