On parenting (or childrearing) and learning to relax

Last night I slept. And slept. Amelia came in around 2am and went straight back to bed when told with only the slightest grizzle and then didn’t reappear until 6. Today I feel fantastic. I can’t believe that this is even an issue before the newborn arrives, but sleep is back on the agenda — Late pregnancy insomnia, loud rain, a child who still wakes several times during the night and a kicking inutero baby made it hard to get much rest this last week.
Anyway, while I am awake I have been watching The Gilmore Girls season one on dvd which is very soothing if you have the volume low enough so that you can’t really hear their frenetic conversation – nice to look at but not exactly stimulating so a good one to doze to, and last night I also started flicking through a book called “Parents who think too much” which is a parenting book that is all about how we should ignore parenting books (I think she wrote herself out of a job – this seems to be the only title of hers on Amazon).

I own a couple of parenting books (Baby Love and The Mighty Toddler by the wonderful Robin Barker, as well as The Complete Secrets of Happy Children by Steve Biddulph) all of which I love and would buy again in a heart beat, but I try not to read too many – and mainly settle on ones that don’t set out to make me feel guilty. But despite this I have recently decided that I still take parenting way more seriously than does anyone any good. As we were leaving my parent’s house the other day, Amelia started playing in the piles of autumn leaves on the footpath and as she scooped up a handful of leaves, Mum playfully suggested that she could throw them at the magpie who was standing nearby, eyeing off child-in-autumn-leaves suspiciously as magpies tend to do. Amelia loved the idea and took off after the magpie who had well and truly skidaddled at the meer mention of the word “magpie”.

I muttered something snarkily to Mum about how I try not to encourage aggressive behaviour towards animals, and she muttered something back about my Politically-Correct-Child. At first I was furious – I know it wasn’t meant to be nasty, not at all – more just a defensive retort to an aggressive comment but it certainly wasn’t meant as a compliment. I probably would have said something similar and perhaps it’s true that most of what I push could be labeled as PC, but I am not doing it for that reason, I am doing it because I think I believe in it. But then, in that next moment it came down on me that yes, I was over-reacting (again) and being ridiculous (again) and yes, I care too much about stuff that really doesn’t need caring about.

Afterall, next spring during nesting season, that magpie will probably swoop down and attempt to peck a hole in Amelia’s head protecting her own young and I will probably shout at it or wave a stick at it. I am sure a few leaves thrown in it’s general (retreating) direction in gleeful joy during Autumn won’t be keeping it awake at night, nor will it lead Amelia to a life of violent crimes.

I am making it hard for myself. I am becoming boring and earnest and controlling and I hate it!

I worry about safety, emotions, anxiety, sleep, the language I use when talking to her, the food I let her eat, tv, dvds, shoes that fit, too many extracurricular activities or not enough etc. and try to keep a tight reign over it all. It leaves me feeling exhausted, failing, flailing, joyless and stressed. Obviously none of these things are going to make for a happy child and a happy family, so I am quite pleased to read a book that makes me stop a little and think about not thinking too much (hmm! if that’s possible!) and to learn to trust my gut. I actually believe I have a gut worth trusting. Sometimes I just get out of the habit of doing so.

“I guess a lot of it comes down to what we think good parents ought to be. Well-informed or clearheaded? We attend so carefully to the “letter” of childrearing that we lose the “spirit” of it. We’re less nimble, less able to improvise, laugh and roll with the punches, which could be our greatest assets as parents. The harder we try, the harder raising children becomes. A by-the-book attitude can make us lose sight of the kind of family we want to create; it can even blind us to the dearness of our own children. How will we find the answers unless we follow our own dreams – not someone else’s? If there is any endeavor to which I want to be an amateur, it’s raising my own kids.” – Anne Cassidy “Parents who think too Much”

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44 Responses

  1. Hurrah for child #2! My first was sterilised, politicised and coddled. Child #2 (now 15months) came along when #1 was 3.5 and this morning she stole some leftover toast from the (thankfully clean) bin. She has enjoyed some dried bird poo in the garden when I wasn’t looking, and is left to explore the house unguarded while I happily paint. She is happy, healthy, rounded and much more confident than #1. You’re going to LOVE parenthood second time around. You’re too busy to be perfect and it renews your faith in nature and letting things go their own way. Life is great!

