About a month ago, a reader asked me: “If you ever wrote a parenting book, what would it be called and what advice would you give?”
My response (after I literally laughed out loud) was: “I don’t think I’d ever write a book on parenting, but if I did, I really don’t know what I’d say.”
We chatted back and forth through a few more emails… and after pondering her questions for a bit, I actually think I’d have a lot to say. It wouldn’t be the advice you’d find in a typical parenting book, but I have a feeling it would help A LOT of first-time parents who feel lost in their new shoes.
So, since Nora’s THIRD birthday is tomorrow (yes, she’s 3!), I figured now would be the perfect time to share what I’d say if I ever wrote a parenting book — which I doubt will ever happen!
How common sense and long-term thinking saved my sanity as a mom.
By: Andrea Dekker
Nora: For teaching me, the hard way, that no parenting book can ever have all the answers.
Simon: For showing me how enjoyable motherhood can be when you don’t try to follow someone else’s rules.
and Dave: For humoring me and reading ALL those parenting books before our first baby was born… and then completely disregarding them only a few months later.
My Intro Page would describe my initiation into motherhood, and how big-picture parenting was one of the only things that saved my sanity those first couple of years.
I would also make it very clear that I personally would never suggest reading a parenting book and actually expecting it to work for your own child — especially the books written by men who were never the primary caregivers for their own children. Many of these books contain pieces of helpful information, but none of the information should be taken at face-value or assumed that it’s the “only right way” for you, your child, or your family.
There are MANY “right ways”.
If’ you are a parent, I’m sure you do many things differently than Dave and I do — and that’s perfectly OK. It might take a while to find your “right way” — and even when you find your “right way” it’s OK to not always do it the right way every single time. Babies and toddlers are very resilient, so one mess up on your part most likely won’t matter in the big picture of life.
And speaking of the “big picture” — that brings me to the main point of this post (I mean… my fictitious parenting book!)
When it comes to parenting, I’ve had a 3-year crash course with one of the toughest instructors around — my 3 year old, highly-anxious, overly-sensitive, never-slept-through-the-night little girl. Her mission in life, from day one, has been to teach me (over and over and over again) that the advice in any given parenting book can’t possibly work for every single child.
When I think back on my first 3 years of motherhood, “Survival” is usually one of the first words that comes to mind. I’m humbled to admit many of the crazy things Dave and I did in attempts to make it through one more day or one more night with Nora.
Of course, when we were in the thick of the no eating, no sleeping, never being willing to leave my side for 5 minutes, everything seemed awful — and honestly, it was awful. However, one of the main reasons everything felt so awful and stressful and “wrong” was because I was trying to take advice from everyone else with kids who had no separation anxiety and no sensitivity issues.
Looking back, it’s no surprise that out of the hundreds and hundreds of tips and pieces of advice we received, absolutely none of them worked… NONE!
Once we finally learned more about her “high-needs” personality and her super sensitivity to food textures, I started researching it on my own. At that point, I realized that basically everything I had been doing for the first 18 months of her life (essentially trying to make the parenting books work for me) was hurting us WAY more than it was helping.
I was trying to fit Nora into a mold that she most definitely didn’t fit into, and in the process, causing so much unneeded stress for our entire family.
I was so worried about breaking “the rules” in those ridiculous parenting books instead of just giving in and doing what I knew in my heart was best for Nora and best for me.
From the moment I realized this, I stopped worrying about what anyone else thought was the “right way” for me, for my child, and for my family.
I also started thinking “big-picture”.
Let me explain…
Nora refused to sleep in her crib. Absolutely REFUSED. She would scream until she threw up every time we put her in the crib. Because of this, she usually slept on my chest or in my arms (on the couch) — which of course, is a huge ‘no-no’ in those parenting books.
At 6 months old, she started sleeping in her carseat, and at 10 months old, she moved into a twin bed. Yes, a 10 month old baby in a twin bed (without a guard rail — and she never fell out!)
Oh, and did I forget to mention that I had to sleep with Nora for part or all of EVERY SINGLE NIGHT from 10 months – 26 months (at which point Dave took over because Simon was born and I was up at night with him!)
Only recently has she started sleeping for most of the night by herself. However, if I’m really honest, one of us usually ends up in her bed for at least part of every night because we’re just too stinkin’ tired to walk up and down our stairs one more time.
To the lucky parents with angelic babies who slept through the night at 8 weeks old, I’m certain you think we’re insane — and that’s OK. I promise, we’ve tried whatever “sure-fire sleeping tricks” you’re going to suggest. They didn’t work!
