My story starts like this: I was raised in the 1970s in Southern California. As a child and teenager, I never gave much thought to what kind of a parent I would be. I figured it would all work itself out when I was old enough to have kids...in a million years.
Fast forward about 20 years. Some of my friends in open-minded Northern California started having kids. They enthusiastically discussed cloth diapers, gentle discipline, infant potty training and child-centered psychology. It seemed too complicated for me. However, I observed in my friends’ families that the children were happy being raised this way, and my friends were relaxed and content. Conventional modern parenting techniques focus on “training” children— to sleep, to wean, to be independent in infancy, to crawl at a certain age. But my friends were concerned with learning the rhythms that their babies displayed and adjusting their lives to meet their children’s needs.
My husband and I married at age 27 and began researching child development as we neared 30. We met with pediatricians, midwives and La Leche League breastfeeding support groups before we even conceived. When our first son was born in 2003, I longed for a community of people like me. One of my aforementioned friends suggested I explore the Holistic Moms Network (HMN). I went online, signed up and instantly connected with people whose desire was to parent from an educated and compassionate place. HMN became my community for parenting the way I believe evolution intended— staying close to our babies, nurturing them compassionately and creating the healthiest possible environment for children, inside and out. I met parents from all walks of life, and we walked it together.
Our second son was born at home beautifully and quickly. I was unassisted until the last 15 minutes of his birth. This second time around, I became more confident, less anxious and further convinced that I was born to be my boys’ mama.
Other Things I Have Learned Along the Way.
- Get educated. Parenting is the hardest, yet the best, job you will ever have. But there is no training or manual! Read as much as you can by a variety of sources, especially ones that give equal weight to conventional as well as alternative philosophies. Some authors I favor include Dr. William Sears for parenting, Dr. Lauren Feder for vaccinations, and Ina-May Gaskin for labor and birth. I also adhere to Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) for effectively disciplining and communicating with my children.
- Take baby steps. Any change is good change. You don’t have to rip up your possibly toxic carpets while learning to fold the perfect cloth diaper and troubleshooting breastfeeding in the early weeks of your baby’s life. Do things one at a time, and give yourself credit for any small attempt you make to do something the way you want. Making your own cleaning supplies may seem impossible. But for those of us who do it, the process is easy and effective, and it saves money. Choose what is most important to you and start there.
- Follow your instincts. Evolution has been preparing our species for hundreds of thousands of years to help our infants survive. Listen to your gut. When people admonish you for spoiling your baby, holding your baby too much or giving in to the cries of a baby, remind yourself that you innately know how to care for a baby, especially yours.
- Get support. Mothering magazine is an excellent resource, complete with a “friend finder” on its Web site. HMN can help you “find your tribe” in your city or town. La Leche League international supports anyone who has an interest in breastfeeding, and the support extends well past the weaning age. And articles on birthing and breastfeeding, on everything from overcoming nursing obstacles to introducing solid foods, abound on www.parentguidenews.com. If anyone tells you you’re too small, too weak, too small-breasted or too whatever to birth or nurse your baby, go online and get help from one of these organizations. It is your destiny to have the birth and nursing experience nature intended for you to have.
- Judge not! Whatever your parenting style is, respect the choices others make. There is no “right” way to raise a child. Every baby is different; every parent is different. I used to feel disappointed when I saw women bottle-feeding because I believed everyone should breastfeed. Then a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer and had to wean her infant overnight to start chemotherapy. As I watched her feed her infant formula from a bottle afterward, I decided that I would never judge anyone again without getting to know her story.
As you can see, the journey I am on has brought me to a place I never dreamed of. My kids are the center of my world, and I am constantly struggling to find ways to replenish myself amidst their growth. I have not lost myself. I still have friends, and my husband and I actually do have time for each other. My husband and I shoulder all of the childcare ourselves, and we plan to homeschool. We are exhausted a lot! I don’t know how to raise your kids; I only know how to raise my kids, and I make no claims about creating the perfect children. All I am sure of is that I am their loving mama, and it is a title I wear prouder than any other I have ever been given.