Recently I challenged some friends to come up with blog topics for me. My friend Sora suggested this one: how have your opinions about parenting changed since actually becoming a parent?
I have to cast my mind back almost two years to answer this one. I remember feeling very uncertain, especially as the due date got closer. It seemed like there were so many different approaches to parenting. So many books. So many philosophies. How would we know we were making the right decisions, especially in cases where we wouldn’t see the results for literally years?
In many ways, it got easier after the delivery. There were a lot of decisions that became moot, because we went with what felt instinctually right. For example, when to start solids? We just waited until Kiddo started showing interest. The best guideline I’d heard was that when we started feeling guilty about eating “real” food in front of him, that would be the time. As imprecise as that sounds, it turned out to be spot on. One day not long before he turned six months old, he started showing a different kind of interest in the food we were eating, as though he was trying to figure out why we were putting it in our mouths and more importantly, why we weren’t taking it back out. A week or two later we broke out the traditional box of rice cereal, plus some avocado for variety. It was important to me that he be exposed to a variety of food, because I’m a picky eater myself and didn’t want to pass along that habit. But as it turns out, Kiddo loves to eat all kinds of things. Last night he was chowing away on chicken curry; one of the fastest new words I’ve seen him pick up was “couscous.”
There were a few areas where I’d been firm about an idea while incubating the boy and changed my mind afterward. The biggest one was Baby Sign Language. I’d written it off years ago after an incident at a friend’s house. Even when Kiddo was born, I wasn’t planning on trying it. When my mom was visiting a week or two later, we had a conversation in the car about how useful it was for a friend’s family back home, and I found my position softening. A few months later, baby sign language books were on my Christmas list. We only learned about a dozen signs, but I’m sure glad we reversed position on this one. Having a way for Kiddo to tell us he was all done with his food, or that he wanted more, has been a huge help in reducing frustration at the dinner table. We taught him a sign to use when asking for help and it comes up all the time. Just this morning, after he knocked all his toys off the edge of the bathtub, he turned and calmly asked me for help getting them back, rather than whining in frustration. And contrary to some nay-sayers’ belief, studies have found that learning nonverbal signs doesn’t actually delay or interfere with children’s ability to learn spoken language. Thanks, Mom!
One area where I found myself being less open-minded than I’d expected is breastfeeding. Before getting pregnant, I figured formula feeding was just as good as breastfeeding. Once I started reading parenting forums and other collections of opinions I decided breastfeeding was preferable, but that I wouldn’t be upset if we had to supplement. I was unprepared for how much of an emotional impact it would have on me. While Kiddo and I had a good breastfeeding relationship as far as direct feeding went, I struggled when it came to pumping. At work it was difficult for me to produce enough milk for him, and also a challenge to carve out regular time for pumping. At home I often stayed up late at night, trying to get just another half-ounce or so. Around five months, my husband began laying the groundwork for introducing formula, at least while at daycare. I gave lip service to the idea, but still resisted. The day it finally sunk in that I just wasn’t producing the way I needed to, I sat at the kitchen table and cried. In the long run it probably doesn’t matter when we started giving him formula in addition to pumped milk (for the record: seven months) but it was a surprise to me how much stronger my feelings about it were once I was actually doing it.
If I look back even further, before I’d actually considered becoming a parent, I think the biggest change in viewpoint was that I used to think I didn’t want kids because I’d be a terrible parent. I didn’t think I could measure up to my own parents. And heck, I enjoyed sleeping in on weekends and being able to eat whatever and whenever I wanted. I never believed that being a parent would be an easy thing (having a baby brother born just before I turned 16 cured that illusion quickly) and in part, my decision to be childless was born out of wanting to take the easy path. When my husband and I decided to try for kids, it was a big leap of faith for me. Now I honestly do believe it was one of the best changes of mind I’ve ever had.