My Big-Picture Thought Process: “We absolutely must sleep, so who cares where or how. In another 15 years, she’ll be in to college and keeping someone else awake at night! And also, if the fact that she doesn’t sleep much is her biggest downfall, we have a lot to be thankful for.”
Nora loved to eat… she ate a lot… but only from me.
She ate every 2 hours ALL day and night long for months and months and months. She refused all bottles. She refused all sippy cups. She refused all baby food. She refused all solid food. She gagged and threw up and screamed and choked if anything was put in her mouth besides breast milk straight from the source.
This meant that for 18 months, I couldn’t go anywhere for more than a couple hours without Nora being so hungry and upset that she would sob uncontrollably until I got back.
At the time, it was so awful. I hated being so confined and at times, I honestly felt like my life was over (totally dramatic, I know!)
I was finally able to stop nursing her around 21 months and words can not describe how amazing I felt (minus all the morning sickness from being pregnant with Simon already!)
Once she finally started eating, she would eat Kraft Mac & Cheese or strawberry yogurt for almost every meal — oh, and she really loved chips, hot dogs, cookies, fruit snacks, and marshmallows too 🙂
To the foodie parents who never let a grain of sugar or morsel of processed food touch your baby’s lips, I’m certain you think we’re horrible — and that’s OK. Until you have exclusively nursed a baby (completely against your will) for almost 2 years and have gone through 2 rounds of expensive food therapy, I’ll let you keep your judgement to yourself.
My Big-Picture Thought Process: “She’s eating food… I don’t care what, as long as she’s eating something that doesn’t come from my body! Eventually, there will be time to introduce more foods, but for now, food is food is food.”
Side note: Nora is now scarfing down tons of fruits, veggies, meats, cheese, and lots of much healthier options! And also, nursing for 2 years definitely wasn’t the worst experience of my life — it just seemed like forever when there was no end in sight.
SCHEDULES and ROUTINES
You all know that babies most definitely need to sleep, then eat, then play — in that order, and only that order, all day long. Also, never feed your baby more than every 4 hours. Never!
This supposedly “perfect way to get your baby on a schedule” worked for me and Nora for about the first 4 hours after she was born. After that, I spent MONTHS stressing and agonizing over the fact that we weren’t following the right schedule. We weren’t doing what the books said we should do — and certainly, that was why she cried all day long and never slept.
If only I could get her on a schedule. Then everything would be perfect. And honestly, how hard can it possibly be for me, Andrea Dekker, organizing queen, to get a tiny baby on a schedule?
It took 2.5 years to finally bring about some sort of routine to Nora’s day — and I can tell you with 100% certainty, there was NOTHING I did to facilitate that change.
To the Type-A parents who had your babies on a schedule from day one, I’m certain you think we’re doing something wrong — and that’s OK. I both envy you and secretly hate you all at the same time… and I can assure you, we’ve tried all the tips in your favorite Type-A parenting books. I desperately wanted them to work for us… but they didn’t.
My Big-Picture Thought Process: “After 3 years, I basically know what she wants and needs all the time so a schedule isn’t entirely necessary as long as I’m around. Is it ideal? No. But are we making it work? Yup! She’s alive, I’m alive, we’re happy and healthy, and soon enough, she’ll be in school all day on someone else’s schedule.”
So Big-Picture Parenting… what do you think?
I’ll be expecting emails and phone calls from various big-name publishers to be piling up in my inbox any day now 🙂
All kidding aside, after 3 years of wearing my “mom hat”, I can honestly say that Big-Picture Parenting was what saved my sanity and pushed out so much fear and doubt from my mind.
Yes, I literally sobbed when I found out I was pregnant with Simon as I truly didn’t know if I could do it all again — but thankfully, Simon has been so much easier than Nora, not to mention I have a completely different thought process the second time around.
If you are a parent or caregiver to small children (or any age children) and you feel like you are constantly doing everything “wrong”… I can almost assure you that you’re not!
Just keep surviving, keep trying, keep learning, and keep thinking “big-picture”.
One last tip…
Get REALLY good at smiling and nodding.
You’ll need to do this many times every day when (mostly) well-meaning friends, family, parents at the park, grocery cashiers, gutter installers, mechanics, and basically all other strangers tell you what “always worked” with their kids.
Oh yeah, and “enjoy every moment… because they grow up so fast!” 😉