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.

Infancy

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.

My little B-man. He is 7 now…but then, he was my little caterpillar.

Toddlerhood

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.

My little sunshine at 1. Now she is 5.

School Years

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.

My tough guy 🙂
This picture–with this child–is a metaphor for parenting…

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.

Resolution

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.

About Author

Standing ground for desire through self-study of philosophy and psychoanalysis, self-reflection, and creative sublimation through the work of literary fiction.

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5 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your challenges. It sounds like you’re doing an incredible job! I think parenting especially during the early years is the hardest job in the world. Must have been tough going against the grain with your church, but kudos to you and your husband for trusting your instincts on what would ultimately be best for your babies. It’s great to hear about your boy’s development, and despite your natural concerns as a mom I’m sure your daughter will turn out just fine as well. My own kid was slow to develop speech, we think partly due to our bi-lingual home environment, but he picked it up eventually and even excelled. On another note though, I do have some regrets. Usually I try never to dwell on past decisions because we made them as best we could given the circumstances at the time, but… I do regret following the advice of my former church community on forcing a strict schedule on our newborn. This meant sometimes letting him “cry it out” when it wasn’t time to eat or get changed. We didn’t last long thank god but if I could go back in time and slap some sense into myself those first few weeks I would. Fortunately my wife’s instincts came through for both of us. And over the years we’ve definitely made lots of other mistakes, but on balance I think he has turned out pretty good so far. I just want him to be happy in life. The hard part is figuring out the best way to help make it happen, while recognizing that sometimes they have to be allowed to experience their own struggles in order to grow as well.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing! You know, my husband and I were married for 8 years before we had our first child, and that is largely because I was so fearful I would cause irreparable damage to them. I am grateful for my experience in therapy because I have been able to work out my own trauma in a way, I think, that has helped me as a parent. Nevertheless, the idea of my daughter *maybe* having ADHD triggers a bit of catastrophic thinking for me. I taught 7th grade for a number of years and those ADHD students I remember most presented many challenges to me as a teacher. I worry about the implications of that on my daughter as she enters school in the fall. I also know that there were other ADHD students whose symptoms were well managed, and it is likely that the reason I have overlooked my daughter’s symptoms is because I am comparing them to very hyperactive 12 year old students who had little support at home.

      Nevertheless, I appreciate your sentiment that my kids will likely be fine. It is my hope that they will be critical thinkers and that if things are emotionally challenging at school that they will feel free to tell me so I can intervene when appropriate.

      I am sorry you are kicking yourself for the Cry it out days of your son’s infancy. We tried it with our son in the beginning, as well, but it didn’t take all that long for us to abandon the strategy altogether.

      If I remember correctly from your Twitter profile, are you from Japan? What is the traditional practice for handling infants in your native culture? My first therapist years ago was Indian and she co-slept and explained that that was a normal practice in her cultural community.

      1. Born in Korea, but my parents moved to the U.S. when I was 2 years old, so culturally I’m a product of both Korea and the United States. Or more specifically, the New York part of the “States” lol… However, my wife is a 100% “born & raised in Seoul” gal meaning all the way through university. Totally random that we had met while I was over there for a year after my own graduation from college. Somehow we hit it off and now here we are 20 years later still going strong 🙂 I provide that background to explain why my son has grown up in a bi-lingual home: Mostly English with limited Korean from me + the reverse from his mom. He was probably totally confused those first few years of life 🙂

        Anyway to somewhat answer your question here’s a neat intro to traditional Korean culture related to having a baby:
        http://www.tyckledtales.com/2012/12/05/korean-postpartum-recovery-ritual/
        This article is actually more about the mom than the baby, but I thought you might find it interesting. We were super lucky cuz my mother-in-law flew over from Korea right before our son was born and totally helped take care of my wife those first few months. I remember she had definitely insisted on a lot of those traditions.

  2. Yes!! I have an acquaintance from China and she spoke of the same thing when she was newly pregnant for her second child! I really wish the take care of mother practice would catch on here. Truly. Thank you for sharing! And generally speaking, I really appreciate you as a follower of my blog!

  3. What a vulnerable and well written post. I’m sorry you’ve felt alone at times with parenting. The co-sleeping, extended nursing, empathic parenting, etc. did not create either issue our children are working through and your early intervention is exactly what they needed.

    Sent from my iPhone

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