Tuesday, January 23, 2007

More Flexible, More Firm

NotSoSage left a comment on my last post that really got me thinking:

I am constantly torn by my belief that "it takes a village" to raise a child and my feeling of (for lack of a better word) ownership over how she is raised. I might feel a lot less of the ownership if I felt that people in our families agreed with and respected the way we were raising her, but I digress... Parents really do fare better with help and having a break now and then, but it's hard to balance that with allowing people with such different beliefs and values to have a hand in your child's development.
Are you reading my mind, NotSoSage? [note! I'm not reading NSS's mind, and whatever I write below is all about my neuroses and not a commentary on her commentary!] I've been formulating a post about this in my head for a while now, since Christmas, actually, because it was at Christmas time that our little universe of three was both penetrated by extended family on the homefront, and thrust into family on the road. Both cases made very clear to me the dilemma this comment expresses.

On the one hand, I'm very new to parenting. My baby is seven months old. Obviously, my own parents, Pynchon's parents, and pretty much everyone on earth has more experience with babies than we do. On the other hand, I am the world's foremost expert in Miss Baby. No one has spent more time with her than I have. No one is more attuned to her rhythms or her quirks.

The problem is that I need help from whoever is kind enough to offer it, but at the same time, I want to direct that help to do things my way, advice not always followed or even really respected. Ultimately, I think sometimes that's okay. But sometimes it's not.

Here are a couple of examples. As you know from my last post, Miss Baby is not a good car traveller. If you time it perfectly (ie, after 2-2.5 hours of wakefulness), she will nap for about 40 minutes in the car, without yelling too long before falling asleep. So that means we have to leave the house at a particular time, then leave our destination again within 2.5 hours of arriving. Otherwise, believe me, all hell broke loose. So I arranged a visit to my grandparents, with my parents who were already here visiting; Mom and Dad were on board with the schedule, and I clearly laid out for my parents that we would arrive for lunch, and then have to leave again within 2.5 hours. I tried to make it as convenient as possible for everyone, because I know it's a pain to be hostage to a baby like this. Still, after our 2.5 hours were up, and Miss Baby was squirmy and angry and yawning and whining and rubbing her eyes, Grandma tells me I'm spoiling her and she doesn't need a nap, and there's no need for us to leave. She pours more tea. I insist we really must be going. She tells me she doesn't mind a little crying. Mom and Dad look uncomfortable as I still politely insist that, as per the plan, we need to go home, because the baby is clearly exhausted and melting down. We leave about 30 minutes too late, and Miss Baby lets loose a major fit in the car in the driveway because Grandma will still not let us get away. She ultimately screams her head off for about 20 minutes, before having a 20 minute nap.

Here's Miss Baby after my sister free-styled naptime one afternoon when she came by to let Pynchon and I go to a movie: Miss Baby started off with her head to the left and feet to the right. She should be tightly swaddled, and, well, asleep. But my sister figured I was too precise and controlling in my instructions and winged it. No nap, but no real harm done here. Still, wouldn't it be easier if she had listened to me? I see that I'm sounding whiny and controlling, but there's lots I'm willing to let go: at our dinner party, that same sister was fingertip-feeding Miss Baby some berry pie filling, even though we really don't want to be introducing sugar and junk into Miss Baby's diet. But it's berry pie filling, and it's a dinner party. Beh. Let it go.

The good news is, that in a lot of ways, becoming a mother has really forced me to relax: relax my standards for myself, and consequently and empathetically, relax them for others as well. I am happy to get some sort of balance in my life, to go with the flow, to aim for 'good enough' rather than, as before, 'enviable.' Competimommy I am not. My baby is nearly eight months old and doesn't sit up by herself--I'm sure she'll get there eventually and in her own time. The sheets on the guest bed need washing--I'm sure it'll get done before the next set of guests arrive. In short, I am more flexible.

However, becoming the mother, as one does, of a newborn infant, I have also become more firm. No, you cannot hold the baby if you've been smoking. Yes, I must insist that we head home now because baby is tired. No, do not give her that soother. Yes, she is just fine on a breastmilk-only diet.

This is a strange co-incidence: a laissez-faire attitude toward much of what really only might bother me, and a strong enforcement of boundaries and rules with respect to what happens to or near Miss Baby. I'm still trying to balance my recognition of the wide variety of experiences that life--and her extended family--will spring on Miss Baby against my hard-won knowledge of what will make the screaming stop, what will put the baby to sleep, what I believe to be her needs. I'm trying, also, to balance my innate control-freak nature against the good will of people who do things differently from me. And again, my sense that how we care for our baby is consequential on a day to day basis with my recognition that she's preverbal and that these incidents are short and infrequent.