  2. Have I got a book for you: http://tinyurl.com/naap6
    I am only starting it and it is set in America, but she does talk a lot about this crazy-making drive to be perfect. A good library read, perhaps.

  3. serj@bigpond.net.au says:

    Funny thing is, things will change with number 2. Amelia will have the great beginnings of life in this PC world, however, your parenting style will probably relax alot more. Fow example, my # 1 never saw the inside of a McDonald’s till he was 2, # 2 happily munched of fries when he was 1! As for # 3 – if fries kept him quiet on a long trip – let him have them as soon as he can eat!!! (Well maybe he got through the mashed up fruit an d veggie stage first!) Life with more than one child makes relaxed parenting essential!

  4. susan.jonsson@verizon.net says:

    Just for the record, I am with you on teaching kindness to animals…Why not just toss the leaves or jump in them?….and admire the beautiful black and white bird? I think it is ok to not encourage throwing anything at wild things….common sense and a tender heart….Balance.

  5. Think I need to read that book also. My Amelia is six and sometimes I am just the most ridiculous mum. I think robot mum is what I am. I just work on autopilot and then realise that I have forgotten to roll around with her on the bed, blow raspberries on her tummy and tell her silly secrets for months on end. Mothering should be enjoyable and often I dont take enough pleasure in it!Thanks for the post!

  6. I can not tell you how much this post hits a nerve with me today. We have spent a week either in tears or close to tears trying to deal with some confusing behaviour from Zac(I have written a blog post in draft but I’m not sure I can post it because it hurts).I worry ALL THE TIME about whether I am being too tough or too lenient, whether TV is rotting my kids’ brains and whether they will grow up loving one another. Yesterday I seriously considered giving up my well paid and personally rewarding job because I worry that my work is taking away from the kids. I realise this is an indulgent thought because many people can’t even consider giving up work. I need to chill out and your post may just be the thing that brings me back to earth. Thank you.

  7. gardenhoe8@rogers.com says:

    Wow, A million thank yous from a kindered parenting sprit, you put into words what seems to be my life every single day.Minus the magpies mind you, as here my daughter has selected robins as her target. Once again, a heavy sigh from tired mummy… Thank you Claire for letting me know I am not alone in my parenting world.

  8. Claire, when my kids were toddlers/preschoolers, my Mum pointed out to me that all kids benefit from a little bit of what she calls “Healthy Neglect”. That was her way of stopping me from wearing myself into a state by woorying and fussing about little things. Now they are teenagers and I can see that she is right. They need a chance to figure out things for themselves and form their own opinions, even as babies.

  9. I totally understand…it seems the more we know the more I’m afraid and worried for my gals, too.
    I think we probably don’t have to worry as much as we do esp. if we have grandparents near by and a loving family.

    When I get crazy I tell my gals “Mommy is being silly and she’s not angry (upset) with you.” Conversation helps. Little one’s (even if you don’t think they understand language yet) understand when you talk them…the tone of the voice, facial expressions, etc. Talking really helps.

    All the best and thank you for sharing your feelings with us. It makes me feel validated as a mama, too. ; )

  10. cla3671@bigpond.net.au says:

    Great post Claire. I have far too many books on the subject too.

  11. Oh, I heartily agree. I overthink things and leap all sorts of ridiculous conclusions. My Mum told me that when she was raising us getting us to the age of 18 alive was considered good parenting. Now that my eldest daughter is four I find myself hovering over her, asking if she’s ok a thousand times a day, and generally over-parenting her. I need to back off!Good luck with the final stretch of your pregnancy ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Claire,It IS really hard just to know how much to intervene and how much to let life just happen. I sometimes feel like I can’t do enough for my girls and try to be there every step of the way. But sometimes being there also means not being there as they get older, because one of the things I want my girls to have is a strong sense of independence. Which means letting go a little and letting them spread their wings. It’s not getting easier as they get older either. School opens a whole new can or worms. From what I can see though, Amelia will know that she is loved and so cared for, and I think that as long as they know that, they will be OK.

  13. salbrown@gmail.com says:

    There is a book called ‘Buddhism for mothers’? It’s lovely and affirming and has helped me with some of the issues you’ve mentioned.

  14. Oh, I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with raising your children mindfully, is there? Every generation cops a lashing for the way they “ruin” the next generation. But I think we’re raising children for a different world, and in general, kids these days are amazingly confident and articulate, so something must be going right.

