"Listen to your heart, not the voices in your head." - Marge Simpson
The voices in my head have been troubling me this week. We all hear them, offering orders masquerading as parenting advice.
~Always follow through on your warnings, no matter what.
~Don't let the child win the battle.
~Make sure the child knows who is in charge.
People begin sharing the advice in early pregnancy:
~You simply have to have an epidural; don't be a martyr.
~I can't believe you would consider a homebirth; it's so risky!
It intensifies when the baby arrives.
~What do you mean, she isn't sleeping through the night?
~If you pick her up when she cries, you'll spoil her.
And so on, throughout every age and stage of your baby. The problem is, of course, that even when we intellectually know that the advice is a bad fit for us, we can't help internalizing it and hearing the nagging whispers when things are going badly. It happened to me this week. A bad night with my daughter left me questioning every thing I do, had me acting in ways that I am not remotely comfortable with and trying to silence the inner critics who were telling me that I was a failure as a parent, that everything I was doing was wrong, that my child would suffer from my parenting.
Because that is the problem, isn't it? The stakes are so incredibly high. We know all the dangers our children are facing and we want so desperately to protect them. We want them to be healthy, strong, independent, successful, kind, caring, loving. Is a three year old who won't share exhibiting normal development or have we utterly failed to impart crucial life lessons? If we start feeding our baby solids at 5 months will his odds of diabetes be higher? If we eat tuna fish while pregnant or vaccinate on schedule will our child be autistic?
And so we struggle on, wanting to be perfect, knowing that we aren't. We see other parents and grade ourselves on the curve. Well, at least I'm doing better than *her* we think. Or, why can't I be more like that mother? I bet she never loses patience. Why won't my child listen to me? Why can't I control her? What does that even mean?
What bothers me most about the situation this week is that I was not acting in the way I thought best or following my instincts. I was following the advice of others: never let the child "win the battle." Always follow through on your threats. Devise a punishment to get the desired results. Well, why were we battling? Why was I threatening and punishing? Clearly something is very wrong if I'm in that situation, and as the adult, it's my responsibility to calm down, stop worrying about what I "should" do and find a solution that works for all of us. Instead I was angry, insecure, focused on "winning" and trying to find a way to control my child. But children can't be controlled. They are people, however small they may be, and there will always come a point when you can't force the child to meet your demands. No matter what your parenting style is, or how well-behaved your child is right now, that day will come.
Our battle was successfully resolved a few days later, when I was calmer and able to work with her to think of creative solutions instead of simply issuing commands and being left at a loss when they weren't obeyed. But even so, I find myself doubting my ability to raise the child I have now, let alone the one I will be responsible for in a few short months. When will I know all the answers? When will I be a good enough mother? When will I stop judging myself by what others think?
In the meantime, I can only keep going, trying to silence the voices in my head, improve and learn from my mistakes.
"The truth is that there is nothing noble in being superior to someone else. The only real nobility is in being superior to your former self." - Whitney Young