Thursday, April 22, 2010

A follow up


So when I linked to the post about nurturing babies yesterday, I didn't really set out to write a post about that. I was having a busy day, sat down to check some emails and happened to read what Jane had written and thought it was so great and inspiring, that I wanted to share what she'd said. So I just really quickly jotted down a few thoughts of my own and that was it.

My point is that it wasn't a well thought out, articulated summary of anything. I mean I totally meant everything I said, but after having great conversation with a friend this morning about it, I thought I might like to add a few things on that subject.

And by the way, this is still just off the cuff, and not well thought out or articulated...I wish I had time for that!

1. First of all...I always think its really interesting to see what kind of comments people leave about posts like that. It seems like a lot of times people get really hung up on a tiny part of something people have written and sort of miss the big picture. In the case of Jane's post, several people felt they had to defend the fact that they either didn't sleep with their babies or that because their babies were good sleepers, that somehow made them a bad mother (or that that was what she was saying). Here is an example of part of one comment:
"My kids have all been champion sleepers and I hope you don't think I'm a bad mom because I love my kids enough to keep them well rested and myself well rested as well. I devote every WAKING moment to them, I can assure you."
For me, Jane's post wasn't really about what kind of sleeping arrangements you have in your family or that you should ascribe to any certain "brand" of parenting (you know...all the parenting style labels out there...speaking of which I actually kind of hate...but that is a subject for a different day!). I won't put words into her mouth, but this is the massage that I got from her post: Because babies only source of information about the world around them comes by way of their senses, and because of the important work that is going on in their brains in that first year of life, it is really essential that the information they are receiving comes in the form of nurturing. By nurturing and responding to your baby you are meeting their needs. You should consider all of a babies senses. They should be spoken to softly and often, touched gently and held close, comforted if they are upset, fed if they are hungry, changed if they are wet or dirty, and allowed to sleep in peace if they are tired. And these things should be done without reservation or limit. I mean...basic stuff. But the important thing is that just because babies can't talk, doesn't mean that no communication is happening. In fact it means that the communication that they are able to understand by way of their senses is more heightened. So whether you are tender and gentle, or rough and gruff, matters. And meeting their needs matters. And sometimes their need is just to be held. I also don't think that love and nurturing are necessarily synonymous. I think you can totally love your baby and not be very nurturing. And what babies need is nurturing, regardless of how much you "love them enough" to impose well meant restrictions on it.

I don't think I know a single mother who isn't trying to be nurturing to their babies...or at least who doesn't want to be. What I have seen are mothers who are afraid to be too nurturing because they have been scared into believing that by doing so they will somehow "teach" their babies bad habits, or to be manipulative etc. And for me, that was the wonderful massage of Jane's post. Babies have needs and it is important in their development to meet those needs. And I agree. And not because its scientifically explained, but because it just makes sense to me and rings true in my soul. You can't nurture, or respond too quickly or too much when it comes to a baby. That first year of life is about teaching them that the world is a safe place, that their needs will be met, that they are loved, and that people can be trusted. Babies are wonderfully straightforward that way.

Could I say the word needs any more?

2. I don't think that being nurturing to your baby translates into "devoting every waking minute to them". I think its totally possible to be a nurturing and responsive mother and also meet your own needs. I don't think we need to be haggard martyrs. But I also think it is dangerous to buy into the notion that mothers should be able to have it all. You know? It seems we are told that we can have babies, and that if we are vigilant enough, and start early enough, we can get those babies to fit neatly into our lives with as little disruption and inconvenience as possible, and should be able to carry on with as much time left over to fulfill our own desire to craft/exercise/decorate/be creative/cute/trendy/thin/ambitious/externally gratified as before you had a child. I am more tired after having a baby then I ever was before. I am fatter, less stylish, and less productive too. But I am also immensely happier. I accept that my life is different. I don't feel like I've failed because it is.

3. Jane's post was talking about BABIES. While obviously its important to love and nurture your children throughout their whole lives, the concept of how their brains are developing and why is so vital to infants should not be confused with how parenting should naturally evolve when children become toddlers and into childhood. I think a HUGE misconception about being a really nurturing mother is that it means you aren't also concerned with being consistent, having firm discipline, structure, consequences, and rules. And I'm not just making broad generalizations here. I have actually had people mention to me that they are surprised at how I parent my toddler (set clear limits, follow through with consequences etc.) based on how I had been with my infant. They assumed that because I tried to be so focused on being responsive and...I'm going to say indulgent, with my newborn, I'd have a hard time with the friction that comes with being firm and consistent with a toddler. I'm obviously far from perfect in terms of behavior modification techniques...but I heartily buy into, and strive to implement those things as a parent. Anyway, all I am trying to say is that being nurturing and firm aren't mutually exclusive and that babies and toddlers/children are very different and should be mothered differently (sort of).