  15. Claire I really hope you get some unbroken nights before the bubba arrives. I suppose Gilmore Girls might be watchable with the volume turned way down!!
    I know exactly what you mean about ‘overdoing’ it with kids. I catch myself going into warp drive and getting anxious about not getting everything done I should be doing. Then I try to pull myself up and say ‘I don’t have to have a spotless house’. It’s much more important that I spend time playing with my baby and making her happy than it is to have a perfectly clean house. I’m still trying to live up to my mother’s very high standards. Must get over that!!!!

    My mum told me I needed to relax (don’t you hate it when they’re right?) – so I did, and I am enjoying the ride a whole lot more. Hope you can relax and enjoy it too.

    Hugs to you.

  16. Thanks for the reminder to keep things in perspective.

  17. I need to read that book. I took about 2 hours to buy my youngest two new shoes yesterday, and completely understand all your concerns! I think the lack of sleep makes things worse as my youngest two have been waking up at 5am lately. I hope you get lots of rest this weekend!

  18. eelyshabai@hotmail.com says:

    Hi Claire
    I just wanted to tell you (even though it has no relation to your post) that I saw your work in a recently-launched magazine the other day.

    (I only saw it the other day because I backordered the issue after recently discovering the title).

    Anyway, just wanted to tell you it was very much a case of ‘Oh, that’s by loobylu!’ before looking in the corner for your ‘claire’ signature. It was a cool moment.

    Back to the topic at hand, I think after you have the new bub and have to run around after two never-ending bundles of energy you’ll be too tired to stress over the little things and just concentrate on the fun and love. (speaking purely from the perspective of someone who has no kids but was raised in a single-parent, chaotic, love filled home)

  19. Lynda, I totally agree that there is nothing wrong with raising kids mindfully – and I fully intend to keep doing that. I think what I really need to do is start mindfully finding my sense of joy and humour and love for what I am doing and try and worry less which is just making things (quite obviously to us at the moment) difficult for Amelia who is picking up on it.

  20. I agree, #2 son is much less coddled and as a result easy going and less uptight.I am as bad as everyone else, I would find myself asking #1 son *who did you play with at school today, were they nice, were you nice, did you eat your lunch* .. on and on it went.
    I agree itโ€šร„รดs so important that we teach them standards but I must admit Iโ€šร„รดve seen the error of my ways and the need for my children to have spontaneity and initiative. As a result I am less stressed.

  21. when i was leaving the hospital, three years ago, with my newborn baby in my arms, my midwife gave me the best advice i’ve heard so far. “many people will give you advice. listen to them, but do what it feels good to you. follow your instinct”

  22. Thank you Claire xoxI know so many of us are thinking just that! too much? not enough? I will have to check that book out. sweet dreams..

  23. when i was pregnant someone gave me a ‘great” book that showed month by month illistrations of the fetus, which is kind of fun – to have so idea what the bump looks like on the inside. the book was all and good until month 7 showed what baby looks like with the cord wrapped around it’s neck! yuck! grossed me out and made me paranoid. of course bubba llew came out like a slippery star. no worries at all.i’ve always been around babies and kids, being the youngest in a large family warrents lots of nieces and nephews, and that has provided a wealth of to do’s and to not’s and i’ve come to the conclusion that lots of love, attention, food and warmth, kindness is all you really need to provide, the little ones do the rest.

  24. um, not wanting to dismiss the not-thinking/parenting-too-hard, (because i’m all for that), but I remember one particular memory when I was 5 years old in kindy, I pointed out one of those big black shiny beetles crawling on the ground to my teacher. Instead of saying it was ugly/gross like I thought, she picked it up and showed me how i could stroke it gently on the back. That small, but significant event, I swear changed the way I saw living creatures in my subconscious from that point on, starting from gently holding this tiny helpless bug, rather than squashing it. I KNOW for a fact that around this age, small influences can have a huge affect.

  25. ClaireYoull see what happens when the baby comes. The second one will free yourself and make everything in perspective. And something very important: when the first one came i was thinking “i want to teach her that, that, that”. when the second arrived (the first one was 14 months!!!!)i understood that they have arrived to teach me. the best is about to come.

