So where am I coming from?
Infant development is the crux of my (paid) career. I work with families of young babes who came earlier than expected. I will forever be amazed by how infants develop. I imagine I will always be in awe with the ease with which most infants progress towards greater awareness, movement, thinking, communicating, and problem solving; and will be humbled by the determination and resolve that infants have to do what they need to do, even if they figure it out in their own way and in their own time. With my own son, this awe is on an entirely different plane. I did not think I could be more amazed by development, but here I am, riveted and joyful with each new thing my son does.
...and where am I heading?
In watching this amazing miracle of development, my question turns from "what will he do next" to "what do I do next?!" --What do I do to support his development, particularly his emotional development, assuming that most of the other areas will take care of themselves through play and experience. How do I parent him in such a way that he grows into a little boy, a teenager, and an adult who feels good about himself and the world around him? Are there things I can do now that will help my son grow up to be a nice person?
The question is....what is the question?
From such broad parenting hopes, I turn back to academics and science. I see research as a way to explore, to determine what has already been discovered, summarize it, synthesize it, and learn something new. The hope of research of course is to come to discover the "truth" about something. Research can help us learn about the world around us, and it can guide us to make decisions, to improve how we do things, and to understand each other and the world a little better.
Research is about answering a question. My burning question is how can I be the best mother I can be. How do I raise my son to be a loving, kind, "successful" person? I have poured over websites, read a dozen or so books (and counting), and have come to realize a few key things about parenting that I want to put down in writing. Consider it a parent work in progress. Over the coming months I want to review some of the key parenting philosophies out there, what they stand for, what they may be missing, and what I am taking from each philosophy as I grow in this new role as a mom.
There have already been a few common themes throughout each of the books I have read so far. Consider these common threads my manifesto as a mother. My words to live by, and grow by.
So here it is. How I want to approach motherhood:
- Trust my instincts. Reading books is nice (and I love reading books), but we could all do well to put the books down and trust ourselves. If I can trust our instincts about what our son needs, I will be heading in the right direction. In general we seem to have forgotten to pay attention to our instincts, and instead turn to someone else (an "expert") to tell us what is in vogue in terms of how to raise our children, how to dress, and how to be happy.
- Be present. There are so many distractions around me. However, my main job right now is raising my son. The dishes can wait. When I am with my son, I want to be present in the moment. This way I won't miss the ways he is teaching me about the world, and I will get to know him better. By being present I will know and understand him in a way that will allow me to meet his needs and support and guide him from infancy into adulthood.
- You cannot spoil a baby. My job is to make sure that my son knows that the world is a safe and loving place to be. This means comforting him when he's upset, feeding him when he is hungry, and carrying him with me as he explores the world around us. There will be plenty of times in his life that the world will seem cruel, cold, and down-right mean. If we give him a foundation of love and security he will be better prepared to cope with the tougher times.
- Trust my instincts. I said this already, but it is my mantra. Trust myself to know how best to meet my son's needs. Michael Gurian, author of Nurture the Nature, calls the pressure of following a one-size-fits-all approach to raising children "social trends parenting". Social trends parenting is about the 'hottest new thing' in parenting. It denies instinct, and suggests that what I feel is best for my baby may not be 'right'. I am the expert on my son. No author, researcher, or baby expert will ever know my son the way I do. And no one philosophy or approach to parenting will fit me, my son, or my family to a tee. If I am gathering literature on parenthood, I need to use it wisely --take what I need, reflect on how it supports my role, and discard what doesn't feel right.
- Parent deliberately. Trusting my instincts does not mean being unaware and simply heading into motherhood without a game plan. I want to practice cognizant parenting: I want to make conscious decisions about how (and why) I parent the way I do. The author of "The Baby Whisperer" talks about "accidental parenting", the idea that you can slide into patterns of parenting that don't ultimately lead you to where you want to go, but actually lead you in a completely different (and unwanted) direction. I will trust my instincts to know what to do, but will be conscious in my decisions about how to do it.
- Trust my son. Trusting my son means trusting that he will tell me (through crying or body language or words) what he needs. Trust also means assuming that his intentions are good, even if his actions are bothersome --screaming at 4 in the morning is not his way of intentionally making me tired. As a toddler, his tantrums are not an intentional way of making me late for work. It is his way of communicating a need that I just haven't figured out yet. I need not fear becoming a permissive parent if I do what I know is right, and trust that he is his own unique little guy.
- Parent with respect. Respecting my baby means telling him what is going to happen to him, and giving him consistency and predictability. I will respect his 'negative' emotions (anger, frustration) as much as I respect his 'positive' ones. Parenting with respect means learning who my son is, and letting my son become who he will become.
Next Steps --what I plan to do with this blog
In exploring all of these approaches, I will review the books themselves, and hopefully some research articles too. I'll collect some key references, websites, and resources. As well, I'm looking ahead (already!) to childcare and education, and want to learn what options are out there so that I can wisely choose childcare that best fits my son.
A journey into the blog world, and a journey into motherhood. What a wild ride it will be.