Saturday, June 02, 2007

Hints for the New Mother: Part I
Dealing with Every Body Else's Expectations.

Myself included, everyone who has ever had a baby fancies herself to be "expert" on how to take care of an infant. In fact, it seems that anyone who has ever even been within a mile of a baby has a strong opinion about what a baby needs and when. We "experts" are seldom shy about expressing our advice to a new mother.

A new mother can be bewildered by lots of seemingly conflicting advice. The first time she takes baby out, for example, someone will exclaim, "You should have dressed Baby more warmly! Wrap this blanket around Baby!" A few seconds later, someone else will cry, "You're smothering baby! Take off that heavy blanket so that Baby's skin can breathe!"

There are three ways a young mom can react to this phenomenom:

1) The young mother can become insecure and fearful about taking care of her own child. She will despair that no matter what she does, she is bound to do something wrong. This thought pattern is not healthy for mother or child.

2) The young mother can become prideful and defensive. She will decide that she and she alone knows what is best for her child. She will blow off all advice from others, even when advice is really needed. This also is not beneficial to either mother or child.

3) The young mother will keep a humble heart. She will realize that raising a child is an awesome task, and she will welcome prayers on her behalf. She will also welcome help from other people. However, she will be confident that her Heavenly Father will guide her as she takes care of Baby.

Because of her source of confidence, she is not threatened by the advice of others. She can hear suggestions, sort out what is helpful, and let the rest go. She will not let comments about her mothering disturb her peace.

She will also be humble enough to actively seek advice when it is needed.

This is the healthiest and most godly approach.

Here are some more ideas for the young mother:

1) If your husband, your doctor, and you prayerfully agree on some aspect of baby care and someone tries to get you to take a different approach, there is a gracious way to handle this. Let your pediatrician be the "mean guy". Most doctors of young children are aware that young moms will be innudated with advice. They are only too happy to take the responsiblity for prescribing a particular course of action.

All you have to do is to say, sweetly, "Thank you so much for your suggestion. I appreciate your interest in Baby. However, our doctor feels that ____ is best for Baby, right now."

2) Remember, mothers and mothers-in-law can be invaluable sources of parenting wisdom. I know I have learned so much from mine! They can also be of great help when Baby is first born. They can tend to household chores and to visitors so that you can rest and bond with Baby. Do not feel guilty if you rest or nursing while your mother or mother-in-law is doing the laundry or cooking. Most likely, she is delighted to help in this way.

Many mothers and mothers-in-law know how to be there for you without "taking over". However, in their love and enthusiasm for a precious grandchild, many mothers and mothers-in-law step over the line from being helpful to smothering. As one who is praying to start having grandchildren in the next couple of years, I can imagine myself doing that very thing!

I believe that we are called to respect our parents and parents-in-law all of their lives. However, we are also to "leave and cleave" and to start our own family. So, it's best to establish healthy boundaries early on, when Baby is an infant. This must be done delicately, however, and with the greatest of honor and gratitude towards those who raised us.

If your mother-in-law gets carried away when helping you with Baby, be patient and understanding. Remember, she is excited about becoming a grandmother, and she loves Baby as you do. She also has memories of your DH from the time she first held him in her arms until the day he became a father, himself. When she sees her dear son with his own baby in his arms, her heart bursts with joy. Naturally, she wants to share in Baby's life. She may have come to love you, deeply, as well, and she may have a genuine desire to help you.

However, if you continually feel overshadowed by your mother-in-law's "help", your husband may need to have a gentle talk with her. He may need to point out that she must let you both step into your rightful roles as father and mother to Baby. This means that she must give the two of you some emotional space so that you can grow into your responsiblities as Baby's parents.

If your mother is the one who is "over-enthusiastic", you may need to talk with her. Again, be patient. She loves you and Baby more than you can know until you stand in her shoes. Also, she has been used to being your mother all of your life. Even though you are married, it may tempting to her to go right on mothering you and to start mothering your baby, as well. Yet, it is important for your mother and for you that she step back just a bit to let you mature into motherhood. This may be one of the last steps she will take in recognizing you as a fully grown woman, a woman who has her own household now.

So, if your mother is over-stepping her bounds, it will be good for your her, for you, and for Baby if you establish healthy relationships from the beginning. Do have a gentle talk with your mother, if you need to.

Most likely, as you and your dh grow in confidence, you and your combined parents will fall into a sweet relationship where you all contribute appropriately to Baby's life. Usually, these generational relationships sort themselves out once grandparents become accustomed to the fact that you and dh are, indeed, capable parents and that Baby is thriving under your care. However, it is easier to establish roles and boundaries early on than to deal with problems later on, after habits and resentments have developed on both sides.

3) In the first year of life, the most important thing you can give your baby is love. Babies thrive when they are given lots of affection, sung to, read to, prayed over, and cared for.

When it comes to the practicals -- such as how to get Baby to sleep all night -- there is usually more than one approach that can work. So, listen to and seek advice. But, work out what is best for you and Baby.

4) Parenting theories -- like much of man's wisdom -- swing on a pendulum. For example, when I was born in the 1950's, most experts believed that babies should be put on a strict schedule right away. Some even went so far as to say that a baby should never be rocked or comforted or played with unless it was at a scheduled time! Even the famous Dr. Spock, whose permissive parenting theories are blamed for spoiling my entire generation, advocated some form of scheduling for babies.

When my children were born in the eighties, experts decided that the moment a child cried, the mother should drop everything and pick it up immediately. Experts advocated nursing totally on demand, as well.

Now, the pendulum has swung again, and parents are being urged to schedule babies, once more.

It's been my observation that there is a middle ground between putting a baby on a schedule that is stricter than boot camp and bewteen letting the baby run the entire household ragged with his cries. A flexible and adaptable schedule, in which mother and baby develop some rhythm to their days, works well, imho.

I have an idea that there is a middle ground with regard to many practicals of infant care. If you are a young mother, be wary of following any one parenting theory to its fullest extreme, particularly if the theory has to do with matters of opinion rather than with scriptural precedents. Also, give yourself some time to figure out what approach works for baby and for you.

Here's an area where experienced mothers can help you sort things out.

5) Remember, older women have been charged with teaching you how to love your children and you have been charged with learning from them. Do look for two or three older women who are/were happy in their role as mothers and whose children you admire. Actively seek their counsel. Also, talk with other young moms who are going through the same stage you are in parenting. They'll be able to give you emotional support.



Mrs. U said...

Wonderful post, Elizabeth!! Since bringing my little one home, I've definitely encountered lots of extra advice!!!

Mrs. U

Belle-ah said...

Well, even though I have managed to rear 3 babies safely out of the stage I don't know that I will ever feel like an expert! LOL I still panic if I hold a newborn...they always feel "floppier" than I remember mine feeling and each of my 3 challenged me in such different ways as infants. Babies are precious and God is so good to guide and love Mommies during that season.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Mrs. U.

Enjoy your little one!

Hi Belle-ah.

I know what you mean about each baby being so different!

I also know about forgetting how to hold a newborn. I remember when I had a toddler that I picked up someone's brand new baby. I was so used to lifting a larger baby that I had forgotten just how light a newborn was. I panicked for a minute, thinking that I was about to accidentally the toss the baby to the ceiling. Of course, the baby stayed safely in my arms, with head properly supported, and all was well. But, it was a weird feeling just the same!