Thursday, October 15, 2009

Parenting is Hard!!

We had a very tough day here. We have actually had several tough days lately. Parenting is hard, no matter what style you practice. This is not specifically a "Why Do I" post, but it will discuss Attachment Parenting, just as an FYI.

Parenting is hard in America, emotionally and mentally, no matter what - if you care about your kids, that is just a reality, it seems. Being concerned for their well-being and how you are raising them is going to make you emotionally and mentally drained at times. It can also be physically exhausting, and even more so for an AP parent who may not sleep through the night for a few years per child! For a breastfeeding AP mom, handing the baby off with a bottle to somebody else isn't usually in the game plan. Leaving the baby alone all night (regardless of whether he's sleeping or screaming) once he reaches a certain age isn't usually in the agenda either. Ignoring the child while she talks on the phone, putting the child in daycare as soon as possible, and over-using baby entertainment devices (swings, bouncies, Baby Einstein videos...) isn't something the AP mom typically includes in her parenting practices. The AP mother is giving of herself- of her physical body - just about 24/7. Her constant availability can be physically exhausting!

Before I go on, I will say - it is still worth it! I don't want to make it sound like it is not. I know there are a few future moms who read here who are interested in AP, and I do not want to scare you, but I do want to share the reality... it is a lot of work. But all parenting is hard work, and at the end of the day, no matter how tired, I am glad I didn't leave my baby crying alone (not talking about walking away for a composure-regaining break - I mean leaving them indefinitely or as a plan to control their sleep or dependence), I am glad I didn't throw in the towel and send my husband to the store for bottles and formula when breastfeeding was tough, I am glad I attempted to control myself and didn't spank my preschooler, etc. I parent this way not because it is easier, but because I believe in it. I believe in the gentle example and how it can affect my children when they see gentleness and sensitivity to their needs, which are so many in their early, most dependent years.

Parenting is really hard for Americans because we go it alone in many ways. Families who live next door to the grandparents are smart, not lazy, immature, or any other negative thing! The community help and support, day to day, would be such a positive thing! It doesn't happen as much now and in our culture... my best friend in high school grew up living next door to her grandmother. How cool would that be, to be able to go play over there any time, to help her out with tasks around her home as an older child, to have her over helping out with meal preparation and other work in the home?

It seems like the main ways parents are supported in their parenting today are 1. by "schools" (I put this in quotation marks because it is not school for a baby or one or two year old! It is daycare!) and 2. other forms of child care and help with children. This would include anything from babysitting to the people who want to just come over and hold the new baby for the mom (rather than bringing them a meal). It also includes the modern-day phenomenon of grandparents raising their grandchildren rather than the above example, being a part of their daily lives alongside the actual parents. This doesn't offer much help for attachment parents who want to minimize separations with their babies! I assume it is helpful to parents who need to work, of course. So, if parenting is so hard, and if the help of a community would be helpful, yet today's community of outside child care is not what the parents feel is best, then what would be helpful to them?

Help within the home! Rather than offers of, "Why don't I keep the baby so you can get away for a couple days?" how about, "Why don't I come over and help you prepare a few meals for the next few days/for the freezer?" This is how it used to be: the community was made up of people who live together and work together - the kids all played together while the adults worked together, and the kids would help out here and there and gradually learn about all the day-to-day tasks just by being immersed in the community life... not by being sent off for other-care. When there are many children of varying ages around, and many moms all having cooking and cleaning to be done, then what an ideal situation! We get cabin fever because we live alone, and we complete our household tasks alone, and our children play alone, or with a few siblings. We crave variety because we don't have the contact with a larger group of people regularly. So we send our children to numerous activities of their own and try to find our own separate activities as adults, abandoning the home, the heart of family life. Our children grow up without a large group of other children around them, living with them daily, and instead we end up with children who cannot share a TV, a bedroom, a bathroom, a backseat in the family minivan... all this larger living space with fewer people to fill it up, fewer chances to learn how to compromise and just live together with other people. And we wonder why the rates of divorce are so high - people don't know how to live with each other! (Not saying this is the only reason, of course)

So, the old phrase of "it takes a village" with its old meaning of a literal village, a community of people living and working together, has taken on the Hilary Clinton meaning - the global "village," the institutions, the schools, the government. Not exactly a tight-knit group made up of your nearest and dearest friends and extended family members, huh? ;)

