If you would’ve asked me a year ago what kind of parent I planned on being (at 8 months pregnant) I would’ve asserted that my husband and I were committed to a more traditional approach. We weren’t interested in “millennial” concepts like participation trophies and co-sleeping. We planned on getting baby on a schedule and fostering a sense of independence. As you can imagine, having “old school” values in this current generation has been quite a journey, but the last 10 months taught me that it’s okay to bend the rules sometimes and open my mind to both sides in order to find my own balance.
In this millennial generation, parenting is definitely more nurturing and child-centered. Our parents had babies to add value to their already existing lives, and now the babies are becoming the parents’ entire lives. I didn’t want to make my life all about my child. It was important to me to be able to maintain a romantic relationship with my husband, still have girl’s nights, run errands with baby, sleep all night, and love my son unconditionally without spoiling him. I was prepared to put in the work to teach what I considered to be valuable life lessons. I knew this would bring criticism, but I felt it would be worth it, and my family would back me up. I would soon learn that there is more than one right way to raise a child. It is possible for parents to be both a nurturing caregiver and a firm mentor without losing their identity outside of parenthood.
As I began to navigate my way through motherhood and make real-time decisions concerning this tiny human I was responsible for, I received so much criticism from every angle. These women, who were incredibly supportive during my pregnancy, were now projecting their opinions onto me, and not supporting my parenting methods. I began to experience the notorious “Mom guilt”.
Sleep was a biggie for me. I knew I couldn’t go an entire year or more as a zombie. I read a few books on sleep training and tons of research backing up the benefits, such as a happier baby who’s able to self-soothe, learns better and socializes better. I was all in. But my mom friends who slept with their babies in their bed with no schedule made me feel like I was being a bit harsh at times and would tell me how they never let their sweet little baby cry. However, when grandma was over and watched me soothe my fussy baby during nap time, she would comment that I was “only teaching him that all he’s gotta do is cry to get Mama to come running!” What was I supposed to do? I felt torn and I had never done this before. I questioned which option was the right one for us, and what wouldn’t mess him up in the long run. I decided to try my own combo and did my best to ignore the rule book, the comments, and the judgy eyes.
Now, looking back it all seems so simple. I gently guided my son into falling asleep on his own, through the night, in his own crib. If he cries I soothe him. If he wakes up too early sometimes, I grab him and put into bed with me and we catch one more hour of sleep together in my bed. I still get the sweetest cuddles, and my husband and I get to keep our sanity and our own bed. I learned it didn’t have to be one extreme or the other.
Also, babies need to eat! Grandma says keep your breasts in your shirt, give that baby a bottle with some yummy formula and at night put rice cereal in it to fill their tummies so they sleep longer! Well, that sounds great and probably worked back then, but rice cereal in the bottle is advised against nowadays. Also, in this generation, everyone is breastfeeding! And they’re doing it everywhere! Even my doctors told me “Breast is Best!” So, again I am faced with the peanut gallery and their opposing views. I knew I at least wanted to try breastfeeding and if it worked out, great, if not, okay too.
Well, luckily it worked out, but I wasn’t about to go whip out my boob in Target like some of my fellow, brave millennial mommies. I decided to start pumping and do a combo of nursing and bottle-feeding breast milk. For me, it has allowed Grandma and Daddy to enjoy feeding the baby as well and give me some much-needed breaks while baby still gets the best nutrients I have to offer. I love nursing and also being able to pump a bottle before heading out for the day and not have to worry about wearing nursing friendly clothing and people staring or having to stop and find a cozy place to feed. Just pop the bottle in and continue on!
At this age though, things have become a bit more complicated with the introduction of solids. Professionals and moms my age are saying to buy only organic produce and puree/prepare it at home, while Grandma says we grew up fine on boxed macaroni and hot dogs starting at 8 months. We are still figuring this one out as we get closer to the one year mark, but so far I’ve done my best to instill healthy eating habits by preparing most of my son’s food at home with quality ingredients, and ordering the occasional grilled cheese while out to eat. It’s all about finding that happy medium!
I still struggle with telling my elders and peers that while I value their opinion and appreciate all of their help, they need to respect my decisions, my boundaries and be supportive no matter what.
Some days I feel like wearing my baby in the carrier and keeping him close to me, even though critics say that’s smothering him and can delay walking. Other days, I let him explore the world with all of his curiosity, even though critics say too much freedom will spoil him. Another battle is trying to figure out when it’s appropriate to give your child what they want versus giving them what they need, especially because it changes day to day. Sometimes what they need is not the easiest choice, and you may just have to let them have a good cry for a minute or two and allow them to release some emotion and energy before they are able to be soothed, but who wants all those dirty looks? As long as the baby’s safety is not in question, it’s none of their business. I don’t enjoy seeing my baby cry, but am I going to take the easy way out and give him a lollipop just so he stops? No. I need to help him work through his emotions because I see value in him learning how to deal with them.
As an adult, I’m still learning to manage my own new emotions, because some days I feel guilty for keeping my son at home and hear my Grandmother’s voice in the back of my head telling me not to shelter him, get him out and about and socialize him so he learns to behave in public and builds up his immunity. Other days I find comfort in the reassurance of my mom friends who stay at home with their kids as well and can relate to the struggle of leaving the house with a baby. And then a busy week goes by and it shifts. I then feel guilty for bringing him on the go too much. It’s all about balance. Some days (or weeks) you leave the house, some you don’t.
Just like some vacations, you take with your children, some you don’t. Many of my mom friends couldn’t fathom leaving their child overnight, but grandmas in my family are begging us to leave the baby with them and take off for someone on one adult time. While it’s extremely difficult to leave your baby under someone else’s care, it makes me feel kind of proud to know that he can temporarily find comfort in someone else’s arms and let mommy and daddy catch a break and enjoy each other’s company. It keeps my baby versatile and able to adapt to new and different situations.
I relate strongly to both sides of the generational gap, and at the end of that day, I just have to do what feels right for me. I’m still learning as I go, just like any new mom, and I’m sure I will always face criticism from my peers, my elders, or both. In some ways, I feel like I have abandoned my traditional values, and honestly feel like I’ve gotten a lot more criticism from the older generation than I initially expected. In hindsight, I guess I should have seen that coming when I was pregnant and the in-laws said things like “When we were pregnant we smoked and drank and there was no such thing as prenatal vitamins!” A lot has changed and will continue to change, but one thing that will always stay the same is the fact that a mother’s love comes in many different forms and there is no one size fits all approach. Only you know what’s best for your baby.
I have found that parents either want to give their children the exact same childhood they had because it was so amazing, or they do the exact opposite and want to give their kids the childhood they never got to experience with more toys, more hugs or just more stability. With new technology, research and opinions every day it’s difficult to navigate through all of this, but it’s important to not get caught up in labels like “helicopter mom”, “crunchy mom”,” lighthouse mom” or being so extreme. It’s also important to recognize and accept that you will never be able to please everyone. I’m here to say there’s validity to any parenting style and if you want to take one page out of every book, then do it. The biggest hurdle is overcoming that inevitable judgment and guilt. There’s nothing more fulfilling than knowing in your heart that you’re doing what you feel is right for you and your family, and trusting your own gut, because after all, Mama knows best!
Published by Kaitlyn Pattock
Edited by Brittany Priore