Ostensibly, I’m all into doing things naturally. I read the books, follow the blogs, join the Facebook groups. I breastfeed and babywear. I’ve got the hippy pants. I tsk judgingly from time to time at people who do otherwise (oh come on, admit it – you do too). But sometimes I’ve gotta admit – it feels anything but natural. I feel like I’m stopping myself all the time, trying to find the “right” response, the healthy way to react, the RIE way. That I’m trying so hard to be chilled that my movements end up jerky, that I’m over-thinking and second-guessing every word I say to Gadi, every move. Every time I offer the breast as comfort, take the stroller instead of the carrier, let him taste a cookie out of my hand. Every time I let him fall asleep on me.
When he was younger it was easier. He stayed in one place, his needs were simpler. All my varied and conflicting sources agreed that there’s no such thing as spoiling a newborn. He just needed me to be there, to tend to his basic needs, to respect him, to love him. And all of that came naturally.
Now, he’s testing. Not in a behavioral, toddler sense – not yet, anyway – but rather he’s trying to understand sequences, cause and effect. If I do this, then this will happen. And that’s fine, it’s great – I just so badly want to do my bit right that it’s doing my head in. And all of my attempts to be natural and mindful and connected and tuned in are somehow colliding with each other. My mind and my heart and my maternal instincts, all pulling me in different ways.
There’s a problem with the word “natural,” or at least the concept. We mean so many different things when we say it – the way humans are “meant” to be, pre-industrial revolution, before medicine, without plastic and screens… But the truth is that natural doesn’t feel natural anymore, not in this day and age. What’s natural is what we’re used to, how we were brought up, what we see around us. Perhaps that’s why everything I do ends up feeling like it’s going against the grain.
I’ve felt it since the beginning of the pregnancy, in some way, shape or form – that I was doing something weird. I’d tell people I was planning a natural birth and they’d look at me like I said I’d decided to birth my (huge) baby out of my left nostril. Exclusively (“only?!”) breastfeeding is somehow seen as subversive behavior, especially past the age of six months, when babies should apparently be eating bucketloads of processed shit sold in tins. And don’t even get me started on Baby Led Weaning. And though these things do feel natural to me – certainly when I think about them and sometimes in practice, too – implementing them can be a bit of an uphill battle.
I was telling my boss a couple of months back about our efforts to get Gadi’s sleep on track, and our deliberations about whether or not to enlist the help of a sleep therapist. About painstaking lists of bed times and wake ups, books and articles, taking turns and careful routines. Her suggestion? “Maybe you just need to go with it.” I was so taken aback – that’s what I thought we were doing. How did I manage to turn laid back and relaxed parenting into something so anal?
I like to think – I hope – that these are just growing pains. That just like anything else, it feels a bit awkward at first and then eventually becomes second nature. And of course, it’s not always like this. When I’m really there, right in the moment connected with Gadi, there’s a perfect flow. When I’m responding rather than reacting – yes – but easily, quickly, naturally. Like Victor Frankl put it:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Deep down, I know the fact that I’m thinking about all of this means I’m being exactly the type of parent I want to be – a mindful, intentional parent. That I’m trying things out, seeing what fits. I also know that it’s when I’m living in the past or the future – going over and over things that happened or trying to plan out the future move by move – that this conflict exists. In the moment, when I’m really present, everything is great.
But in the meantime, it’s hurting my poor tired brain.