So, I have a hypothesis that AP parents do need help - but since they don't need the "typical" parenting help, they appear as if they don't need help at all. "Well, they turned down our offer to babysit, so they must be doing okay." This would apply to homeschooling families especially - I know I have read some blogs of homeschooling moms and thought, "Wow! They are really doing it all, they have it all together - they don't need any help, how do they do it?" Truthfully, I am sure they could also use some help! They just don't blog about the fact that they have 10 loads of laundry waiting to be folded and another six to be washed, that their children were horribly grumpy and uncooperative with their schoolwork and that's why there were those beautiful photos of them playing outside, etc. They like to blog about the happy things in their lives - just like I used to scrapbook. I didn't take photos of my kids throwing tantrums or my overflowing closets or my dirty kitchen... and so I usually don't blog about those things either. Doesn't mean they don't happen! ;) I think the tendency is for people to think that if somebody homeschools, then they don't need help because surely they must have decided that they had plenty of time to homeschool and that's why they chose to do it. I think people choose to practice AP and/or homeschool because they feel that it is right for their family, for their children, and not because they feel so well-equipped to do it all! It is a sacrifice, and it is something that presents difficulties in doing alone. We don't do it because we think we're going to be so awesome at it - we do it while praying for God to provide the grace and the strength and the resolve we will need!

I am also sure that many parents might actually come across as not wanting help - regardless of parenting style. It is typical of us to try to be independent because we think we are supposed to. But especially an AP parent, to somebody who is questioning of AP- they might look at it as the parent being "holier than thou" and not wanting help. The truth is that while they don't generally want help with the baby - as in childcare - they do usually welcome help of other types, like helping with the children alongside the parents, and help with meals and housework. The children in communities where the adults work together in the homes daily usually bond with these other adults more easily too, since they are always around them... also easing the work of the parents.

How do we recreate this old-fashioned idea and gain this community if we want to do so? What if we don't live near extended family and they aren't able to come help us out? What if everyone on our street is working all day, and their kids are all grown up and gone? It is hard!

This article that I read awhile back inspired me to try to do something to capture just a bit of this community atmosphere. It is a very good article - read it if you have the chance! I got to thinking about it, and I am hoping to start this up with a few friends here in my town. The plan is to hopefully get together once a week, rotating to a different house each time. It is not so we can have a "playgroup" - it is so our kids can play and learn together while we moms help each other out! Maybe one week we will clean out the fridge in one house, help prepare dinner in another house the next week, and perhaps clean a bathroom in the third house the following week, and then back to the first house for a new task again the week after that. Our multi-aged children can play together and grow together, and the moms can enjoy the company of other adults who share similar values and styles while helping each other accomplish tasks around the house!

I am excited to see how this all will take shape... my kids are coughing this week, so we're not going to get together with other kids most likely and next week we're out of town... but at some point, we will try to put it into action! I am ready to jump in and get my hands dirty amidst good conversation and children's background noise! I also have realistic expectations that some weeks we'll get more done than others... we might have squabbles to referee, fussy babies and toddlers to soothe, and the like. But we will be able to do it together, showing our children how adults do meaningful work while at the same time meeting their needs. They are still dependent - and really, so can we be, as adults. Being dependent - interdependent, rather - is not a bad thing in this way! We don't have to be so independent all the time - and that is a hard thing for us to admit, being taught how important independence is from an early age! I don't think the key is global interdependence so much as it is community interdependence... along the lines of GK Chesterton's idea of distributism.

To wrap it up... even though parenting is tough, and some days just go poorly all around, there is still the hope that we are raising our children to know they are loved, to be able to love others, and by giving them examples daily of what it is to live life (because they need to see things about a kajillion times sometimes before things sink in on how to live in such a way as to be a reasonable adult human being one day!). Today, Caroline had her baby doll in Sam's and was asked twice about it - and she willingly told the wondering employees her baby's name, Ensa. She has, after much time, learned the acceptable response rather than being "too shy" to answer. And she proudly wore Ensa in her sling while one employee commented that it looks like she was learning to be a good mommy one day. I do hope that I am teaching her that in some little way.

There are those moments when things become clear, and we see that dependence is developing slowly but surely, that rational thought and actions and self-control are developing slowly but surely... and we realize that part of why it is so tough with attachment parenting is because we don't see instant results. We see a child unfold slowly over time. But what a beautiful result we see many years down the road! I say this from knowing some other children who are grown - obviously we haven't made it down the entire rocky road yet. Patience, patience... they won't be little forever!