4. I've kind of touched on this already but I want to say it again. Being a nurturing and responsive mother is about being in tune with the needs of your baby (and really also your older child) and responding to them. Its not about ascribing to a certain "Brand" of parenting. There is no one book or set of guidelines or method that will work with every parent and every child in every situation. Some mothers are able to naturally get in sync with the rhythm of a newborn baby and find it more easy to understand the communication cues they use to tell us what they need, and are able to respond effectively. Some mothers have a harder time with this and find its helpful to have a more structured approach with more concrete guidelines to help them decipher those things. There are tons of great books and resources out there to help parents who need it. I tend to be leary of those resources that focus first on the needs of the parents and not the baby/child. And any book that encourages ignoring your natural inclination towards nurturing your baby should be (in my opinion) met with serious skepticism.

I have noticed that generally our personalities tend to dictate where we gravitate when it comes to the specific methods we use. Obviously we all have different strengths and abilities--different levels of experiences--and different kinds of examples. And I have always felt that whatever the particulars of how a mother feeds, sleeps, and cares for her baby-- it is always with the goal and attitude of doing what is best for them. I know there are mothers who don't have this priority out there...but I really don't know any of them. Which leads me to 4.

4. Please don't be offended if I express opinions about what it means to be a good mother and also happen to have some aspects of my parenting that are slightly different then you. You know if you are a good mother. I think you are a good mother! If I say that I do something and think its doesn't mean that I think what you are doing that is different is bad. At all. Or that with future children and future circumstances I won't do something different either. Not that you care. But I notice that people often get defensive in their comments when it comes to parenting and when I write or talk about this stuff its only because I want to share something that has been helpful to me, or I feel might be helpful to somebody else.

5. Sorry...I could talk about this all day. I guess the last thing I want to say about this is that while I do think that we really are all just doing the best we can to be good parents, through new insight and new information, we often (hopefully) have a change in the way we do things and become better. I mean isn't that the point of it all anyway? I linked that post because I feel that the message is good and true and that it inspires better parenting. And there is always room for that right?

I really love watching and learning from other mothers. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be one.


  1. I read (and enjoyed!) Jane's post--thanks for the link!

    Here's the idea that I struggle with--essentially devoting a year to the baby after the baby is born. I feel like that's about how long it takes to get back into a regular routine, so maybe I'm doing that and not even realizing it--we tend to stay home as much as possible, turn inward for entertainment, etc. But I worry SO much about my other children getting enough time with me and enough attention from me. And I burn out, because in order for me to feel reasonably content, I DO need to exercise, to have time to myself away from the children, to have a clean home, etc. And when I only had one child, this wasn't an issue. I just had so much more time. Two wasn't that hard either. But three has really thrown me for a loop, because there is so much to do and as much as I want to spend every moment that I can with my children, there are so many things I HAVE to do in order for everyone to have food and clean clothes...which are pretty basic. And I'll admit it, sometimes I am far from wanting to spend every moment with my children.

    I would love to have a big family. I really truly would. But I am paralyzed by the fear of spreading myself so thin that I can't give the kind of love and nurturing to all my children that I think they need. Seriously, I worry about this all the time--it's getting to the point where I'm a little frantic about it and I only have three!! And I need time for me too, whether it's to mop my kitchen floor or read a good book or go for a run--or just sit at the kitchen table and look outside at the tulips. I really believe that time to yourself is important.

    (is this the longest comment ever or what?)

  2. Rachael...Thanks for your comment! I guess I want to say that by no means am I saying that striving to do things like exercise or have creative outlets etc. or time to yourself is bad (those things are totally important!)...just that we shouldn't feel like failures if we aren't getting to do as many of those things as we did before we had expect that life will be different. Also...I totally don't think (and guess I didn't do great job of saying this) that being nurturing as a mother means you have to spend every moment with you ALL!

    I will say in terms of having a baby that I said no to a lot of things (that put demands outside of our family) especially that first year. Obviously its easier with just one. I worry too about how having more children will affect the dynamic in our home and how effective I am as a mom. But for me its not about necessarily devoting myself to my baby for the first year, but more about the philosophy I try to approach mothering an infant with... And I think that can take on all kinds of forms.