  26. ahhh i should get this book. i am probably fairly relaxed, we are all silly and chase each other around shops and run around the shopping center laughing like crazy, but when it comes to food – forget it. I am strict mum number 1. i figure he’ll be getting more than enough junk at parties when he’s older, i’m not about to start feeding it to him now. thats not to say he hasn’t had bits of junk here and there, but i must say I prefer to hear him being a child that whines that he wants some yogurt rather than one that whines that he wants chocolate ๐Ÿ˜‰ finding the balance is hard, i too worry about the tv, is he being stimulated enough, do i spend enough time with him, blah blah. mothering is a tough job!

  27. Hi Claire,
    My oldest is 19 and I’m still learning! But I have to say one thing I have learned is that it is better to be a responsible parent than to be a good parent. What’s the difference? A “good” parent is one that fits societial expectations of what every kid is supposed to be doing (too many activities, the right activities, three languages by age four, politically correct in every way, environmentally sensitive, etc). A responsible parent is one who makes sure that their child is well provided for emotionally, physically and mentally. That means teaching them to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions about themselves and the world around them. We don’t want to control them we just want to keep them from making bad choices. But they are sometimes going to make bad choices (like bopping a younger sib with a dolly or chasing birds). Instead of trying to get them to be perfect we can try to show them why we disagree with this behavior. Unless they learn to think this process through for themselves they will never learn — only parrot us.
    Believe me, I sympathize, it’s not easy raising them. But from what I’ve read here over the last year + you’re doing a great job. Relax and believe in yourself. It will be okay.


  28. I was just thinking to myself yesterday — in the midst of another trying day with a 2 1/2 year old — that I haven’t read a parenting book since he was a newborn. might be time to crack one. I have that secrets of happy children. anything in there about toddlers who give up on eating and sleeping and listening?? but I hear you on the balance. I swing too far the other way, convinced my common sense will get the job done right. although geez, compared to my mom I seem like a total uptight mom. we had lots of moments early on like the one you describe. poor grandmas.
    I wouldn’t think too much about thinking too much. sounds like everyone agrees the 2nd baby will take care of that on its own. those are 2 lucky little girls to have such a loving & thoughtful mom!

  29. I appreciate your thoughtful post so much. My daughter and I have been having many a row over her treatment of our cat. I think I just need to step back and let her and the cat have it out after reading this post and comments.
    I read tons of books while pregnant and when she was a baby but haven’t consulted one for over a year. I am feeling guilty and uneducated but at the same time am just trying to go with the flow and just follow her lead. Except that cat issue. Need to follow my own advice.

  30. hi claire,
    a little mommy-angst is normal! follow your instincts. i’ve read my share of parenting books (and embraced some things and rejected others), but the governing principle for me is to always interact with my kids in a sincere and heartfelt way, not in a scripted and edited way. not to go recommending another book, but “playful parenting” by lawrence cohen is really great for some ideas about how to relax in your interactions with your kids.

    i am loving your posts and illustrations lately!

  31. I think it’s really great that you are able to see yourself from somewhat of an outside perspective on this issue. It’s one of the things that I see a lot of my friends doing, being way too controlling with every aspect of their child’s life, even down to the fun that they have.

  32. Thank you for a great post – the voices in my head were starting to take-over! When my grandmother had her first child her mother turned to her and said, “Dear, you’ll never take another breath for yourself as long as you live.”

  33. asta_pup@yahoo.com says:

    cheers to Mira! great comments! my hubby tries to remind me of those things often but it’s good to have reminders from all around.

  34. Thanks for writing about this. I’ve recently realised that reading so many parenting books isn’t actually helping – I’m just beating myself up about not being perfect. I have an image of how I want us to be as a family (basically happy and laidback) and I’ve been getting stressed and uptight because no one seems happy, and how can you be laidback when your 3 year old tries to run out into the road? It’s interesting that so many people have commented that it got easier with child #2 – I’ve not found this to be the case (sorry!) I’ve found I’m worrying and beating myself up twice as much. While I know the perfect mother doesn’t exist, it’s hard not to strive to be “perfect”. I worry about every time I get cross or yell in case I’m screwing them up – along with the worries about food, traffic, dirt-eating, discipline, TV etc etc. Then I realise that no one is having fun right now, least of all me. I can definitely identify with wanting more joy in our lives (and now I’m worried about that too). Honestly, I’m not as neurotic as I sound, but I think it’s the downside of “conscious” parenting – we perhaps know too much about the potential effects of our choices on our kids, so it’s hard to relax about stuff we think we might be doing “wrong”. Despite promising myself I have to stop reading parenting books, it sounds as if this one might be a good idea! I agree that “love, attention, food and warmth, and kindness” are what a child needs, as well as a dose of “healthy neglect” – but sometimes that gets lost in the daily grind. It’s easy to sound too negative about this, but sometimes the worries do take over – hopefully then we take steps to let go and enjoy the ride. I think it’s important to make sure our own needs are getting met too. Maybe we just have to work harder at being laidback?!

