Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Dear me: Nothing will go the way you've planned

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Welcome to the June 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Talking to Yourself

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written letters to themselves. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Dear Lauren of 2007,

You have a new baby, and though he is indecently large, you know in your heart that everyone wishes their baby could be so impressive. You know precisely how you're going to parent, and it's going to be the right way. Enjoy feeling sure of everything you believe. Enjoy feeling just the teensiest bit smug, in fact.

Because eight years later, you'll know the truth: You don't get to decide what happens.

I'm not trying to scare you, just give you the honest news. Parenting is not a vending machine where you pay in your money, make your selections, and trust to the technology to drop what you desire at your feet. Or maybe it is like a vending machine, but one of those janky ones that keeps spitting your dollar bill back at you and for some reason won't take your nickel — even though it's a perfectly good nickel!! — and once you get the indifferent keys to respond to your request, it turns, turns, turns the spiral and then … your prize hangs. Just there, in your sight, but behind immutable glass.

Maybe I am trying to scare you.

You should have guessed from the birth that not everything you wish for comes true. You wanted a perfect, peaceful home birth, and you got a transfer to a chaotic hospital and nurses talking at you and chastising you for messing up their monitors with your labor thrashing.

Still and all, the first baby goes all right … at first. You're so dedicated, you see. You're so sure that you've got it figured out, and that feels really nice, so I do want you to enjoy it. Since it won't last.

You'll breastfeed easily, which makes it easy to assume that such is or would be the case for anyone. You'll do elimination communication, because you have all the time and attention in the world. You cloth diaper. You do sign language. You take your child to all the cultural venues you can smuggle a baby and young child into.

It's nice when there's just one, isn't it? Yeah, hold on to that. Until you can't.

The second will come along, and then a third. Three?! I hear you say, shocked. Yup, three. I know you didn't know you wanted three, but you have 'em.

And two main things collide with all your lofty parenting goals:

(1) Having more than one child automatically means having less energy per child. You love them all. You love them all to pieces. But that doesn't mean you can dedicate untold hours to each one each day. There just aren't enough of those.

(2) Your children are people. You knew that going in, right? But you sort of think of Parent as not just a descriptive title but some sort of marker of power. You have no power over who these people are. Your oldest — with his indomitable, obstinate, delightful spirit — will teach you that in spades.

These two items together are what I like to call "reality."

And reality means that you do what you can, and you cut corners where you must. Your children will not live up to your pre-parent expectations, even and perhaps especially the superficial ones.

For instance, no one so far has learned to read early. You didn't even know that was something you were expecting until you realize your hopes have been dashed.

You manage EC with lazier and lazier aptitude with each successive child. And ECing your first didn't mean avoiding potty issues that persisted for years.

You have honest-to-goodness physical trouble babywearing your youngest child, because he is big like his biggest brother and, also, you're old. So you use a stroller more with him, and you cringe to think what the you of eight years ago (you! the one I'm writing to!) would snidely assume about the you of today.

You wish your kids ate nothing but organic salads, and … such is not the case. You were sure you wouldn't have a picky eater because you were doing baby-led solids, and anyone who had a picky eater just wasn't doing it right, and that is why you were given your oldest child — to teach you not to be such a Judgy McJudgerson. He will eat nothing but white foods for years. He will thrive on them.

You thought you were going to love tandem nursing, and you didn't. So you weaned your second during the pregnancy with the third, and you don't even regret it.

You dreamed of having a minimalist home with a single basket of fair-trade, wooden, gender-neutral toys. There is instead a clutter of plastic, battery-operated weaponry scattered about. Though also My Little Ponys, so there's that.

You love music and always have, so why did trying to teach one measly piano song to your kids — "Heart and Soul," for crying out loud — end in tears for everyone?

There's more, but I don't want to break your spirit. You'll need it to get through the next eight years.

So, to bolster you up after all that bad news, here's the good:

You do manage to breastfeed each baby, and you give them each as long as they need if not maybe quite as long as they want.

