I don’t write much about my parenting philosophy, nor do I share much about it on social media. As you might surmise by the other topics I have discussed, my parenting style is unconventional. Nevertheless, I have never been particularly public about my opinions because I have feared alienation and condemnation. Today, I would like to provide a survey of my parenting evolution because I really need to process some thoughts that weigh heavily on my mind.
Those years are tough! So glad I made it through them, really. So glad my entire family made it through in tact, because in truth, if there was ever a thing that put pressure on a relationship, it is the birth and infancy of a couple’s first child. Trepidatious and fearful of screwing the f*** up, my husband and I attempted to parent “by the book.” Our son slept alone in a crib, and I nursed around the clock, which meant, I slept maybe 20 minutes at a time between feedings. Sleeplessness, to me, is hell on earth. It wasn’t long before we began to let our son sleep in his swing, which our pediatrician advocated against, and then a month or so later, the boy was in our bed all night long. This began our co-sleeping journey. It was extremely necessary for us because my son was (and still is) a terrible sleeper. When my daughter was born, two years later, instead of preparing a nursery, we bought a king sized bed, not questioning for a moment our co-sleeping arrangement.
The toddler years brought new challenges. Behavior issues began to arise, and having endured a shame-induced childhood, I have always been reluctant to parent with the same enraged rigidity I experienced. But toddler behaviors are incredibly frustrating! I found myself gravitating to the work of Janet Lansbury and Dr. Laura Markham, who both advocate “respectful” and “gentle” parenting, emphasizing the importance of emotional purging and empathic response.
Now that my children are school age, I have encountered new challenges. Doesn’t everyone?! My son, as a first grader, began to have regular outbursts during homework time. As the year progressed, his teacher expressed a growing challenge with handwriting, and so I had him evaluated for Occupational Therapy. We found that he has a fine motor delay (in addition to years of sensory processing issues with food). Simultaneously, my daughter’s four year old preschool teacher gave feedback that she was crying for me daily. Overwhelmed with my son’s school challenges, I did little to intervene for my daughter, apart from taking her out of preschool, assuming her attachment issues would improve over time. They haven’t. Months later, my son is doing phenomenally well in response to occupational therapy. His handwriting is normal, and he is kicking butt at emotional regulation–even trying new foods from time to time. With that impressive progression, my husband and I decided to have my daughter evaluated. This happened today.
I am feeling a little glum about the outcome of her evaluation, in spite of the certainty I have that she will improve greatly with therapy. Her issues are sensory in nature, like my son, her fine motor skills are exceptional, but she struggles with executive functions. I didn’t know what that meant, but it sort of deals with focus and follow through, and as it turns out, people who struggle with executive functioning are often (not always) diagnosed with ADHD. I know this is a disability that has been normalized and accepted socially, but I still feel really sad for my little girl. I must qualify that we have not received a diagnosis of ADHD, but the OT did think it would benefit my daughter for me to speak with our pediatrician and begin the official process to determine whether that is an appropriate diagnosis for her.
All the Feelings…
My unconventional parenting style has left me feeling incredibly vulnerable and alone on numerous occasions. When both of my children were infants, I was still an active member in my church community. In this particular church, it was assumed that parents adhered to conventional norms regarding sleep training, breastfeeding, potty training, and discipline. I disregarded every. last. one. My peers employed the “cry it out” method of sleep training. I co-slept and nursed through the night. My peers weened their children at the age of one. I am still reserved about admitting when my children weened. My peers engaged in marathon potty training weekends at age 2. I allowed both of my kids to begin potty training (I did no training, really) when they were ready. Finally, my peers advocated spanking–proclaiming it a discipline ordained by God, while I refused to physically discipline my children. Because these norms prevailed in the church community, outspoken members who didn’t adhere were ostracized through gang preaching in small groups (in attempt to reveal the error of their ways) as well as through gossip behind their backs. In short, it was never safe for me to share my triumphs and struggles with the community. I would surely be alienated from the group. I did not realize, then, that I already was.
A lasting result of this disconnect between my intuitive parenting and the imposed ideals of my (now ex) social group is a heaping load of guilt–and a sense that the quirks and struggles of my children are entirely my fault because of my choice to employ unconventional parenting practices. Not surprisingly, the diagnosis of a fine motor delay in my son and executive functioning difficulty (and potentially ADHD) in my daughter leads down a destructive path of negative self talk.
However, I feel validated and encouraged by the evaluation process. What I am learning is that first of all, the quirks and idiosyncrasies expressed by my children are inherent to them. These challenges are encoded in their DNA–just like OCD, in many respects, is encoded into my own. Thus, had I chosen the conventional parenting routes, I would not have averted these challenges. To my credit, my intuitive and empathic parenting style has allowed me to identify the special needs of my children earlier than most, which is enabling proactive intervention. Please don’t misconstrue this defense of my own parenting as an attack on conventional child rearing. I simply mean to allow myself a little grace for trusting my intuition and advocating for my own children. I think any parent who does both is worthy of esteem, regardless of their parenting philosophies.