Monday, September 28, 2015

Why Gentle Parenting

I think it's silly to think that we can prepare to mother our children completely before they are born. Surely we can have some ideas and things in mind, but really--you are the mother of that child for a reason. When you meet that child it becomes abundantly clear what you know in your heart you need to do for him/her. I feel very strongly that the fact that I "changed my mind" on some of the parenting ideas I had before JaiseAnn is part of what makes me a good mom for her. That because of her sweet little spirit and because of her particular needs, I was able to make changes to what I thought was best prior to having her and ultimately chose what was best for her-and all of us. 

I had done a little reading on the attachment parenting or "gentle parenting" approaches prior to having JaiseAnn (Note: I do not like the term "gentle parenting" as it sounds elitest--as though this is a superior/kinder method of parenting. I feel like attachment parenting comes with a stigma on both ends. It sounds like it's the only way to parent and develop a healthy attachment to your child, but some people see the word "attachment" as an unhealthy word and think it means your child will never leave your side. While I feel the way I do about these titles, I use them because they've become universal and for the sake of writing this post they help make sure we're talking about the same thing.) 

I would read about things like nursing on demand that I remember thinking, "I think I would do that if I stayed home." In fact, when I was pregnant I sometimes felt trapped because I wasn't sure I could actually parent the way my heart wanted me to if I was working. But there were some parts of this parenting approach that I was vehemently against--bed sharing or co-sleeping in particular.

 When she was first born, I really took the 4th trimester to heart and held her as much as possible. We practiced skin to skin and we nursed often (due to our nursing struggles there was definitely no place in our lives for a "feeding schedule.")

There is a lot of advice out there that tells you to have someone come watch the baby while you sleep and that wasn't really an effective approach for me. I slept better with JaiseAnn near me than I ever did without her. She slept in a crib for a total of 4 weeks when she was around 6 months old. Those four weeks were exhausting and tiring. She woke at least twice a night, but I woke more than that--feeling the need to check on her and wanting to make sure she was okay. Having my baby away from me wasn't working for me--or for her. And the "for her" part was ultimately what lead us down a particular parenting style that embraced JaiseAnn's needs (and I do believe it is an honest-to-goodness need) to be near her mom and comforted by her mom.

Some of the choices we've made that fall under the gentle parenting tactics came naturally while others were more difficult, time consuming, and ultimately required more of me than I sometimes felt I had to give. As a result, I resisted them for a long time. Now that we're where we are, I'm not sure why. And I often wonder how different my experience would have been if I had embraced it right away instead of fighting it or worrying about how much we didn't look like any other families I'd ever known. Which is why I'm sharing this post--why we  chose gentle parenting and why we're glad that we did.

Spending those first 3 months in a near constant state of bonding relationship with JaiseAnn really helped me to understand how much she needed me. It helped me to understand a few things that I think are a bit hyped up in the parenting world.

JaiseAnn still isn't talking a whole lot yet, but she does communicate more. I have, though, felt like I have been able to understand her and respond to her needs for quite some time. Yes, crying was always an indicator of something, but more than that, parenting this way has allowed me to slow down at times. The hand on my chest when she's napping still speaks volumes to me about her feelings toward me and the comfort I know I'm providing her. She's begun to understand about boundaries and about love all from this way of parenting. I believe that all parenting styles allow for this, but I think at times people think that children that are parented this way don't have boundaries and that's not true in our home. JaiseAnn still gets told, "No" and we work through her fit throwing. She still has to go to bed at bedtime and take a nap at nap time.

Patience and Understanding
 A lot of the baby sleep experts will tell you that sleep begets sleep. While I only have my own experience to go off of, I can tell you that in our home gentleness begets gentleness. This happens in two ways. My time with JaiseAnn at night and during nap times is very renewing and gives me a bit more perspective. It allows me to see how small she actually still is and how much she needs me. It has given me more perspective and patience with her. It also helps her to learn compassion and gentleness herself. She mimicks me daily and I always feel so good when I see her wrapping her baby doll in a blanket, giving a kiss, or being kind to animals. How I treat her influences how she treats others. How I treat her during those daily routine moments, also helps me to parent with more patience and kindness when we're having not-so-routine moments throughout the day. For example, when she cries because she can't get get her way, I still hold my ground and remain strong, but I also offer understanding. I know she can't fully understand and she is not really in control of her emotions, so rather than being frustrated by that, I offer a bit more understanding most days--and I feel some of that comes from our nighttime snuggling and nap time recharging. I also know a lot of moms who often refer to their children as "pestering them" "bugging them" or "driving them crazy." JaiseAnn and I have our moments, but I have a different perspective. If I'm working on something, and JaiseAnn gets a bit whiny, I know I'm not paying enough attention to her and she needs me. I'm home to spend time with her, so when she's needing me, I try to stop what I'm doing and give her that attention. She's not pestering me, she's just communicating her needs to me.

Following Our Guts
This is probably the biggest one of all! Life became so much easier, when I really embraced following JaiseAnn's cues--for everything from sleep to eating and everything in between. It was exhausting to spend so much time during that first year trying to read and wrap my head around processes and things and then worry about how attempting them would work. I was her mom and I already knew how some things would go.  Additionally, I was sick and tired of everyone telling me that she "knew what she was doing," "was running the show," or--my personal favorite--"manipulating me." I do not (absolutely do not) buy into any of that. I really think a baby/toddler wanting his/her mom and communicating that however s/he may choose to do so is something that I need to honor, not ignore. For me, it didn't feel right to ignore her. I didn't feel manipulated--I felt like I understood a situation that she didn't and so I would take it slow with her--meeting her where she was at. When I started to realize just how unique my relationship was with my daughter--I really was able to embrace being her mom. I knew I was hers for a purpose and I have really been able to embrace how I want to handle things. I worry less and less about judgement and I spend more and more time enjoying the parenting style that works for us and allows me to really embrace who I am as a mom. It comes naturally to me to parent this way--which is strange because in some ways I'm surprised--but I'm glad that I didn't keep resisting and didn't go against my initial gut feelings.

I was talking to a friend the other day and I said that I really didn't buy into a "correct parenting style" in fact, I don't like to label myself as a parent at all. I am ultimately in favor of parenting in a way that best honors the child--and gives the child the best of his/her parents--whatever that style may be.

Do you have any misconceptions about attachment/gentle parenting? What are your thoughts on the way you parent and why? 

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