Monday, August 20, 2012

Do it your way

As I was looking for something interesting to do with chicken legs I was thawing for supper I came upon some conclusions.  Not having potatoes I couldn’t rightfully make “cooked supper”  (chicken legs and carrots just wouldn’t do).  Not wanting to do rice or noodles (again) I went looking online for a recipe with chicken and evaporated milk.  I don’t know why evaporated milk, that’s just the mood I’m in:  some good old home-cooked Newfie comfort food.  Chicken and dumplings was the main idea that sprang up and I browsed through a few recipes.  I ventured to Canadian Living magazine and typed in my ingredients… Same thing chicken stew/dumplings/pot pie.  Before I did my browsing however I watched a short clip of Mayim Bialik, of “Blossom” and more recently “Big Bang Theory” fame, answering questions about her new book Beyond the Sling: A real life guide to raising confident, loving children the attachment parenting way.  This is how the internet can so easily consume so much of our (my) time because then I started reading a preview of her book on Amazon.

Basically, I could be considered at attachment parent.  I breast-fed on demand well past the age of one, co-slept, carried (though didn’t sling) and on a small level attempted to do the whole Elimination Communication (although not nearly to the degree that Mayim seems to have -- remember I only skimmed the limited pre-view).  She seemed to really emphasize parenting instinctually and insists we all know how to parent by way of instinct.  Is this way of parenting something worth labelling and writing a book to encourage others to try?  Maybe, but I know many wonderful, loving parents who did only some or none of what I did when raising their little ones and they have perfectly normal healthy kids.  Do I agree with or would I do myself everything I see other parents do?  Definitely not.  Honestly, there are days I just shake my head at some people.  However everyone does things differently and this is where I get back to chicken and dumplings.

For me, chicken and dumplings is a no-brainer.  Cook some chicken however you want, add some milk, chicken stock, salt, pepper, onions and whatever veggies you like to a pot and boil it up until the veggies are cooked.  Then find a dumpling recipe (this one you may have to follow more precisely) or use a store-bought biscuit mix, and boom ya gots some Chicken and Dumplings.  But for some people, things need to be more precise.  How much chicken?  How many carrots?  Boiled chicken or baked?  One particular lovely sister-in-law comes to mind when I write this :).

It’s the same way with parenting.  Some people seem to know how to parent instinctually and absorb information naturally as they encounter new circumstances.  Others need to pore over books and find the best “way” for them to parent their children with each issue that comes up.  Some go with the flow while others need routine.  I don’t really know what sleep-training is from sleep-walking but I didn’t really need to find a way to help my babies sleep.  Two of my four children slept through the night at 2 months old and the other two would only wake to feed and go straight back to sleep (usually in my bed).  I have a wonderful friend who had her babies asleep every night at 6 pm probably by some form of sleep training or another or maybe just pure luck!  It wasn’t me to do that; I let my babies nap when they wanted and go to bed when they wanted.  While my friend was enjoying many calm, relaxing evenings, I was (am) sometimes rushing to get my little ones to sleep at 10 pm so I could go to bed!  But that’s fine.  That worked for me and it worked for her and our children still got their needed 10-12 hour sleep.  Many women I know breast-fed and sadly didn’t particularly enjoy it but they did it because that’s what they felt was the best option for their child.  The reasons I found beneficial and ideal  (constant free food supply and therefore frequent need to nurse), some women find tiring and confining.  I may feel a little pity that you didn’t find the joy and satisfaction that I did with nursing but you may feel a little sad for me to always have been “stuck” to my child.  That’s okay.  The point is that we all find a way to parent that is best for us and our children and unless it causes actual physical or emotional harm, what’s the big deal?

I guess what I am trying to say is glean from all the advice you hear and read with an open-mind and take what works for you and your child.  Sometimes I have to check myself not to be too critical or judgemental because what I do now may change drastically in the years to come or with each child because each one is different.  Most importantly don’t allow anyone or any book to cause you to feel shame for how you parent your child.  Notice I didn’t say guilt.  I recently read or heard someone speak about the crucial differences between guilt and shame (I can’t remember who).  You may rightfully feel guilt about some way you have been parenting or one mistake you made in parenting your child.  Guilt can be beneficial to learning, growing and change.  Shame however is entirely different.  Shame produces similar feelings to guilt – disappoint with oneself, embarrassment, and/or regret but feelings are internalized, focussing not on what we did but who we are.  Or in terms of parenting, negative feelings not from what parenting decision we made but who we are as parents.  Shame is often caused by criticism from outside sources- our own parents, our peers, healthcare professionals or as mentioned even books.  You may even be very confident that the choices you are making are the best for you and your child (ie you are not feeling guilt about your decisions) yet you feel so much pressure from these outside sources that it makes you ashamed to freely express the way you parent your child.  Although we may always have to walk on eggshells around certain toxic individuals, never allow those opinions to create in you a pervading sense of shame and inadequacy as a parent.

In some cases, shame is entirely fabricated within oneself.  You may or may not have done something wrong to produce feelings of guilt yet you are overcome with feelings of shame.  In cases of victimization, the wrong was done to you yet you are left feeling like you are the wrong one.  In my case, I felt, what I now recognize as shame, because I did not nurse my first child for as long as I had wished.  For many reasons, the main one being that I had to go back to school the week after he was born, I did not have a good milk supply and by six months he no longer wanted to nurse and I essentially had no milk.  It’s truly amazing and an accomplishment really that I was dedicated enough to nurse him for as long as I did but that did not mitigate the feelings I had.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had somehow let him down by not nursing him for longer.  I know!  Dumb huh?  But these are the types of irrational, unfounded fears that shame creates and we so desperately need to avoid.  I made a deal with myself that I would nurse my second child 6 months beyond the age of one to make up for the 6 months that I missed with my first.  I don’t know if it was nursing my daughter to 18 months or just a maturing of my spirit but the shame eventually receded.

I’m sure there are moments for all of us when we see how other parents do things or we have a controversial conversation in our mom's group or we have a run-in with the in-law’s that make us step back and think twice about what we are doing as parents.  For myself, I avoid reading secular parenting magazines because I find little encouraging information in them.  My elderly neighbour was mistakenly receiving a popular Canadian parenting magazine and she would forward the copies along to me.  It seemed that in every issue there was an article on children with mental illness or some other equally depressing topic.  Rather than find good advice for problems I may have been having with my little ones, I would most often be second-doubting a decision I made or needlessly worrying about my child someday having an anxiety disorder.  I finally threw out all the copies I had and I try to avoid reading them even in the doctor’s office.  I’m not advising to go it alone and never seek advice from other parents or resources but be confident that the job you are doing is good, learn from your mistakes and yes, when you find yourself in a situation which you really don’t know what to do, seek encouraging, life-giving advice from a trusted friend or resource.  Keep up the good job parents!

By the way, this is how my Chicken and Dumplings turned out...

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