I think it’s important for you to know, that even those of us who have great training and tons of credentials, can feel as lost and unsure as everyone else when we become parents.
My journey into parenting “expertise” was not an easy one.
For example, I often said to myself when I had my first child, “I don’t have a clue what I am doing, In fact, I feel useless.”
Today as a life coach, I work with many new parents who feel clueless ay first too, but that quote is from me at a point in my career where I thought I already was a “parenting expert”.
I was the Head of the Department of Early Childhood Education at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George British Columbia. I was not only Head of the Department, I had designed the program, written the curriculum, and taught many of the classes. I also travelled around north central BC presenting many parenting and child development workshops to the community.
Previous to that I had run a demonstration Day Care at another Community College where I advised parents day in and day out about parenting.
I had also worked for years teaching young children in Early Childhood programs which had a very strong parent education component. I educated parents, I counselled parents. I was sure I knew my stuff and knew just what parents should do.
I had a Masters Degree in Early childhood Education.
With all my credentials, I was an “expert”.
And then, all my expertise flew out the window when my baby was born.
I had taught infant development at the college level for eight years. I was supposed to be a whiz at this.
But very quickly I learned that my academic training and even all my experience with young children had not prepared me for being a mother.
My son “never slept”.
He nursed “all the time”.
He hated his beautiful cradle.
He wanted to be held “all the time”.
He seemed to cry “for no reason”.
This was not what the books said was supposed to happen.
I felt totally inadequate. My self-esteem started to plummet. I was so embarrassed I didn’t want anyone to know what a hard time I was having to reconcile what I “knew” with what I was experiencing.
I knew so many different theories of child development that at times I was paralysed.
Just like you may feel when you read different parenting books or websites, my knowledge just confused me.
Finally out of desperation, I called the local La Leche League (an international breastfeeding support group) for help with breastfeeding. I didn’t identify myself. I just rambled on about all the trouble I was having and how confused I was.
The very sweet woman on the other end of the phone was so comforting, so reassuring. She told me how normal my baby’s behaviour was. That most babies want to be close to their moms all the time because that where they feel secure. that breastfed babies need to eat very frequently because their tummies are so tiny and breastmilk is digested so quickly.
And the most important thing she said to me “Listen to your baby and listen to your heart. You will know what to do.”
Listen to my baby and listen to my heart? Really? I was an academic. I lived in my head and in the realm of ideas. Listen to my heart?
My heart would ache when my baby cried, I always wanted to hold him and comfort him. It felt right to nurse him whenever he wanted to.
But I didn’t think it was right. I knew too many theories that said that responding to crying reinforced negative behaviour. So sometimes I wouldn’t respond right away. Then I’d feel awful.
I was really confused. I needed to talk to someone else. So I called someone else from La Leche League and told my tales of woe. I didn’t identify myself with her either. She also was very reassuring. She also reminded me to listen to my baby and listen to my heart.
This pattern went on for three months.
Finally, I identified myself. They didn’t laugh at me (which I thought they might – I mean I was supposed to be the big expert!) They just continued to be so supportive and invited me to one of their meetings.
I went. And there were all these moms, happily nursing their babies, responding to them lovingly, so at ease with their mothering.
I felt that I had come to the right place and that I had a great deal to learn from these moms.
Mostly about softening my own heart and listening to it… and really really trusting that my baby knew that he needed someone and that I knew how to respond.
Even though it felt right in my heart, acceptance of this mothering approach was not immediate.
I went back and forth between my academic head and my mothering heart. When my baby was 7 months old I “knew” that he should be sleeping through the night by then, even though all the moms in the La Leche League group said their babies still woke and it was normal. And that I should just meet her needs.
I was giving parenting workshops during that time and when parents asked me what to do with their wakeful infants, I used to tell them to “let them cry it out and eventually they’d stop waking up.”
So, I thought maybe I should practice what I preached.
For two nights we decided to let him “cry it out”. When he woke during the night that first night, he started to cry. My instinct was to go to him quickly and comfort him. But, my head said that we were going to try this crying out thing.
His cries were so sad and pitiful. My husband and I clung to each other trying to resist going to him. His crying got louder and louder and more desperate. “We can do this, this time,” we said to each other, “He’ll stop soon.”
And, after 20 tortuous minutes, he did. We both felt sick. But it had “worked”. We lay there unable to go back to sleep. Was this right? Maybe. He did eventually fall asleep after all.
Yes, it was awful, but maybe it was okay? We kept pondering this for ten minutes.
At which point he woke again, crying desperately. We couldn’t do it again. We went in to comfort him and I nursed him gently back to sleep in his cradle. And continued to do that through the night.
The next night we thought “Well maybe it was because it was the first time. Maybe we should try one more time.”
So we did. It was as heartbreaking and awful as the first.
This time, we looked at each other and said. “This is insanity. Day after day we put all our love and care and attention into being responsive and there for him. And now, in the middle of the night, when he’s all alone in the dark we say, “Sorry. We’re only available during business hours.” (?!?)
And that was the end of that experiment.
Over time, I became more and more comfortable with the responsive approach to parenting.
Rather than being “spoiled” by all the love and attention, Aaron was a delightful happy toddler.
The story goes on from there. I read more and more in depth research on attachment, and its relationship to later emotional well-being, the capacity to learn, the development of empathy etc.
I decided to get trained to be a La Leche League leader and support other moms.
We had another baby, Elena, and it was so much easier. Not because she was an “easier” baby, but because I was much more secure in myself and what I felt was right for me. I was also clear about the kind of people I wanted my children to be and always kept that in mind.
In the end, I’m especially grateful for my rocky introduction to being a parent. My experience guided me to be the compassionate and caring woman, mother, business person, and life coach that I am today.
So, to wrap up this post, I want to thank you for making it this far down the page.
From my heart to yours, I’m keen to help you to be a better person and a better parent too.