I just wanna be a good mommy without being a bitch about it.

Prunes? I wanted pie.


Beck said...

Oh, I have been there. My in-laws still think I'm nuts because I insisted that everyone who held my newborns scrub up first. It doesn't get a whole lot better, I must warn you.
There IS the fact that other people will have knowledge that will help, and that sometimes mothers may be making their own lives much harder than they need to be, but how does one accept other people knowledge without violating the boundaries of their own authority? I don't know.

NotSoSage said...

Well, we may not be reading each other's mind, but you certainly have written a post pretty much summing up much of what I've felt ever since having Mme LaBrune.

Yes, motherhood has made me reevaluate some long-held beliefs but also made me firmer in others. And, as Beck says, it doesn't really get better.

I have in-laws who constantly, jokingly, refer to Joe as a f@g because they consider him artsy (this is not reappropriation; these are very straight, very white bread types and his own family). While both Joe and I want them to be a part of Mme LaBrune's life I am so offended by the language they use (and the sentiment behind it). When we've tried to discuss this with them they laugh it off and we're told that we're being too sensitive. It makes me sick to think that Mme LaBrune might somehow get the impression that this is appropriate.

That's probably one of the more extreme examples, but it's very telling of the kind of tug-of-war I feel every time I drop her off or invite them into our home.

Yikes...as you can probably imagine, I could go on, but I'll just bookmark all I have to say in my brain for a future post.

nomotherearth said...

Wow. We had the EXACT same issues with visits and car naps. Exactly! It's eerie. After some uncomfortable situations, we began just leaving no matter what anyone insisted. I'm pretty sure they said some interesting things about us after we left, but I don't care. Much. I'd rather have a happy, well-rested baby.

People finally accepted the sleep rules (I think), and have moved on to other issues. They insist on giving the Boy juice and candy. Both of which I am trying to avoid, except for special occasions. Really - would YOU give a 2-yr old a chocolate maltball the size of a gobstopper?! I'm still mad about that one.

Mad Hatter said...

I'm sorry to hear all this. My sisters have only ever been great with my daughter but they have both worked in child care for years and years. No one else comes close enough to Miss M to worry.

I did have an issue with all the people who kept insisting they be able to hold my baby when she was so clearly going through profound stranger anxiety. It was hard to say: "I know you are her uncle and the you will only see her once as a baby b/c we live at the opposite end of the country BUT I must insist hands off b/c I know it will end in tears all around."

cinnamon gurl said...

Wow, are you reading MY mind? These are all things coming up for me too. So true about the tension between new flexibility and new rigidity too. Great post!

Alpha Dogma said...

I was just bitching about this very thing to a girlfriend today.

Our family members seem to cast themselves into this role of "The Fun Relation Who Mocks Mom's Arbitrary Rules Thereby Securing the Child's Love While Simultaneously Reinforcing the Mother's Inadequacies." It manifests itself in the sneaking of candy, the giving of gifts, the encouragement to misbehaviour in a manner completely contradictory to the values held by the mother.

It is so disrespectful. So unoriginal. So...insulting. These will be the first person to condemn me if the boys are unruly teenagers, but the last to make a causal connection.

...okay, it felt really really good to type all that.

bubandpie said...

I keep meaning to come back here and comment on how this post just sucked me in. There I was, thinking, "Oh, you just have to go with the flow - everybody has their own style of interacting with the baby..." and then, suddenly HOLD UP. SOMEBODY IS MESSING with the baby's NAPS???

That is, of course, the true meaning of the term "unforgivable sin". The dogma of the nap schedule must not be questioned.

ewe are here said...

Ahh. Family members can be the worst because they think your knowledge and rules don't apply to them.

We faced a few of these problems early on; luckily (or too bad for them) I made my feelings verrrry clear about any proposed deviations re what I knew was best for MF in his first year. If my parents-in-law wanted us to show up for Sunday dinner, it had to be a 5:30 start; not their desired 7:00 or 7:30. Period. Guess what; they adjusted. Same with food sampling. Any food tastes had to be approved by me or G, because we held off giving MF sugar and sweets and chips and fries for a very long time and intended to keep it that way. (In fact, today was the second time he's ever had a french fry, and he's 20 months old!)

ewe are here said...

By the way....

LOVE the picture of Ms Pruny Face! Her expression is priceless! ;-)