Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Suggestions for early parenting

I found out that one of my first close friends, a girl I knew back in Junior high, is going to be a mother soon, along with her lesbian partner.  Here is the letter I wrote to her about my early parenting experiences:

Angie, congratulations!  

I know we have not kept up for - decades now!, oh my - but you were absolutely one of my favorite people when we were young.  Gifted and talented and full of life, you inspired me.  You were also one of my first crushes, which prompted any other number of self-discoveries down the line.  All that said, I love the idea that you and your partner are going to be nurturing and raising a child; you have so much to offer, and I think it will be a very lucky child, indeed.

Anyways, my recommendations:

Starting when my daughter, Ravenna, was just a week or two old, I attended a drop-in post-partum support group ( in Seattle that met weekly.  Spending that time with other parents along with their similarly aged babies really helped me to gain confidence, to be less anxious, to get feedback and ideas for dealing with issues that were highly relevant at that point in her development, to develop an understanding of what was normal in terms of milestones, to be able to anticipate what changes were just around the corner, and to find solidarity in knowing that other parents were experiencing all the same issues that we were.  In case you wonder at all whether a group like this will be relevant when neither of you will have birthed the child, there was a set of lesbian parents with an adopted infant who attended First Weeks at the same time that I did, and they seemed to enjoy and benefit greatly from it also.  You wouldn't have the same group available to you, of course, but I am sure there are at some similar resources where you live. 

I loved carrying Ravenna around in a sling when she was small (as opposed to strollers - I never actually owned one).  It felt close and connected in a lovely way.  Slings are also super easy to pack up and have anywhere with you, at any time, on a moment's notice - something you can't say about a stroller!  The native sling was my favorite for easy packing and quick/cozy use ( and the moby was my favorite when I wanted something more versatile that could lend itself to any number of positions, both back and front (

I also did elimination communication (EC - with Ravenna, which is a process of learning to recognize unspoken cues, experimenting to find certain timing rhythms that work for your child, and giving your child early tools to explicitly communicate in a way that you can understand when they need to eliminate waste, so that they can do so in some other place - held over a toilet, held over a sink, held over a baby potty, held over a diaper they aren't wearing, etc.  I also used cloth diapers without a cover, or with a thin cover, that helped more than anything to train my observation of her unspoken cues (and gave me a quick, direct form of feedback when I had missed a cue, in the form of a little bit of wet).  

Thanks to EC, by the time Ravenna was 4 months old she was able to sometimes communicate via a specific sound (psssss) that she had to pee, so that I could get her someplace where she could do it outside of her diaper.  She once managed to hold it for 10 minutes, the remainder of a bus ride home, at that age.  When she was 10-12 months old she regularly communicated her need to potty via sign language and was largely out of diapers with few accidents.  I don't know what your inclinations are and EC certainly isn't for everyone, but in case you didn't already know about it and it might appeal to your sensibilities, now you know about the idea!  I personally loved it and plan to approach pottying the same way with any other children I might have.

The most important thing I learned about early parenting is this: there is a wide range of possibility for any number of parenting choices; slings vs strollers, co-sleeping vs sleep-conditioning vs other sleep methods, EC vs western pottying with cloth diapers vs western pottying with disposables, buying processed and specially marketed baby food vs using a handmixer to feed your child the same food that you eat, etc.

Because you put care and consideration into every choice that you make, it is easy to fall into a trap of thinking that your way is the best way.  One issue with this sort of thinking is that you can get stuck holding yourself to a choice that you find isn't working for you and is a source of daily frustration, maybe because you are invested in it, or you've been telling yourself that anything else is sub-par, or you feel like you would be failing as a parent if you went back to re-evaluate other options.  Another issue is that it is judge the choices of everyone else who went another way.  But I know people who made parenting choices all across these spectrums - and each our children has grown and thrived in spite of the different beginnings.  I think ultimately it matters less WHICH choices you make, and more that you are loving, that you are attentive, and that you are engaging yourself in a process where you pay attention to what is working for you what is not, and you adapt accordingly.  Be accepting and loving of yourself, your partner, your child, and your peers.  (Don't beat yourself up about whatever struggles you encounter!)  Allow yourself to make mistakes, and try to look child rearing as an evolving journey of discovery rather than a set, constrained path going the "right way".  Remember that children, even infants, are incredibly, amazingly resilient.

If you'd ever like to chat about these or anything else, just let me know.  I'd be tickled to hear from you.

Best wishes,

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