Do you know why I love blogging? Because this morning I read this post by my blog friend, Leighann, and in her comments I linked to this post of mine from last year. And she commented on my post, which led to an email exchange that energized me to think about things... and ultimately this blog post. I LOVE this blog sisterhood of mothers! I am very choosy about the blogs that I read regularly, partly out of necessity because I need to limit computer time, but also because I want to spend that time reading from women whose opinions I value, not whose houses I envy. Oh and I have GOOD mom blogs that I read! They make me think about my own parenting decisions and motivate me to do a better job, women who have been real friends as we go through tough times, who are willing to engage in conversations without turning them into ugly debates, Blog Sisters.
I was telling a friend the other day, that I think I am in my favorite decade of life (but who knows, the next may be better!) I have left behind the insecurity and uncertainty of my 20's, but still have the physical health and ability of being young (and I do thank God for that daily!). I am confident in my decisions and the way that I choose to live my life, with not an ounce of keeping up with the Joneses or insecurity about my parenting. I know what career I have, who my children will be (all of them!), what our priorities are, how to be happily married to Davis, who I am, what I want and don't want... life is good.
As with my Blog Sisters, I have surrounded myself with a sisterhood of mothers who support me rather than undermine me, who respect our parenting differences without defensiveness, who are wise and help me to be a better mother. Many are a few steps ahead of me, with teenagers, a few are grandmothers, all of them are amazing mothers. They are my village.
This morning, when I pulled up my Tiger Mom post from last year, I briefly skimmed it, just to remind myself what I wrote (my body may be healthy in my 30's, but by golly my memory is shot!) I saw what I wrote about hating parenting books, and I realized that I have changed my mind about that in the past year. And that was what Leighanne and I talked about... So, now that my children are one year older, let me share my new and changed view about parenting books (parenting is nothing if not figuring things out as you go, and being willing to change your mind!)
What I still hate, are parenting books about BABIES, written for and read by new and expecting first time moms. I truly believe that mothers (except, perhaps a very, very few whose mental illnesses or past damage have interfered) have within them the knowledge and intuition to care for their babies. I feel sad for us 1970's kids who were left to cry, because some male doctor wrote a book telling our mothers not to spoil us. I feel sad for mothers who can't get their baby to be happy, because none of the tricks they read about in some book worked. I chuckle when I hear a pregnant first time mom tell me that, based on her reading, she has decided against co-sleeping and will swaddle, feed on a schedule, whatever...
The thing is, babies are all different. Families are different. If a mother spends her time getting to know her baby rather than reading books written by people who had other babies, I believe her time will be much better spent. In fact, I think the damage those books (and magazine articles) do, is that they make mothers DOUBT. And that, to me, is sad. Because doubt is a great squelcher of intuition.
Leighann brought up the great point that generally we spend much less time with our extended families and other mothers now, and that because we no longer have 8 or 9 siblings, less time caring for babies as we are growing up. And so, yes, there may be a steeper learning curve for 21st Century new moms. However, I still believe that so much of mothering babies and young children is intuitive, and that knowing when to feed our babies and get them to sleep and be happy comes from getting to know them. For more information, I would much rather see new mothers turn to their sister mothers than some book. Surround yourself with mothers you admire, who will not prosthelytize but share, and pick their brains and talk things through with them... and then make up your own mind, knowing your own child!
BUT here is where I have changed my mind about books... I now have school age children. I have come to realize in the past year, that mothering older children is so much harder than mothering babies and toddlers and preschoolers. Sure, they sleep through the night and can wipe their own bottoms... but now they are asking hard questions and grappling with BIG issues, and it takes a much more deliberate approach to parent them well. And (this is important!) by the time your children are older, you know them and you are more confident in what you believe, and so in reading parenting books/articles, you are more easily able to weed out the things that will not work for your family or that you disagree with without doubting your own belief system. I have found some wonderful and valuable parenting books that address parenting older children, and I have been devouring them. I finished these two just this past month
I think in the end, the lesson is this: be willing to learn as a mother - always. Learn first who your children are, acknowledging that each is unique with his own needs. Spend time with them, un-distracted, hearing them, holding them, learning who they are. Then discern what your values and priorities are, so that you can have a framework upon which to build your parenting decisions. Then find your village, your sister mothers - whether they are your own mother and grandmother, friends, bloggers - and use their own experiences and values to help you think about your own family, acknowledging that their circumstances are different than yours and that's okay. And finally, reach out to books, seminars, magazines, blogs whose writers you may not know, etc., acknowledging that these "experts" may have incredibly valuable information to make you a better mother, but in the end you are still the expert about your own children.