I think every parent has been told that they are screwing up their kids in one way or another. Whether this happened face-to-face, through some passive aggressive form on social media, or even a mommy group that made us sink a little lower into our seat while many eyeballs pointed in our direction, we’ve all been there.
Still, even if we’re all together in this unfortunate parent-shaming we go through, that doesn’t mean the outside pressure from every Susan and Karen out there doesn’t get under our skin — because it does. It’s difficult to be a parent when everything you do is critiqued by at least one person out there, especially when what you’re criticized for the most is being the nurturing and loving caregiver your child needs you to be.
I’m talking about the judgment that tells us we shouldn’t snuggle our babies to sleep. You know, out of fear that they will become “too attached” to their brand new mommy or daddy. We’re told that nursing our baby on demand instead of sticking to a strict three-hour block-schedule is going to make our infant “spoiled” (as if that’s such a thing). If we wake up for the fifth time in one night and decide to rock our babe to sleep yet again, we are creating “bad habits.”
Even when this gentle parenting comes from a place of love and an urge to do everything in our power “right,” new parents still can’t win against society. But what if we were to shift the narrative to fit an adult’s perspective just a bit?
When adults are upset and shedding a tear or two, sometimes the gentle touch or tight hug from a loved one is much needed. On those nights when we are too restless to sleep, we enjoy and appreciate the closeness of our partner to keep us company. If we wake up aching and down for the count with a fever, it’s comforting when someone is by our side and eager to care for us until we are better.
None of these things are frowned upon when it comes to adults, so why are we so incredibly harsh on children — infants, toddlers, and preschoolers at that?
I can’t believe I even have to reiterate this, but the only way a baby is able to communicate is through wailing and crying. We can guess what they want, and yes, as their parent, we probably assess their needs correctly 99% of the time, but only a fool would admit to being all-knowing.
In those moments when we feel unsure and our heart breaks for our children, we do the only thing that’s left to do and extend our arms to them. We hold them while they ride out the tummy troubles, squeeze them extra tight as they are cutting a big mean tooth, and we rock them to sleep ten times a night with droopy eyelids when it’s needed.
This isn’t wrong. These are the things parents should do — the things our babes need for us to do in order to create a healthy, lasting, and loving bond. Our children’s need for us knows no bounds (says the mother who was up every hour, on the hour with her five-year-old this week). We are never off the hook when it comes to the high demands placed on our shoulders as a little person’s parent, and it really is so short lived.
Can we normalize this already for the sake of our babies?
There isn’t some magical number in age where our kids stop needing us, nor should they ever feel like they are “too big” for their parents to stop being intentional with the way they are cared for.
Young kids aren’t able to manage their emotions just yet, and even some (almost all) adults struggle with it from time to time. It takes years and years to teach our children how to live in this big, big world that can be quite intimidating to even the bravest of them all. And as a parent, it is our responsibility to help them navigate it. Not to say, “Sorry, kid. You’re on your own for this one.”
How are we to teach them the ropes properly with such a constant “tough love” mentality?
None of our children are identical, and that requires a broad range of mothers and fathers winging it in every which way. We all parent uniquely, creating one huge kaleidoscope of upbringings together generation after generation, and it’s a thing of beauty for this world. At the same time, we shouldn’t be so intolerant of the most precious and valued beings on this earth all because we live in a society that doesn’t save space for children to have authentic emotions, insecurities, fears and needs.
I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t always fun waking up with a screaming baby many times throughout the night. But as much as it’s not always fun for me, I have to consider just how not fun it is for my child at the same time. No one wants to scream until their throat is dry, scratchy, and hurting. Nobody wants to be misunderstood, and therefore alone, because of it. And this includes an infant, too.
Sometimes I’m internally screaming, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” when one of my five-year-olds insists on needing another drink in the middle of the night. Then I remember how many times I fill up my cup from dusk to dawn, and how little it takes of me to refill my child’s Frozen 2 water bottle one last time.
These are the things I do for my kids that some people might consider “over the top,” but I make no apologies for the way I choose to parent.
If for nothing else, I don’t want to look back on these brief and fleeting days I’ve been given with my children with deep regret. I’m of the belief that you will never wish you had spent less time caring for and being intentional with your child.
Gentle parenting isn’t always the easiest route, but make no mistake, it is so rewarding.