    I do think that one of the beautiful things about having a large family is that as children grow they can be a source for each other of love and nurturing to some extent, and also more help with things like mopping the kitchen floor;) I also think its good to remember that while its really important to be available to an infant to respond to their children grow its OK (and important) for them to learn patience and that they don't get everything they want all the time.
    Also, regardless of how many kids you have, it seems that when hearing from older moms who have been through all this, that there are seasons to motherhood. When you have lots of little kids the challenges and time constraints are different then when your kids get older (and then other things about parenting get more challenging...but you have more time) My point was just to say that its possible to be less fulfilled in our personal needs and desires then we would like and still be happy. And to know that things will change eventually.

    I've heard that having three small children is the hardest. Frankly I totally worried about having 2! But I know it will all work out OK.

  3. I hope it's ok that I chime in on this. For those of you who are LDS out there, I thought conference really answered some of my fears and insecurities concerning this topic.

    As we live by the Spirit, we will know what we need to do. We will know when to fill needs, and when to teach a child to wait. We will know the night that our child needs us to snuggle up in bed with him or her for a little bit longer when there is a sink full of dishes and laundry to be done.

    For me, the key is doing the work that needs to be done so that I have the Spirit in my life each day. Some days I do better than others. But to me, that was a major message of Conference.

    As we mother with the Spirit, we will know the tiny things that need to be done to help each individual child. They are all so different (I have 3) that I don't think there's any way that we can say "I do such and such" with my kids. They will all need different things. I love hearing what you all have to say about this issue. A huge relief comes in knowing that I am not the only one out there who wrestles with these things.

    And Rachael, I am with you, three is a whole new ball game. But girls...we can do it!! ;)

    p.s. I just realized I'm signed in as my husband, but it's me, Natalie.

  4. i always love your mothering posts! whether i agree with everything or not i can glean the parts that ring true to me. they remind me to continue to be actively thinking about what i am doing and what i could be doing better. so thank you for sharing. and it was written beautifully.

  5. Well, Danielle... you know we pretty much agree completely on this topic, but I just have to say that you expressed your ideas here beautifully. I'm really glad you wrote this.

    And thinking about babies makes me really excited to meet mine in a couple months. :-)

  6. Wish I had time to write more, but AMEN!

  7. I agree with most of what everyone has said. To Rachael--I have 4 kids ages 6 down to 1. I know exactly how you are feeling! It is hard to be stretched so thin! But, I have also learned so much on this matter from my mother-in-law. She is the most amazing mother; all 7 of her children worship the ground she walks on, and all of her children are happy, confident, successful, and very well-adjusted in all of their lives. I asked her and my father-in-law what they did, and this was her response, "We let them experience life, which means that they did a lot on their own. They experienced failure and success, and we were their cheerleaders through it all. We had planning meetings with them every Saturday to make sure we knew what was going on with them. But they had to do a lot for themselves, and that taught them to be confident and unafraid." And my husband said that his mom didn't know what they were doing or where they were half the time, and they turned out great! So don't be too worried about your kids getting enough of your attention. I'll bet you are a fantastic mother!!

  8. Lovely post...I ended up modifying my post on the subject, because my first post was mean. It is something I get long-winded and passionate about, but I need to be nicer. I have no trouble being nice and understanding to people I know, but I tend to be less understanding of strangers who leave comments that I disagree with. I don't know their story, their situations, but I make assumptions about their parenting styles. This post is a good reminder to me that everyone is trying to do their best, they all love their children as much as I love mine. This is one of the downsides of being raised by my mom. Her feelings about motherhood, her passion for it, have been passed to me and I'll start to feel like there really is only one right way to do things. I have inherited that passion and find it really difficult to see people doing things differently. You put it all so well, so thank you for this post.

    I loved your point about parenting books that advise going against your natural inclinations to nurture. so true.

    I love the comment about conference! Thanks Natalie.

  9. First, I have to thank you for posting about Ask Jane in your Bloom post awhile ago....I have been reading it ever since. More than books, I really like to turn to mothers of large families for advice, because they did it. They lived it and they aren't usually swayed so easily from parenting style to parenting style.

    Second, you rock. I love your posts. That's all I have to say. Someday I hope to meet your cute little girl.

    Third, two kiddos is infinitely more fun than one. I could not have imagined how much it could change, but it did and I love it.

    Fourth, I think of having children as the ultimate sacrifice. Truly we must give up everything for these little children. Our bodies, time, even our own desires for a fairly thankless job. I laugh when I think of my mom and for my whole childhood, she never had a favorite kind of food or ice cream, she always just wanted whatever kind would make the most kids happy. She truly gave herself up to motherhood and all ten of us love her to pieces. I wish us all good luck with this sacrifice, as it truly will be the most worthwhile thing we accomplish in our lives - if we live through it!

    I am very tired while writing this, so should it not make sense, sorry.


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