My defining moment: When I stopped trying to have a “good baby”

When I became a mother, I was the first of my close friends to do so. I’d never seen anyone in my circle of friends go through this enormous life change, and nothing I’d read had prepared me for it. Even having a former career as a teacher left me wondering what I was supposed to be doing, why it was so hard for me to figure out, and whether I was doing everything wrong. Being a researcher by nature, I read everything and anything I could get my hands on: parenting books, magazine articles, message boards…you name it, I read it. I’d read so many things describing what life should look like with a baby, and my life didn’t look much like it.

The more I read, the more I felt like a failure. My firstborn had severe colic, and cried a lot for somewhere between 4 and 6 months. While the “experts” talked about sleeping through the night at eight, or even six, weeks old, this milestone didn’t come until he was closer to two years old. He didn’t do well with strangers. He wasn’t the laid-back kind of baby people like to visit or babysit for. He screamed when strangers picked him up, or sometimes, when they looked at him. I was home with him full-time, and eventually gave up on pumping after weeks of unsuccessfully trying to get him to take a bottle. Why go through the struggle of pumping if the milk would just be wasted? No bottles meant I was “on” around the clock for months.

When we went out in public, everyone would ask me if he was a “good” baby. What on earth did that even mean? Good as opposed to what…a “bad” baby? He was, in my eyes, perfect. He was snuggly and sweet, a voracious eater (as long as bottles were out of sight), growing bigger and stronger each day, and in my “mommy view”, smart and handsome. I always answered “yes, very!” but felt like a liar for saying my non-sleeping, bottle-refusing, stranger-hating baby was “good”. The parenting books all seemed to emphasize that the ultimate goal of mothering at this stage was to have a sound sleeper who does well with other caregivers. By those standards, I’d failed. Miserably.

One day, while browsing the shelves of the parenting section of Barnes and Noble for the millionth time, I happened to come across the book The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby by William and Martha Sears. I flipped through the pages and felt, for the first time, like I was doing okay at parenting. Better than okay, even, I was doing a good job at this! I had previously never even heard the term “attachment parenting”, but I had felt a general feeling of “wrong fit” when trying things I’d read in other books. Prior to stumbling upon this, I felt like I was out of sync with what I should be doing, but worried that straying from the advice in the books would mean I was doing things wrong. I wasn’t being true to myself. Reading this book completely changed my thinking. I stopped worrying about other people’s advice, and I stopped worrying about being “wrong”. I started owning my decisions as a mother and second-guessed myself less.

I would never assert that this method of parenting is for everyone. I know quite well what it feels like to try to follow parenting advice that doesn’t “feel right” for your family, because I’ve done it! However, I say this to encourage parents, especially new parents, to trust yourself. If something you’re doing doesn’t feel like a good fit for your family, stop doing it! Toss that advice out the window and keep shopping for some new advice. You know what’s best for your own family, even if it doesn’t look the same as what everyone else is doing. And if anyone asks if you have a “good baby”, you can respond “a wonderful baby!” and know it’s the truth.

A good baby indeed!
A good baby indeed!

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