On the question of whether or not to abuse a child, I have a definite answer: NO. But as for the scores of other decisions that parents make every day—whether to breastfeed or bottle feed, use cloth diapers or disposable, go to work or stay home—I believe that for the most part, it’s all okay.
In this time of much-hyped “mommy wars,” I believe in acknowledging that most parents love their kids, and try hard to make good decisions in raising them. It wouldn’t hurt us, as parents, to be more encouraging and less critical of one another, and ourselves.
It’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way, beginning when my son was born. You see, before I actually did it, I thought there was a “right” way to give birth. I was convinced that a vaginal, drug-free delivery would give a baby the best start in life, and I’m still all for it, when it works. But my son was stuck sideways in my womb, and after laboring for 56 grueling hours at home with a midwife, I realized that if I continued pursuing my inflexible birth plan, my baby boy and I could both wind up dead. I went to the hospital, where I was relieved and grateful to give birth by cesarean. Since then, parenthood has continued to confound my expectations, and make me unlearn things I thought I knew.
Here’s another example: In the past, I always squirmed a little bit whenever I saw a walking, talking toddler who was still breastfeeding. I couldn’t imagine how a mom could go that long without weaning. Not, that is, until I was so overwhelmed by post-partum depression that breastfeeding became the only thing I could consistently do “right” for my own son. It provided, for both of us, some much-needed closeness and comfort, and I was reluctant to give it up. So that’s how it happened one day that my son walked up to me in public, shortly before his second birthday, to lift my shirt high, and stand there like a little calf, nursing away.
I’ve learned to hold my parenting philosophies lightly, aware that at any time, a new experience or insight could upend them. Often these days, I’m “winging it” as a mom-a little of this approach and a little of that, because any of it could be right, or wrong. But here’s the thing: the fewer my opinions, the greater my options. I treat my son’s illnesses with homeopathic remedies, and antibiotics. Sometimes I can be at home with him during the day, and sometimes he goes to daycare while I work. It’s a funny mix, but so far, it seems to be working. Like most parents—whether they’re on one side of the fence or the other, or wandering around in the gray area—I am doing the best I can. And you know what? The gray area works for me. I believe in it. I think I’ll stay.
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