I didn’t know it would be like this – that so many of my parenting decisions would boil down to working theory, to an intentional and loving crapshoot. I thought I would be so much more in the know, having read all of the books before Owen was born. I read about everything – from sleep to eating to vaccines to absolutely riveting car seat reviews.
I read like I had never before seen nor held a baby.
After all my reading, I thought I knew what kind of parent I’d be. I mean, I’d been running a classroom of upwards of twenty kindergarteners for the previous five years. In my mind, kids needed stability, structure, routine, which roughly translated into ideas that my babies would be on a schedule and put themselves to sleep and defintiely learn to stay asleep through the night at a young age. When they got older and were testing boundaries in a social setting, it would take nothing more than a well-timed look to make them rethink their course of action…or at worst, a fiercely whispered word.
And then I actually had a baby. And then a toddler. And then another baby. And so much of what I thought would be quickly flew out of my oft-crayola-ed windows.
When Owen and all of my theories were new and fresh, we started sleep training early. I had been so inspired by a friend of mine who would put her daughter down for naps, walk out of the nursery, and get quickly back to her cup of coffee, without even a peep from her baby girl. And so we did a few weeks of letting him cry it out, during which my heart felt as though it was literally falling through my stomach and into the basement. It was terrible, but in truth, it worked. Owen learned to put himself to sleep.
But the problem was, he wouldn’t stay asleep. He woke up a couple times a night until he was a little over a year old, a habit probably fueled by the inconsistency of our responses to his nightly wakings – sometimes tough love, sometimes nursing, sometimes pacing, ever bouncing my hand on his back.
I blamed myself for his sleep issues, which were finally brought to a halt when we put some practices from Secrets of the Baby Whisperer into play. So with Elsa, I was determined to start things right. From the get-go, I would lay her down sleepy but not asleep, and we started doing our typical bedtime routine of bath and a story plus one final nurse just a couple weeks after she came home.
And she slept. She slept through the night from five weeks on. We rejoiced and were thankful for every night of sleep we got. It was like she was making up for the sleep we lost during Owen’s infancy.
And then, it stopped. She got a nasty cough that kept her up at night, cut four teeth in four weeks, and before you could say Baby Wise, suddenly we were co-sleepers. Eric and I hugged the very edges of our bed, while Elsa slept soundly in the middle. I knew better. I knew this was a habit that would eventually have to be broken, but the reality was I was just. so. tired. Tired from having a baby. Tired from having a toddler. Tired from having a cold myself. Just tired.
Plus, I knew from experience that she wasn’t going to be this little and snuggly for much longer. That soon she would be a toddler, who might, like her brother before her, think of our bed as the perfect WWF arena.
So in our bed, she slept. And we slept.
But now we’re slowly, gently breaking her of that habit. Again and again, we have the same conversation in the middle of the night: Why is she crying? Maybe she’s sick, maybe she’s teething, maybe she’s gassy, maybe she’s playing us like a pair of tired fools.
Like I said, parenting is just a loving crapshoot.
And it’s not just to cry-it-out or cosleep. It’s everything, every minute, every day. What do I do when Owen pushes Elsa over for the fifteenth time? Is he simply disobeying, again? Is he jealous? Is he getting enough one-on-one time with me? Is he sick? Tired? Hungry?
How do I respond when he’s whining? Is this a time for training? For teaching? For discipline? For grace? For a nap? For a snack?
What do I do when Elsa is only happy when held, crying the second I put her down to do the dishes, change a load of laundry? Is she sick? Is she tired? Does she need to nurse? Or is she at the point where she needs to learn that Mom has to do things like go to the bathroom once in a while?
It’s so situational, and it’s not. Every decision I make is fueled by this intensive love I have for these two, wanting the very best for them, wanting them to know love and acceptance, wanting them not to end up as societal delinquents. It’s that love that is the only sure thing in all of this that feels so much like guesswork. I have to trust that the sum of all these decisions made will be two children who know I loved them fiercely and worked tirelessly for their best. More than that, I have to trust that God loves my kids more than I do, and despite what I do or don’t do, He is shaping their moments and days.
But still, they are here with me, and all day every day I am presented with choices about how to raise them. I still turn to books. More often, I turn to friends who are in these trenches with me, or to mothers who have gone before me and raised kids who are not in jail. Eric and I have long and involved discussions about what to do about this and how to respond to that. We pray. We pray every day that the Lord will give us wisdom. We pray He will soften their hearts towards us, but ultimately towards Himself. We pray that we will never run out of coffee.
It is easy, so easy, to feel like you have the answers, until you come around the corner to find your toddler drinking honey straight from the bottle or until your baby breaks her personal best by getting up five times in one night.
So what I’m learning is grace. Because mothers everwhere are dancing these intricate steps of intention and guesswork and choices. I am learning grace for the Facebook mother whose baby is sleeping through the night at just a week old; grace for the mother who texts me to say that her toddler is driving her to an early grave on a rainy Thursday morning. Grace for the new mother who spends her entire day nursing then pumping, nursing then pumping; grace for old mothers who are worried for their adult children. Grace for the mother who is navigating the new waters of having all her children in school and sports; grace for the mother who is nervously awaiting the birth of her first child. Grace for the baby-wearers and baby-wisers.
Grace for myself.