Doing what’s best for our children is an easy goal for parents to set, but maybe you, too, have found that it’s not as easy to live up to as you once believed.
“I was the perfect parent, after all, until I had kids.” – Q’s Grandma aka Safta
First of all, what’s really best? Doesn’t that depend on what your parents did before you, on what you have financially available to you, on your own values, on your child’s needs, on the nuances of your marriage or co-parenting relationship, on where you live, on the lifestyle you want, on your state of physical and mental health, on the pressures and benefits of your job, etc, etc, etc. And it’s not like there’s a giant flowchart that can lead us through each decision, carefully weighing the priorities, navigating the sea of choices and spitting out the answer like Bob Barker’s Plinko machine. (If MOM-O could tell me all the answers, I think I’d get a lot more sleep).
Even the fact that there are so many choices to choose from is an issue for most parents (and really, most anyone). I’m sure you’ve felt ‘decision fatigue’ or analysis paralysis at some point in your life, and I’m pretty sure whatever issues I personally had in this area before parenting are now tripled, at least. I’m willing to forgo science and go with my gut on that one. Someone else’s life is at stake here. Someone else’s experiences, perhaps future happiness and success. Or at least (since some rational, subdued part of myself knows this can’t be entirely true), so it often feels.
And the internet. Oh the internet! That double-edged sword of information and terror that blends into one long stream of consciousness night after night while you panic that yesterday’s car seat sleep has for sure caused a curve in his spine and last week there wasn’t enough iron in his diet to make up for the waning presence in the breast milk and don’t even mention all of the exercises you have been neglecting to do to stimulate his motor skill development.
Which brings me to my current struggle. Sleep. Oh yes, The Parent’s Lament if ever there was one, and the success of which becomes akin to the Magnum Opus (at least until potty training?). If ever there existed a more monotonously imperative topic I do not know it. Earlier in this blog I referenced my complete bewilderment with how often veteran moms wanted to discuss sleep with me when I was a brand new mama and I could think of so many more pressing issues to me at the time. (Apparently, I had the mental capacity for big picture back then, it seems.) Fast forward a few months and the lack of sleep has completely taken over my life. Some days I can think and talk of little else to the point where the topic is impeding sleep itself. How painfully ironic.
So take this case, one of many parenting decisions, of various magnitudes, that I will face along this simultaneously insane and completely normal journey. I need sleep, and so does Q. What is best?
Let me start by telling you what’s not best. What’s not best for me, or Q, is to put him down for a nap, attempt to be the responsive, caring parent I want to be by going in several times to help him settle, only to lose my temper, yank him from his bed, roughly change his (dry) diaper and toss him back in with a stern ‘talking to’, then cry by myself for half an hour because of the guilt/shame of getting angry with a 5 month old baby.
So… if that’s not best, then what is?
Truthfully, almost anything else.
I’d rather give my child *sarcastic gasp* formula than feel angry with him. I’d rather let him cry for a few minutes alone. I’d rather do a lot of things than feel as awful as I did when I got frustrated and rough, trying to bend him to my will, trying to shape his behaviour with my approval and disapproval. That is most certainly not best, and not the kind of parent I hope to be.
The point is, it doesn’t matter what’s best for someone else, or hypothetically, or according to the experts. It doesn’t matter if you paid for the advice, or if it’s what you really, really, really want to be true.
And so it dawned on me in a sleepless haze of internet article-fuelled-panic that I might start to think of it this way: What’s best is what’s possible. In fact, this has been true for me for a long time. Having never been much for competition (yes ok, during board games sometimes, geez), I find I am driven by something much softer. I like to live in what’s possible, preferring to be part of a community than to stand out, entertaining a ‘done is better than perfect’ attitude that you’d think would have gotten me places in the tech world by now. I don’t do this out of comfort, or fear, at least not entirely, but because what’s possible takes into account what is here, right now. What I’m capable of in this moment. Hence this imperfectly amateur but very heartfelt blog. And since I am working to really understand, and live in such a way, that I remember that now is all there really is anyways, then what is possible becomes what’s possible right now, and that means giving myself – and others – a damn break.
In fact, I’m finding that thinking of what’s THE best instead as, what’s ACTUALLY possible, allows a lot of room for compassion for myself and others. On my morning walk the other day, a woman pulled over and left her car running while she ran up to the nursery school doorbell, rang it, then hurried back to her car to extract her little boy and lead him quickly to the now open door. Is it best to idle (and outside of a school of all places), to leave a child inside a running car, to be in such a rush in the first place? I doubt she thinks so. But she did her best just then, meeting life’s many demands simultaneously. (And I think it’s important to add that what makes this all the more relative is that I live in Guatemala city, where buses that fail emissions testing in the US arrive to become public transportation for sometimes decades longer, making idling a very small concern in a very large pool of imperfections.) Is there room for improvement for this mother’s choices? I’m sure she thinks so. Is there room in mine? You better believe it. But in the meantime, having just come through my own struggle with imperfect actions and the impending cloud of shame and gloom, I noticed that morning that my urge to offer to help was stronger than any judgement because I recognized immediately that her actions were taking the only possible path based on the circumstances acting on her at the time.
And so this is what I am working on. Moving forward with what’s best for sleep, and food (ooh don’t even get me started here. Are you SURE he won’t choke? Isn’t air and breast milk and maybe some ultra-pureed carrots best until he’s at least… 3??), and what’s best for Q and I out of what’s really possible. Not what the internet says should be possible. Not what I want to work (you guys… I don’t think I like co-sleeping, and oh how I want to… ). And not just because I can, or, because I said so. I won’t stop doing a reasonable amount of research (for argument’s sake let’s define reasonable as: after I feel informed and before I feel afraid. A fine line, indeed.) but I will try to stop beating myself up because THE best isn’t often possible so the best of what’s really possible will just have to do.