We are given a lot of advice when the first kid comes along. Some of it is helpful, some of it is not. Mostly we just try to trust our gut and not screw up this first, giant experiment.
The first year with Waylon we did a lot of Dr. Sears, trust-your-gut, attachment, no-cry, sleep-in-the-same-bed, millennial kind of parenting. It was difficult but it was good. Good and messy and wonderfully bonding. I do not regret it.
Then the second baby came along and this weird thing happened where past experience was supposed to help, but instead everything was fuzzy and I could not remember what to do for diaper rash.
We are told over and over again to trust our instincts, but there are times when you stare at a three-month old baby who hasn’t napped for more than 20 minutes in three days and good ol’ Mrs. Instinct says nothing. She is mum, she is silent, she is totally gone.
That is when you know it’s time to spiral down the path of most resistance–The Google. The Google has a lot of things to tell you about parenting. For example: 1) Your child has a brain tumor 2) Your child has a concussion or 3) Your child has a life threatening bone cancer.
There are also a lot of opinions on The Google. Like don’t sleep train. Do sleep train. Vaccinate your kids. Don’t vaccinate your kids. Definitely or definitely do not circumcise/co-sleep/bottlefeed/put the elf on the freaking shelf.
Books and humans are no better, no worse. Everything in parenting comes with mixed reviews and a list of side effects lasting until college (unless you don’t sleep train, then your kid isn’t going to college).
It is exhausting.
There is an old latin proverb that says if you sleep train a 3-month-old and potty train a 2-year-old in the same week you will die.
I took a chance anyway a few weeks ago and set aside everything to focus on getting one kid to poop in a plastic bowl and the other to sleep for more than 30 minutes. It was as glamorous as it sounds.
At first it all went very smoothly. Naps were extended and M&Ms were dispensed with copious amounts of praise. I thought, “Look at me! I am doing it! I trusted my instincts and my children are little drunk miracles!”
The whole thing was very tragic. I forgot in my parenting glory the rule that the moment you get cocky about sleep training or potty training or any parenting is the exact moment your toddler will shit on the floor and your baby will stop sleeping all together.
It was sad but inevitable. I tried to act natural but panicked in the eleventh hour and started binge reading books and websites on how to properly parent. I emailed my friends, texted my neighbors, called my aunt up on the phone and cried: MY KID IS SCARED OF POOPING. I read four sleep books cover to cover in 48 hours.
Here is what I learned: It is good to listen. It is good to email your cousin and read parenting books and post on mommy forums and cut out little write-ups in Reader’s Digest. It is good to hear all the information we can humanly handle before we take a deep breath and let it go. Let go of all that parenting jargon about don’t you dare and if you do so we can get down to the real and important work of actually parenting. Because when we let it go, the important things always remain. Instinct takes over and is gently helped along by the words we were supposed to hear.
A few days ago while I was putting my baby down for a nap, the phrase, “Act as if you expect your child to sleep” buzzed in my brain. I have no idea where I read it, but it stuck and I repeated it to myself as I stared at my four month old squirming in her bed. I did not expect her to fall asleep, but I could pretend. And so I patted her back one more time and left the room. She fell asleep within minutes. Sometimes babies, my baby, just needs a little space.
As we continue to grow as parents, our instincts sharpen–but so does our knowledge. Experience is most of it, but sometimes Google helps too. It’s all a big, messy mix.
In gut we trust. Amen.