Kate said...

love it! there are 2 moms i've gotten to know really well since moving back here and our dream is to own homes next door to each other and live communally... we sort of do on occasion b/c when we do get together we all care for all of the kids and we take turns with different aspects of cooking/cleaning up afterwards/shopping. one or two nights a week it is awesome and we wish we were closer and could do it more often. it IS so much easier to raise kids when you have support, not just in caring for the kids, but in everything.

i love that my kids get to spend regular time with my parents. they learn so many lessons from them... it really can be like having extra parents around to love and teach them. my husband laughs when i say i want to live right near them. but how awesome would that be? to be able to help them regularly and them help us regularly...

i don't think life was much easier as far as work goes centuries ago when families and communities really did live together. but i think life was easier to handle then with the support with the basics, like you said, in cooking and cleaning and even child rearing. more advice and love can only enrich the kids.

love your parenting posts!

That Married Couple said...

Thanks so much for your honesty in this post! I think people are often too hesitant to admit that things are hard, especially if they are trying to promote a "counter-cultural" lifestyle. I know that's true with myself and NFP - since I love it and don't want anything else, I have a hard time admitting that it is really tough for about a week each month! ;)

We grew up next door to my grandparents on our family's farm. Since our moms all worked, my cousins and my brothers and I all got on and off the school bus there every day. That was a great situation for us - you have children of different ages playing together, grandma loved getting to see us and be involved in our daily lives, and our entire family was quite close at that time!

Oh goodness, I'm starting to go on a tangent, but I do want to get to my actual question before I end this comment :) I absolutely want to create a community like you were talking about, and look forward to reading the article you reference. Do you have any suggestions on how to go about, well, making friends in the first place? Since moving to where my husband is from (1000 miles away from my family), we have not really been able to meet people like I would like. I hate to think that this will have to wait until we start having children and can meet other expecting parents in classes and groups, because I think a community is still important before the busyness of child-rearing. Any advice is appreciated! Thanks :)

Erin said...

Well, I am not exactly an expert at making friends... in fact, I am pretty lame at it! I am more introverted and was always the type of kid who had one best friend at a time and didn't really have a large group of friends... my group of friends in high school was about three other people, lol.

I think as a parent, meeting people at church who parent in a similar way is best for me. As the article says, some people are fine with getting together with other friends who have totally different beliefs. I think as long as you can find common ground on something else, then it wouldn't be a problem (like being friends with somebody who parents in a similar style but is of a different religion). The friends I am hoping to get together with here are both Catholic and also parent in a pretty similar way overall... one is a homeschooling mom too, so that will be a plus to have our kids growing up in a mini-Catholic community... we only have one Catholic church here in our town, so that is important to me, that they are around other Catholic families.

So I guess looking around at Church, finding people who are strong in their faith (maybe people in RCIA classes who are sponsors?), maybe even people who are already parents and seem to have a style with which you are comfortable... It is also helpful if people live near you, and for us, one of the families lives just a few streets away - we can walk there in ten or so minutes.

Kate, that is great that you guys live close to your parents! I think that if we look at it labor-wise, life was much more tedious in centuries past... but there were more people around, so it didn't matter that you had to scrub laundry by hand each day, build a fire to cook rather than just pushing a button to turn on the oven, etc. We have so much more STUFF nowadays though, and less time together at home, so we feel like we have more to do and are more busy (stress-wise!) than people a few centuries ago! Ironic, I think.

Carrie said...

What an awesome post! A blogger friend posted her "actual" weight, height, and clothing size on her blog the other day and I thought, wow, what if everyone was that honest? Maybe I will start an "honest" day of the week on my blog.. take a real-time photo of an area in my house and just put it out there for the world! What guts..I would have to get up the nerve! I certainly do not have it together and when people say something to me like that I have to wonder how in the world they are thinking that?!? ha ha!!!! What an AWESOME idea for a moms group...practical and beneficial for all!

Maureen said...

Well, I'm not a parent yet...but this blog is really great and I love your honesty. Thank you!

Mommy P said...

I am so excited about starting up our group. Being around you & B just makes me feel good. It is so nice to be around people who are doing the same thing that we are. I have other friends, who are great & accepting of the way I parent, but it is not the same--good, but not the same as being around people who practice AP, who practice extended breastfeeding and who are Catholic. Last week at Mass ti was so nice to be sitting outside the church office, feeling comfortable nursing while talking with friends who do the same thing I do. I also look forward to LaLeche League meetings for the same reason--to be around like minded women. Women I can ask questions of & discuss tandem nursing with. In the book "Adventures of Tandem Nursing" there is a personal story where the woman, feeling like she isn't getting enough done during the day, decides to write down every time she nurses. I'm not sure if she wrote down times or not, but I think I'm going to try it tomorrow. I'm trying to decide if I should actually write down minutes etc...(LOL, 1 minute for every time I'm used as a water fountian?--Gracie likes to "take a sip" quite often. Should be interesting. I'm just going to do it for one day to see how much I'm actually nursing during the day. I'll let you know Tuesday if you're interested.