At some point during the summer of 2012 I picked up the most "en vogue" baby book of the year Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. I was halfway through my first pregnancy and I had a lot of idiotic ideas about childrearing. I suppose I expected this book to fulfill some of them. I expected to read about where to find the perfect baby breton or how to bake a mini croissant. Or how you should wear lipstick to the hospital. I didn't find any of that. Well perhaps for the exception of lipstick at the hospital, she did mention that French women are almost always perfectly coiffed. What surprised me, however, was the parenting wisdom I found within that I wouldn't truly appreciate until much, much later.
One thing that has stuck with me all these years was the chapter titled "Tiny Little Humans." It's there that she unpacks a French view on child development that I have heard echoed by many Europeans including my own mother. You see many French parents believe, unsurprisingly, in a laissez-faire form of parenting or more crudely speaking the "let him figure it out" theory. There is a lot of talk of "adult time" and the appropriateness of the children in certain spaces or times. I have found this to be almost uniquely European. And perhaps to American ears it may even sound harsh. After all we live in a country where we are pressured to coddle, swaddle and cuddle our babies... well indefinitely. And although I loved and agreed with so much of what I read I was completely unprepared for the onslaught of "mom guilt" that would begin to settle in once we brought our precious little bundle home.
I began to notice practically everywhere that other moms were sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly telling me to be inseparable with my child. "Wear the baby AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!!" they yelled. "Co-sleep!" they whispered. "SOAK UP THAT NEWBORN GOODNESS!!" they demanded. I read countless posts and essays about mothers who would just sit there watching their baby sleep. That are co-sleeping with all of their... FIVE children. It started to feel like a deafening chorus of "don't ever put that baby down!" because, God forbid, if I ever did that child would materialize into an adult in front of my very eyes!
And trust me they really, really do grow up so fast. And trust me I'm a big believer of "to each his own" but often time the people yelling this are believers of "each must do as I do" and for a new hormonal mom who is unsure and questioning just about everything including her own sanity it starts to feel like there is only ONE right way to bring up bebe.
Here's the reality though - you are "soaking it up," you are wearing that fussy baby all the time, you are co-sleeping because sometimes it's the only way anyone gets any sleep and you are nursing around the clock those first few weeks. But a lot of us also spend hours scrolling through our various feeds while telling our kids to "just go play." A lot of us are trying to squeeze in some work or laundry or general housekeeping while telling our kids to "just go play." And some of us hide in our closets and shovel chips in our mouth while scrolling through the day's news. And apparently for all this we should feel guilty? Because we're not "present." Because we're not "playing with our babies." Because one day we will regret all the times we said no. Well I say whatever to that.
Motherhood can feel incredibly alienating and lonely at times. Especially when the kids aren't verbal yet. Some days it feels like you might go insane from the lack of contact with other adults. And between all the nursing, bottles, spoon feeding, wiping, changing, reading, sweeping, cooking, playing, rocking, bathing and clothing it can feel like you stop existing as a person. I've especially noticed that for the first six months with every baby I lose myself completely. I forget what I like, what I want, what I enjoy, what I need. There just plain is no "I," there's just a hungry baby, literally and figuratively speaking. So I take what I can get.
I "waste" time on instagram because it makes me feel like I'm connecting with others adults. I "waste" time reading the news and blogs because it makes me feel like I'm connecting with the world. I "waste" time watching trashy tv and reading books because it makes me feel like I'm connecting to ME. And I don't feel guilty about it. Not anymore. I've freed myself from the "shoulds" and, pardon the Oprah cheese, allowed myself to LIVE MY LIFE. Some days I get annoyed with it all and do in fact spend pretty much all day on the floor of the nursery playing with my kids. Some days I let them watch way too much Daniel Tiger so that I can text with my friends or chat with people on instagram. And I think that's just fine. Heck, they are kids after all they should be able to play independently without me constantly hovering over them.
And that's the funny thing about giving kids freedom - they discover that they are actually capable of entertaining themselves. Yes, sometimes it means huge messes. Sometimes it means they get into trouble (that's why I keep boxes upon boxes of Mr. Clean Magic Eraser in the house). Sometimes it means they fight and you're not there to see who "started it." And the beauty of it is that kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit. Trust me they can solve their own fights and makeup without you meddling. They can learn from their mistakes, perhaps better without you meddling and in the end even the messes will be worth it because it means they had an extra good time.
I recently had a conversation about this with my mum and she just laughed when I shared about the "hovering theory." "I just plain didn't have the time!" she said. She explained to me that because she didn't have a car, microwave, washing machine or dishwasher her daily tasks took up the entire day. They didn't have McDonald's and didn't go out to eat so between grocery shopping, hand washing our laundry, cooking three meals a day and cleaning mum said she was happy if she could pop in our room and make sure we hadn't done something unfixable and change a diaper if necessary. And I look back on my childhood with fondness. From about Birdie's age I spent all day outside (weather permitting) with my friends playing cops and robbers or house or hide and seek. I don't remember my mum playing with us a lot but I do remember being well fed, going to sleep washed and in a clean bed and bedtime stories. She took care of us when we were sick, kissed our boo-boos and sang us lullabies and tucked us into bed every night.
I have all the luxuries of modern convenience, the biggest one perhaps being - extra time. Sometimes I spend that time with my children and sometimes I lavish it on myself. And my mum thinks that's just wonderful, she only wishes she had had the opportunity to spend more time taking care of herself. I know we all give 200% of ourselves to our kids every single hour of every single day so I think the fact that we sometimes get caught up in our social media feeds, in texts with friends, in the internet in general or in a good show is more than fine, it should be encouraged. Because the truth is I'm always a better mum and wife and all around human when I've taken some time to take care of my own needs. Whether those needs be sleep, socialization, education, entertainment or just good old vegging out. Let's cut ourselves some slack mamas and not feel guilty about it. We deserve it.
*the above photo is one I snapped secretly as I was busy cleaning up the kitchen one day and noticed that things were a little too quiet. I went to check on the kids and to my awe I found them just like that - at their table silently reading books. This doesn't happen every day but it started happening more often when I gave them some freedom :).
, by Flora and Fauna