You are still doing things that might make you seem like a crunchy, hippie supermom: cloth diapering, babywearing when your beleaguered pelvis can take it, homeschooling, cosleeping, and more. So if you need to pat yourself on the back, you can find something that reassures you you haven't given up all your dreams.

But, more importantly, you've learned that it's ok. It's ok that your children are people. It's ok that they have minds and desires and plans of their own.

Maybe they'll grow up not liking vegetables. Their friends will think that's weird. That's on your children, and they can choose to change that if they want.

They'll learn to read eventually. Mikko has now, and here you were kinda worried. See? Just wait longer.

They will all learn to use the potty. Some day, heaven willing, they will all learn to wipe themselves. Fear not, and let the EC guilt go.

If there are things you still dream when you become the me of now, then continue to pursue them. Even if your dreams are dashed, it wasn't stupid to hold them dear for a time. No time spent nurturing and living among these other young humans is time wasted.

I don't care now if you, the me of eight years ago, would turn your nose up at the me of now, the mother who's so far spent eight years in the trenches and has figured out how best to parent the children she has instead of some ideal children in her head or in a book. And, honestly, I don't think you're even that rude, me-of-the-past, but I need to declare it.

There are no pat endings, there are no perfect mothers, and there are no rules to follow when it comes to parenting.

There is just the day-in-day-out of relationship, connection, and growth, and you'll do that, as I am still.

Enjoy these wild, weary, transcendent years of having young children. Not everything will go as planned. And you'll love it.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • Dear Me. — Meegs at A New Day writes to her decade-younger self offering a good reminder of how far she's come, and she addresses some fears she wishes future her could assuage.
  • Reflecting on Motherhood with Parental Intelligence: A Letter to Myself — Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. at Parental Intelligence writes about raising her two loving, empathic sons with Parental Intelligence and finding they have become industrious, accomplished young men with warm social relationships.
  • A Letter to MyselfThe Barefoot Mama writes to herself in the moments around the birth of her daughter.
  • A Letter to Myself — Holly at Leaves of Lavender offers a missive to herself in the past... three years in the past, to be precise, when her little one was only four months old.
  • Dear me: Nothing will go the way you've planned — Lauren at Hobo Mama gets real with her just-starting-parenting self and tells it to her straight.
  • A Letter to the Mama Whom I Will Become — Erin from And Now, for Something Completely Different writes a letter to the Mama whom she will one day be, filled with musings on the past, present, and future.
  • Dear Me of 7 Years Ago — Lactating Girl at The Adventures of Lactating Girl writes to her pre-baby self telling her about the whirlwind she's about to enter called parenting.
  • Talking to My 18 Year Old SelfHannahandHorn talks to herself as she is just entering college.
  • Dear highly sensitive soulMarija Smits tells a younger version of herself that motherhood will bring unexpected benefits - one of them being the realization that she is a highly sensitive person.
  • Talking to myself: Dear Pre StoneageparentStoneageparent enlightens her pre-pregnant self about the amazing transformations life has in store for her after having two children
  • Dear Me: I love you. — Dionna at Code Name: Mama wrote herself a few little reminders to help her be at peace with who she is in the moment. That may give her the greatest chance of being at peace in the future, too.
  • My best advice to the new mama I was 8 years ago — Tat at Mum in Search shares the one thing she wishes she'd figured out earlier in a letter to her 8-years-ago self (that's when her first baby was 6 moths old).
  • A Letter to Myself — Bibi at The Conscious Doer sends a letter back in time eight years to her darkest moment post partum.
  • To me, with love — Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama makes peace with her past and projects what a future her will need to hear.
  • To Myself on the Last Day — Rachael at The Variegated Life tells her panicked last-day-before-motherhood self not to worry.


stoneageparent said...

