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.