A few weeks ago we celebrated my son's second birthday. As I watched him slide, run over, climb the stairs, and slide, over and over, I felt the enormity of his growth over the past two years. I became aware of how sentimental I had been feeling, and it seemed to hit me, all in that moment, how much my life has changed in the past two years and nine months.
I realized that I have come to the other side of a very grueling and beautiful process. I also saw that I have many, many more challenges on the road ahead. But I found a distinction in there somewhere. I trust myself more now -- as a person, as a parent. It is as if my sense of ease has grown in direct proportion with my son, as if the stronger and more assured his steps and his words become, the more I am able to trust myself and my decisions as a parent. And even more far-reaching, my decisions as a human.
It was not always this way. Many people in my life might argue with me in saying this, for I have a tendency to seem like I know what I am doing even if I am petrified. I have to admit that in many ways, I have been very unsure of my decisions, while at the same time driven to carry them out regardless of any disagreement I may encounter, and a lot of that there is.
Many of my friends birthed their children at home, nursed extendedly, and had a family bed. This was the family environment I was exposed to in my early twenties. When I found out I was pregnant, it seemed completely natural to me to have a homebirth, nurse for however long he wanted, choose not to circumcise him, and to cosleep.
Maybe because I had a supportive social group, I had no idea how much flack I would encounter from my family based on some of these decisions. Even my mother and I had rounds on certain things, so much so that I started doing research and trying to provide her with some sort of evidence, thinking this might help her to better understand my decisions. I found out that there was even a name for the type of parenting that felt most comfortable to me -- Attachment Parenting. I shared a ton of stuff that I found that backed up my decisions.
I felt vindicated by what I found and I became almost zealous in my defense of my planned decisions. Keep in mind that I am in the southern US and that there is not a whole lot of support for what many would define as Attachment Parenting. Very few people here have homebirths, most all people circumcise their boys, and nursing past a certain point is frowned upon, as I could demonstrate to this day when I nurse my son in public. I was dealing with a ton of what felt like oppression and resistance to what I knew in my heart was the right way for me to raise my child, and I was on fire about it.
This tack did not really work. In fact, it kind of backfired. Seems like mom felt like I was getting into some crazy stuff on the Internet. She did not understand that this was how I felt already, that I was simply bringing her more information. My family somewhat treated me like they always do, like the weirdo-freak who needs to be namby-pambied, patronized. The whole "one day you will see we are right" attitude.
If I had to pick a defining moment, it would be one while I was still pregnant. I was at my grandmother's wake, and I was about six months along. Somehow the subject of circumcision came up and just about everyone who had anything to say was aghast at the idea that I would not be doing it. My mother and I became quite heated and I finally, in a very emotional, very pregnant outburst said, "It is not my penis. It is my son's, and my job as his parent is to protect him from harm. No knives will come near his penis! "
This felt wonderful to state. I was very serious, and I drew a line. I was saying, "I am the parent here, not you. I will do what I feel is best for my child." And it served a very important purpose. My statement made it clear to everyone that I was the one in charge here, that my son is the one who will carry the repercussions of my decisions as a parent, and that I take that very seriously. After that moment, after I stopped doubting myself on a certain level, stopped feeling like I needed to prove myself to my family or anyone else, things eased up.
People started trusting in me when I began to trust in myself.
While I was pregnant, I devoured anything I could find on parenting. I read endlessly and I learned a lot. But once I began to actively parent, these things fell to the wayside. Every once in a while I will find a resource that is good and incorporate from it what feels right to me, but essentially I try to listen to myself.
People ask me how long I will nurse, and I have to tell them that I really am not sure. We will nurse as long as it feels right for us. It is not time for it to be over, and I sense this in my son.
My partner and I do not use any particular form of discipline. We take things as they come and try to communicate, remembering that our son is a human being. No spanking, and no time outs. We are admittedly flying by the seats of our pants on this one, with a loose framework of natural and logical consequences. What feels right is totally situational, so we just go with what each moment requires, and like any process, we have to re-evaluate and change focus sometimes.
I have found that when I do not listen to myself, I run into problems. Living nightmares happen. It could be me not paying attention to my own or my son's tolerance level at a certain moment and then trying to pack too much running around into the day, resulting in meltdown central and me having to realize we should have retreated a couple of hours ago. Or it could be something much more serious, like me letting the doctor push me to immunize my son, faster and in greater amount than I felt comfortable, resulting in seizures, emergency room trips, EEGs and much heartache for all of us, only to find out that my gut was right and my son should not have that immunization ever again.
Needless to say, it is a daily learning process. Becoming clear enough to feel out my own gut has always been one of my major hurdles -- something I grapple with on a nearly daily basis. I have good instincts, this I know. It is the listening and trusting that take the work.
Or maybe it isn't even work. Maybe it is the getting out of my own way. Setting myself free from my self-judgment and allowing myself to naturally parent. When I do this I have no need for a term to define what kind of parent I am. I have no need to defend or justify my decisions. I just do the day, and it feels good, and I can see the light in my child's eyes. As much as I am my son's guide, he is my teacher, and I am learning to trust his lessons.