Thursday, February 25, 2016

I am doing everything wrong. Everything.

When I was pregnant for the first time, my godmother recommended a book written by her pediatrician. When it comes to things which stress me out, I am an information collector. The more I know, the more capable I feel. But when it came to being a mom, I didn't want the books and the studies and the information. I was an older sister in a big family. I had been doing childcare in various settings for over a decade. I was feeling pretty confident in the whole parenting thing. I just knew I was going to rock this. So, I didn't read the parenting books. The hundreds and hundreds of books and theories and whatnot... I ignored it all, except for the book my godmother had given me. I read that book carefully. I read it in part because she told me to, and there just isn't a lot of advice she could give that I would outright ignore. She awesome. But I also read it because as soon as I started, I was hooked. I was laughing and learning. There were even sections which I read aloud to my husband.  Dr. Dan's Last Word on Babies and Other Humans is fantastic. His premise in writing the book is that mothers are overloaded with too much and contradictory information. We are not as confident as our mothers were. That is not a comment on any specific person or theory, but on a trend he watched over several decades of practice. In the book, he doesn't make grand pronouncements about what is right and what is wrong. He just pours out facts and humor. I especially loved the section on breastfeeding and bottle feeding, which is why it is on my mind now. Without pontificating, he offers useful, helpful advice without judgement to moms who have made either choice. 

A few days ago a popular Catholic writer, Dr. Gregory Popcak, wrote a severe criticism of the choice to bottle feed rather than breastfeed. In his harsh portrayal, breastfeeding is morally superior. It seems intended to be an inflammatory piece, which reflects something unflattering about the writer. I don't want to argue directly. Simcha Fisher wrote a careful, loving and necessary response, which has the benefit of perspective and actual experience. 

Breastfeeding is one of those issues. Nothing you can say is going to be as innocuous as you think. Everyone who has an opinion has a strong opinion, and they all disagree. Even if you start with apparent agreement, specifics swarm in divisive chatter. Weaning? Cover? No cover? Never-ever-ever leave the house you breast-wielding, baby-feeding harlot? It is all very stressful, for a tuned in mom. Worse, stress is counterproductive. Stress inhibits production and let-down. Maybe Popcak doesn't know that since he's never done it, but it's true. Making this an issue which will not only affect the child for the rest of their lives (gag me) but also affects your immortal soul puts too much at stake. The good doctor is working hard against his chosen cause by injecting it with dogmatic moralism. 

But breastfeeding is only the beginning. Moms get to fight about everything. Not only do we get to fight with each other, but we are harangued at every turn by non-mothers. Good clean dirt to build strong immune systems or sterilize everything? Education: public, private, or home? Montessori? Waldorf? Traditional? What about sleep training? Or parenting styles: Attachment? Free range? The biggie: Should mom work? Even little non-issues can be the subject of real emotional attacks and disagreements: Sticker charts are either emotionally scarring or the only way to ever teach anything and WHAT DO YOU MEAN SHE STILL USES A BINKIE? Diapering? Yup. We fight about that. Not even the shit is sacred. 

My confidence swings up and down. Some days I think I am the supermom I thought I was going to be. Other days I know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that I am doing literally everything wrong. 

I hate talking to other moms about parenting style and choices. These are emotional and serious discussions where everyone shows up with their favorite theories, rife with acronyms and pseudoscience and expert opinions. Alternately whiney and judgey, these discussions could reduce even the most confident parent to question their methods. After all, how good can your method be if you can't name it with an acronym or a doctor? Honestly, half the time I can't participate in the discussions. I do not know what the acronyms mean. I have no idea what is being claimed so I have no idea whether I agree or disagree. 

OMG. The OUBD method is like the NAPP&P method, but like... better. Kids actually score better across all measures including HNOA and NKND! It actually works. I knew this one kid who was flunking in school and now he is graduating from a homeschooled Ivy League. 

Don't look that up. If it means anything it is purely accidental. That is how I hear those discussions: Strings of letters peppered with judgement and nonsensical anecdote. 

We are beating ourselves up and then beating each other up. 

I am not actually saying that expert opinions are useless. You want to breastfeed and you are struggling? There is an expert for you. You want to homeschool but you're a little afraid, there is an expert for you. You have a specific child with a specific behavioral issue? There is an expert for you. If you are very lucky, there might even be an expert whose theories you find applicable across nearly all your parenting problems. And there is no reason not to share the helpful information you have found, so long as you keep in mind that the expert you found and love might be entirely useless to me. Also, in my experience, the expert might be your mom. 

Here is my method. I am not a doctor but there is an acronym, so it is an actual thing which you must take very seriously. 

T: Teach. You are the first and most important teacher, whatever education method you choose. Your kids are learning from you, so be sure you like what they are learning.
W: Worry. You know what? You are going to worry and that's OK. Keep it in check and take it for what it is. Don't let fear make your decisions, ever. But don't squash your fears just because they are fears. Worry makes you cover the electrical sockets. (Then it makes you uncover them when it turns out your kids didn't care about the sockets, but those covers sure are fascinating and now little fingers are perpetually prying and poking and removing them with silverware.) Which brings me to...
A: Adjust. All the time. If a thing is not working, pivot. No matter who told you what or how sure you were that this was going to work. 
D: Deference. Your kid is a unique little person. Respect them. Appreciate them. Get to know them. They are not a little mini-you. Notice and enjoy what makes them individuals. 
D: Delight. All the little things. All the big things. All the hard things and the silly things. Take time to enjoy them. 
L: Love. Love should be first but Ltwadde isn't a word. 
E: Example. Be a good example. Sing. Pray. Love. They are learning more than you know just by watching you. So be aware of that and be a good example. And, since you aren't perfect, that means apologizing often. 

Twaddle. It works for me, and it will work for you too. Because family dynamics are unique and often unpredictable. 


  1. 42 yrs ago, I was unable to nurse my son. Today he has been a very happy priest who loves the Church for 10 yrs. Go figure, Dr. P.

    1. Thank God for formula! And thank you for raising a priest!

  2. I like twaddle. I think I shall adopt it as my parenting strategy.

  3. I like twaddle. I think I shall adopt it as my parenting strategy.

  4. This is brilliant. I came over from Simcha and I am so glad I did. I shall also be adopting this method!

    1. I am glad you popped over too! She is wonderful. Thank you!