Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mommy Lessons - It's All About Choices

Over the next few days I've asked some talented guest bloggers to contribute to Life with Jack. I hope you enjoy and leave a comment letting me know what you think!

Parenting is all about choices. We choose what to name our children, how to dress and feed them, when to discipline, and who will provide their medical care. In the information age, innumerable “expert” opinions are a Google search away, and with the help of Facebook, we can broadcast these decisions to the world.  As a parent to my two kids, Eliza (age 3) and Abe (10 months), I agonize about some of my decisions (should I make my daycare center go peanut-free in response to my son’s allergy?) and make others with confidence (if you don’t eat dinner now, no food for the rest of the night. Family rule.)

And here’s the thing about parenting choices - when I research and study and pray about the choices I make for my children, then I start to feel that these decisions are the RIGHT thing to do. Not just for me, but for everyone. I remember early on as a parent, sitting in a group of moms discussing vaccinations. I work in public health. Vaccination is one of the crowning jewels of my profession. Have you heard of small pox? Probably not, because this once devastating illness has been eradicated through vaccination!  As you can imagine, many of the moms in this group did not share my enthusiasm for vaccines. I was scandalized, even angry. How could these women choose to not provide their children protection from such life threatening illnesses?

Have you ever had your blood pressure skyrocket upon hearing other moms talk about making parenting decisions that you felt were wrong or even dangerous? Have you lost a friendship with another mom because the decisions you make for your children are so vastly different from hers? Doubtless, my vaccination conversation has played out in some form in your life as well.  So what do we do with this tension, this struggle over parenting choices - choices which we are required to make and want make well? How can I be confident in the decisions I make while other moms come to such different conclusions? I don’t have all the answers, but I am learning a few lessons about navigating the murky waters of parenting choices.  

Lesson #1: Most choices are less important than they seem
A while back I was sitting in a group of moms who were talking about pacifiers. Ideas were flying back and forth - should you allow them, take them away at a certain age, and so on. Jessi (this blog’s super mom) turned to me and mouthed, “I don’t care.” She was not saying this to be rude or callous, she was speaking out of her deep wisdom as the mother of a micro-preemie.  Take eating (cause of such consternation among young moms) as an example. Jessi doesn’t care if Jack consumes only organic, homemade food-she just wants him to eat and grow and thrive. She doesn’t care how he is diapered, she just wants his kidneys to function well and do their job. Jessi has taught me that SO many of the decisions moms agonize over-breast or bottle, co-sleep or crib, organic or non-organic, cloth or disposable-are not really that important. Her perspective has helped me realize that, when my children are grown, it will make little difference whether they wore sustainable cotton onesies or potty trained by age 2. I will care about their character and their ability to love, and this is what I hope to focus on and cultivate today instead of agonizing over extraneous details.

Lesson #2: My choices are less influential than I’d like them to be
When my daughter was a baby, my husband, Josh, and I had a set bedtime routine for her. Every night we followed the same steps, and every night she slept soundly. We were convinced that our choice to adhere to this routine was the cause of her good sleep habits. When we went on vacation and this routine was interrupted, we were on pins and needles anticipating a horrific night. Come to find out, she slept just fine. She was naturally a good sleeper. The careful “choices” we made about her bedtime had little to do with that fact. Josh and I always laugh that parenting is an ongoing experiment with a very small sample size. In our case n=2. So it is easy to start thinking that EVERYTHING you do has a significant consequences, either good or bad. But children are who they are. They have their own unique personalities, temperaments and quirks. Sometimes the agonizing decisions you make for them will have little or no effect. Your choices are often not as influential as you make them out to be.  Embracing that fact can be really freeing if you let it.

Lesson #3: Your right to choose can be revoked
At our daughter’s one year well-child check, they found a “click” in her hip. X-rays confirmed her hip was dislocated, requiring surgery and a body cast for 12 weeks. Suddenly, our parenting choices were vastly reduced. We needed to follow our surgeon’s instructions, no matter how painful, to treat this potentially debilitating problem. For the first year of Eliza’s life, we felt we had control of virtually every aspect of her existence. Now decisions were being made for us.  At first I was terrified. But slowly I came to see that control of a child’s life is ultimately an illusion. Our children are individuals-given by God, growing away from us, subject to the natural and often supernatural forces of this world- forces over which we do not have full control-no matter how much we love and care for them. When my right to control Eliza’s life was revoked by her hip dysplasia, I learned to entrust her to God, see the big picture and more fully be with her instead of trying to control what was out of my hands.  That loss of choice was ultimately a gift. 

As I have begun to learn these lessons about parenting choices, I have also started to commit to some different choices as a parent:

-The choice to listen to other moms who are different from me and learn from their perspective
-The choice to put relationships with people over the need to be right or give correction
-The choice to be secure in the decisions I am making for me and my family while graciously accepting that other families will come to different conclusions about what is right for theirs
-The choice to free myself from the tyranny of comparison and judgment and instead commend other moms for making the best decisions for their families

Moms - will you join me in making these choices so that our relationships as mothers can be built on encouragement instead of judgment? I know I can always use more encouragement as I make these weighty decisions for and with my family everyday. 

Katie Loveland is a public health Program Manager who lives with her husband and two adorable children in Montana. Jessi and Katie are kindred spirits who've spent many hours together trying to solve the world's problems... while drinking copious amounts of french press coffee. If there is anyone to go to for advice, it's Katie, and Jessi uses her often.
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Nik, Lindsay and Pierce Franks said...

What a great blog with wonderful perspectives. And a great idea Jessi to hand this over to Katie. She is an amazing writer! Thanks for sharing!

Tatum said...


Samantha Lindsay said...

Love this!!

Luci said...

I LOVE Katie's perspective and the fact that she already knows things about parenting that have taken me decades to figure out. Great job!

Anonymous said...

Guest blogging is so much fun!

Thanks for sharing today, Katie! When reading your post, I was reminded of a blog I read a couple weeks ago. No, not everyone can adopt (or should adopt), but let's lay off moms for making specific choices on diapering, feeding, sleeping, etc., as you alluded to, because there are plenty of children out there who just need moms. Period.

p.s. Hi Jessi! Hi Jack! I hope you're having a good week. :)
Lindsay B.

Rachel Visser said...

I LOVE this!! I also have really learned alot from Jessi. Thanks girls for being real and honest!!! You rock Mama's!!!

Julie said...

Well said, Katie! We put too much pressure on ourselves and each other - I like the idea of laying all that down and supporting each other instead! It's so easy to lose sight of the big picture in the midst of the daily details but you do a great job of pulling out what is truly important!

Taryn said...

Well written, Katie! I wanted to point out this quote from your article:

"And here’s the thing about parenting choices - when I research and study and pray about the choices I make for my children, then I start to feel that these decisions are the RIGHT thing to do. Not just for me, but for everyone."

This is one of the hallmarks of existentialist ethical analysis. You can use this as a quick test of the importance of your decisions and how ethical they are. Simply, extrapolate your decision to everyone else and ask "What would happen if everyone chose as I have chosen?"

Using this we can see that pacifier choice is inconsequential, but not vaccinating a generation of children will cause children to be injured or killed.

On a personal note, hopefully my childbearing time will come soon. I've pre-emptively declared myself the Worst Mother Ever in hopes of freeing myself from the criticism of self-righteous Momsters.

Bronwyn McLellan said...

Great points, Katie! I wish I'd read this before I became a mom. n=2 for me too now. :o)