Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Thoughts on Parenting Philosophies

In just two days Eleanor will be 2 months old, and though I still feel really new at motherhood, I feel as though I have learned some very important lessons so far. Let it first be stated that I love to read. I read for pleasure, comfort, acquisition of new information, out of boredom, out of stress, to fall asleep, to pass the time, to entertain, to enlighten, etc. Pretty much any excuse is good enough for me to go to a book. I like them. So one of the first things I did when I found out I was pregnant was to check out some books. First of all I wanted to know what to expect during pregnancy and childbirth. So I checked out that “What to expect…” book and a couple others from the BYU library (which I love!). I checked out a very outdated book on breastfeeding that was on my OBGYN’s list of recommended books (which reminds me that I meant to suggest that he remove it as it says it is okay to drink and smoke while pregnant and breastfeeding). At any rate, as my pregnancy progressed and after Ellie’s birth, I’ve done more reading and thinking about parenting philosophies. And I wanted to share some of my thoughts, because I have the tendency to think that I have good thoughts and other people ought to want to know them. That’s the narcissist in me coming out (or the yellow in me…Listen to me, my ideas are the best!). But really, in the end all they are are my ideas, they work for me. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to get opinions. So here it goes…

It seems to me there are two extremes in modern parenting philosophies, the hyper-scheduler and the hyper-bonder. The hyper-scheduler won’t feed a baby, put her to sleep, or bathe her unless it is on the schedule. While the hyper-bonder feeds at the first whimper, wears the baby in a sling every moment possible, and co-sleeps with the baby. Both have good intentions. The hyper-scheduler wants the baby to start learning a routine early on and it makes it easier for the parent to plan their days. The hyper-bonder wants the baby to be sure that they feel loved and bonded to the parent, even at the expense of the parent’s physical well-being. I feel there must be a happy medium. I think I’ve found it with Ellie, but it took some trial and error.

When Ellie was first born I really thought that “attachment parenting” seemed ideal, which leans to the hyper-bonder side. I had read about it, and liked many aspects of the philosophy. It touted that attachment babies were more secure and blah-blah-blah, while scheduled babies were distant and failed to thrive and blah-blah-blah. Of course I wanted her to feel loved and safe, to nt have to endure any long bouts of crying that seemed to fray both my nerves and hers. Though I didn’t co-sleep or use a sling, I did everything in my power to comfort her at the slightest whimper. I nursed on demand, swaddled, and rocked and held her until she was fast asleep. This seemed to go very well the first two weeks. Then again, newborns do hardly more than eat, sleep, and dirty diapers, and Ellie was no exception.

Then we moved. While staying with my parents in Pahrump for a few days before flying to Texas to rejoin Ben, Ellie developed a passion for fussing. She refused to sleep in during the day unless she was being held. She started “demanding” to be fed nearly every hour and a half. I was terrified that I had a colicky baby. I wanted to cry almost as much as she did cry. When we got to Texas things didn’t change much. She was a fuss-bucket who seemed to always want to eat, but when I feed her she wouldn’t take a full meal. I knew we had a problem. My mom continuously reminded me that it was okay for babies to cry themselves to sleep sometimes, but I in my naivete remembered that was against “attachment” ideals and I thought I could through my interventions make Ellie not need to cry anymore. I should have listened to my mother. She raised five fantastic children, and was certainly as qualified to dispense advice as a book. Unfortunately, I sometimes put too much trust in a book.

Enter my wonderful sister-in-law, Melissa. She is a wonderful mother and has three fantastic kids. Granted, she is a much more organized and in-control person than I ever have been, but I really trust her opinion. She loaned me a few books on parenting that focused on healthy sleep habits and scheduling. Wary as I was, I read them. We decided to give them a try and let Ellie cry it out in her bassinet when it was time to sleep. After just two days, Ellie would fall asleep quickly in her bassinet, even at her normally fussy times. She still fusses, just not as long. And she eats better too. She is a happy baby when she is awake and loves to make faces and smile at you. She still really loves to be a held, but it isn’t this terrible burden because my back is killing me for having rocked her for hours. (My back was hurting so bad from rocking and walking and swinging her that sometimes it was quite painful to pick her up in the middle of the night to feed her).

I was converted. Now, I don’t believe in hyper-scheduling, but rather this idea that parents should direct feeding and that it is crucial life skill for babies to learn how to sleep on their own. When learning to walk, you must fall down sometimes, and so it seems to me that in learning to sleep, sometimes a baby will cry. It seems like sleeping would be so instinctual that a baby wouldn’t need to “learn” it, but anyone who has dealt with an overtired toddler knows how untrue that is.

She is learning to delay gratification; she lets me know when she is hungry and I get to her as quickly as I can, but I don’t feel bad making her wait ten minutes so I can finish my dinner. But I still like to sing to her and rock her before I put her down, and if she wakes up in the middle of a nap and is clearly hungry, I feed her (a hyper-scheduler would insist she wait until the appointed time).

She is also learning to solve problems on her own, like how to fall asleep when she is tired. While Ben and I will always be there to guide and love our children, we won’t fix their problems for them. Otherwise they won’t learn. Heavenly Father certainly doesn’t fix all of our problems because it is crucial for us to learn from them. His hand is always stretched out, but we must be the ones to initiate contact.

I’ve learned a lot in my reading about parenting philosophies, but mostly I’ve learned that I have to do what feels best and right for me. Some other mothers may not be okay with the idea of letting a baby cry themselves to sleep. Others may think I shouldn’t feed her if she wakes up mid-nap. I don’t care. This works for us. Besides, you can’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures, John 7:17 “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” Basically, if you want to know if something works, you have to try it. Well, this isn’t the case for everything (i.e. I don’t have to touch a burning candle to know that it will burn me), I think it applies in this instance. Mostly I’m just happy to be sleeping through the night and spending my days with a beautiful little baby she makes the funniest noises when she smiles and “tells me stories.” I love my baby and I want what is best for her, and I hope I will continue to grow and learn as a parent so that I can be the mother that she needs.

Here are the books I read that I really recommend, in case you even care.

On Becoming Babywise (you really have to read all of it, otherwise you may misinterpret stuff)

The Happiest Baby on the Block

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

The Baby Book by Dr. Sears (though with a little less enthusiasm because some aspects of their parenting philosophy didn't really work for me, though it is jam packed with other wonderful information)


  1. I totally agree with you. I read Babywise and Happiest Baby with Grant and then took what I liked from the two and did what I wanted. Just remember your next baby maybe be totally different and you may have to change things up on the next one. Your mothers instinct is better than any baby book out there.

  2. At first I read The Baby Book by Dr. Seuss. Lol. I'm glad I realized it wasn't really a rhyming book on parenting. I'm glad you are finding a good rhythm. Some of my friends who have had babies told me that it is better to start out being the hyper bonder and that as they get older they need to learn to suck it up and get used to a schedule. It sounds like that's what you've found out with Ellie. I'm glad you will feed her if she is starving even if it's not on schedule and that you finish eating before feeding her. Moms have needs, too! Don't you forget it.

  3. Not that i have a baby, but I read and enjoyed Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. She's British and always calls you "love." She's all about loving the baby you've got, and she has a similar scheduling that Babywise does: eat, play, sleep.

  4. I just come here to make the same comment (although I also still have no kids), I was very impressed with "The Baby Whisperer" over other books I've read - I think you'd like her philopshophy. She agrees with the middle of the road approach, and then combines it with specifics on how to understand your unique child and apply "E.A.S.Y." (her method). How funny I'm not the first to write that!