Thanks for sharing your pre babyhood thoughts, I found it an interesting read, especially in regard to Ec, tandem nursing and the less time we have with each subsequent child, all of which I can totally relate to. I found it a really useful exercise to write to my pre pregnant self too, as a form of reflection and to take stock of all I have achieved in the past five years, just like you have (in 8). Thanks again for sharing. Stoneageparent.

Meegs said...

This is great. I always said, I was the perfect parent... until I had a baby! :-) Its not everything we though, but its even better in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

"There are no pat endings, there are no perfect mothers, and there are no rules to follow when it comes to parenting.

There is just the day-in-day-out of relationship, connection, and growth, and you'll do that, as I am still."

YES! to that Lauren. What a beautiful phrase: "There is just the day-in-dayout of relationship, connection, and growth..."

And I totally hear you about the challenge of going from mothering one to mothering more... some things simply have to be let go of.

Thank you for sharing your letter to yourself. :-)

Holly Scudero said...

So very true! We all have such lofty ambitions before our kids are born, don't we? So far, I've succeeded for the most part with most of mine... but I currently only have one. If a second baby is indeed in our future, I'm sure some things will go by the wayside, too.

Thanks for sharing this letter! I'm sure I'm not the only reader who sees herself in it.

Inder-ific said...

Hahahahahahaha!! I love it! I was just having a conversation with a friend (we both have two kids) about our kids - my first child was challenging by any definition and very humbling, my second one is a bit more ... er, okay, let's be honest, neurotypical ... and it has really relaxed me as a parent to really see IT WASN'T ME. It wasn't something I did. My kids are just different people. Different than each other, different than me.

Having been so challenged, so deeply humbled, I am enjoying being a mother much more now. It's really quite freeing. Of course we parents do have a huge impact on our children and how comfortable and loved they feel, but we don't have much to do with WHO they are, or their basic personalities. I still believe in breastfeeding and attachment parenting but I no longer expect those things to result in some socratic ideal of the well-adjusted and attached and super-well-behaved and empathetic child. And thank goodness, right? What was I EVEN THINKING? Haha.

Anonymous said...

I love this! We can never live up to all of our ideals because we are humans parenting other little humans. Thank you for such an honest post.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I can relate to so much of this, as I think many of us can. And that one sentence up there about as the number of kids go up, the less time we can spend with them - as much as I want more kids, I'm already feeling overwhelmed with two. I'm not sure I can survive more :( Maybe it's the introvert in me?

Rachael said...

“There is just the day-in-day-out of relationship . . .” which this evening for me meant the seemingly endless meltdown of the unnapped 3yo. But it did end — with cuddling on his bed and (for him) sweet sleep.

And what will tomorrow bring? Who knows . . .

Prof. Hannah said...

My harsh reality wasn't being able to breastfed as I wanted to - I felt such incredible guilt about it even though I have an incredible son who is no worse for wear but man, that was a quick jump to reallity.

Karen du Toit said...

Amen to this! We all had to come crashing down to reality! ;-)
Great post, Lauren

Tat said...

Isn't it true that what we imagine parenting will be like is never what it actually is. And it's much more fun that way. And more frustrating,too, but that's the way we grow.

Jessica said...

I'm so grateful to hear the gritty reality! Thank you for sharing. It was sad for me to acknowledge that I was not up for a third in body, mind or spirit, esp when I see other people do it. But I just know my reserves are limited so it helps to hear you didn't just magically clone yourself a second time when #3 showed up!

It's so funny about the reading. I never planned to homeschool but did like that my son was in Waldorf for three years and went to public school not even knowing all his letters. Then I put his sister in public Montessori at his same school when she was three, and at 4.5 she was already reading about as well as he was at 6. It's kind of fun on one hand (I was an English teacher, after all!), but I honestly wish she could have stayed in that bubble of imaginative play more and wasn't already so worldly at such a young age. But I also know I could not have stayed home with her for a lot longer or managed the two-school shuffle without serious consequences to my health.

Jennifer McMillin said...

Aint that the truth! Well said mama!

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