I’ve had brewing some thoughts on parenting for some time now. There seems to be a modern pseudo-religion cropping up around the sacredness of motherhood, and the importance of doing things naturally. Now, in principle, we don’t disagree with some of the notions that are going around. Certainly being a mother, “giving” life, nurturing a tiny, totally dependent being, and raising children in a good home is a monumental and wonderful task. In our home, we considering “being mom” to be a calling from God, and have structured our lives to give priority to that task. And certainly there’s wisdom in traditional values, and using healthy, natural products free of chemicals where ever possible. Absolutely, we believe that we should provide for our children the best we are able.
However, I’d like to throw a dash of reality into this debate:
1) Babies poop and puke. Yes, this is natural. No, its not beautiful. Poo is gross — even if it comes out of your little angel’s bum. Cloth diapers or manufactured diapers is not a religious decision: they are tools for preventing poo from getting everywhere. That is all.
2) Breastmilk has great, proven and suggested benefits for children, but this is not a spiritual factor, its a practical one. We liked that we didn’t have to pay for formula, and Nicole enjoyed the bonding time with her children. She did not enjoy having sharp little baby teeth biting her nipples. By the time there were teeth coming in, it was high time to ween the kids. And we still cuddled them while holding a bottle until they were so big that their little legs had to drape over the arms of the chair. They weren’t emotionally scarred by the bottle, and more importantly, Nicole didn’t have to be physically scarred by their teeth.
3) “Crying it out” or “Ferberizing” a baby has Biblical logic behind it. Children, although they may be cute and cuddly and fun, are still born with a sin nature. They come out of the womb selfish. Of course we would go to our children if they were crying in fear or pain or hunger — not only could Nicole differentiate their cries instinctually, but I could too, within a couple months of bringing them home. We would never leave Ben or Abi in their crib if they were scared, or had wiggled themselves into a corner and were freaking out cause they couldn’t get out. But you’d better believe we trained the selfish, “I want attention because I’m mad at you for putting me to bed” cry out of them right quick.
Both our kids slept through the night, in their own room, before they were 3 months old. And they slept peacefully, and woke happily — and they only had to cry themselves to sleep a couple times before they learned that the universe didn’t revolve around their demands.
Yup, that’s the point I’m making. Just because you knock boots with your spouse and squeeze a life form out of your hoo-haw (with or without pharmaceutical assistance, also not a spiritual decision), that does not make you mother earth, nor your child the center of the universe. That was not God’s intention. His intention is to create people who give glory to Him.
We don’t pretend to be the best parents in the world, but we have two well-adjusted toddlers who are enjoyable, obedient, affectionate and independent. They have learned, and will continue to learn, the appropriate autonomy for their age. As babies, it was appropriate for them to learn to how to sleep on their own — this is an essential life skill, and has great benefits for the quality of parenting they get. There was no emotional damage to them being sleep trained, and in fact, I would argue that there was huge emotional benefit.
Bed time, wake-up time, nap time, and meal times provide the structure for our children’s day. We can do any activity we want with them, as long as we return to the safety of their routine. It is that very safety that gives them the confidence to try new things. It is that very routine that allows them to participate in an adult world — and to enjoy it. And it is that routine which allows Nicole and I to continue to pursue the other responsibilities and tasks God places before us. Yes, parenting is one of the most important tasks of our lives — but its not the only one.
(We went to Asia this summer to explore missions, and because our kid’s routine was consistent in our absence, and because we left them with people who could love them, while still guiding and disciplining them, we were able to leave our 2 and 3 year old behind for two weeks without any damage to their psyche. The things we can teach our kids as a result of our obedience there FAR outweigh the benefits of breastfeeding a 2 year old!)
I read a study once that measured the emotional health of a child by observing their behaviour in relation to their mother. When brought to a new play area, a healthy child will leave mom to explore confidently. If they fall down, or get scared, they would return to mom for a confidence boost, and then go back to exploration — the assurance that mom is available is enough to convince them that its OK to try again. Routine is similar. It provides a home base for their day, so that they can explore new things and new activities with the assurance that they can return to what they know as normal afterward.
Its for that reason that as soon as possible we began training our babies out of their mostly nocturnal in-the-womb day, into a predictable, daylight day, including a bed time, that save for abnormal circumstances, was set it stone — regardless of their sin-natured opinion of it. The result was that we very quickly established a healthy routine that allowed us to begin “exploring” the world with them.
The bottom line is that homes should not be child centered. They should be God centered. We love our children, and pour unconditional affection, love and loving correction and guidance into their lives. But even as tiny little people, they are their own people — they are not a function of us, and we are not a function of them. Our role is to raise them, not commune with them. Our responsibility is to teach them about the world, their place within it, and their Creator God who made them for a purpose. We protect them, but we do not live for them. Nor they for us.
Some crying and some bruises along the way proves that they are learning to overcome their little challenges, and teaches them how to deal with adversity as they continue to grow. Don’t believe me? Read Proverbs…