  35. gilmorefan@wb.com says:

    Wow so surpised you said didn’t enjoy the Gilmore Girls. It’s a smarlty written comedy about a relationship between mother and daughter. I’ve been watching for the entire time it has been on air. The banter is funny and filled with lots of social commentary. Sorry you don’t appreciate it.

  36. janatig@hotmail.com says:

    I don’t want you to second-guess your second-guessing, but I really don’t think encouraging your child to be kind to animals is too PC at all. And while I don’t think that any lifetime of harm will come from chucking some leaves at a bird, young kids don’t have the automatic boundaries adults do. In other words, why is it okay to throw leaves at birds, but not stones? How about stones at dogs? Or other kids?
    Don’t feel guilty for sticking to your guns when it comes to kindness.

  37. kmhburke@hotmail.com says:

    Claire, great post: — isn’t it cool how so many of us, right across the world, are nodding our heads and agreeing and sympathizing. (Be even more cool if we could all get together for jar at a local pub, but oh well ;)) Having the sounding board and support of other moms (virtual and in person) is a huge boost to the spirit. My second birth came in a set — #2 & #3 b/g twins and WOW, what a dif parenting these guys. My 4 year old daughter decided (!) to give them both a spoonfull of chocolate pudding last night (7 months old!) and you know what? it didn’t kill them, but broke huge smiles and reaction by all three kids. Hubby is home with them and I am at work, and it has been tough to relinquish “primary caregiver” control, etc. BUT — it is very cool too that he has found this to be his 100% favorite profession. You may find (as I did) that Big-P and Amelia will form a stronger bond and be spending much more quality and MUNDANE time together. Take care, and that goes to y’all! ๐Ÿ™‚

  38. poehler@xcelco.on.ca says:

    Honey, once number 2 arrives the last thing you will even be conscious about is little Amelia throwing leaves at a magpie. Relax and enjoy all this. In twenty years your going to want to say that “I had so much fun having my kids.” It’s not fun for you or them if your always stressing about every little thing they do. Why not you and gramma get out there and throw some leaves around yourselves. Laughing is the best thing for everything.

  39. Watched a bluejay divebombing my little kitty this morning. She (kitters) seemed strangely oblivious. Thougt to shoo jay. Decided to let them work it out. (Didn’t feel like getting out of my chair.) Decided they were both kind of enjoying the attention.

  40. rsiemienowicz@hotmail.com says:

    Isn’t it ghastly to still be having broken nights’ sleep after 3+ years of it! I remember how despairing I was when my own mum recalled that she didn’t really get consistent full sleep nights out of us kids until we were about 5. But knowing this also helps to lower expectations. Sometimes the hardest thing to manage is the rage that I feel that I am still not getting a full night’s sleep after all these years. But then, every other child in my 3 year old playgroup is now waking periodically for drinks, cuddles, dream-management etc. So must be normal. Yawn…

  41. I told you some of this before; I have 3 kids–Miriam was my first born and I was very, very, very obsessed about parenting her. Noah came along a little less than 2 years later and quickly on his heels came Alex, who we’re adopting and who is actually older by 5 months than Miriam.
    My parenting is still mindful, thoughtful and purposeful…but I *have* to be more relaxed now. I’m learning all the time to balance the thoughtfulness and tiredness; carefulness and laziness.

    I like the term conscious parenting; afterall so many, many parents do their parenting by default…finding the balance between that and obsessiveness is difficult.

    Blessings to you; both your #1 and #2 will be blessed by having a loving mama.

  42. ema.nymtonsti@gmail.com says:

    You must buy this book:
    How Not To Be a Perfect Mother

    As for the rest of it, try to be kind to your poor hormone addled self. You’ll be alright, and so will your babies.

  43. Wow, what an honest and fantastic post Loobylu!

  44. Claire, you should check out this comic, Baby Blues. (www.babyblues.com)It’s hilarious. But I don’t think they have it in Australia.