It was his second night at home, third night alive in this world. It was 2 a.m. and my rocking and singing weren't lullaby-ing my baby boy to sleep. In the months prior, I laid in bed, pillows stuffed all around me, reading about sleep habits and the big danger of pacifiers and nipple confusion and four year-olds who can’t let go of binkies. But as I lay in my bed next to him, curled slightly so as not to put any pressure on any one post-delivery spot, I listened to him whimper in the bassinet. Exhausted and overwhelmed with the enormity of caring for a brand new human, I tip-toed into the guest bedroom where my mom lay, and I asked if it was okay to give him a pacifier. Bleary-eyed, she affirmed that all four of us kids used pacifiers, and we’re thriving adults. Not quite sure of my own autonomy as a mother, my mom gave me the permission I needed. I shuffled back into our dark room, gave him the binkie, and we both fell asleep.
Before I went back to work, I hustled to get my son sleep trained. Some of my close friends shared how they had done it, and I decided that all good working moms make sure their babies can sleep without them, so I must follow suit. I’d roll him in the swaddle, sing to him, lay him down flat in a timely fashion, then pace in the living room, Babywise and sticky notes in hand, convincing myself that I was strong enough to make this happen—strong enough to make another human want to go to sleep. I let him cry and cry, longer than I care to recall. I did that a few times a day for several days, yielding pitiful results and lots of tears for both of us. It wasn’t working. My baby cried to me and I cried to my mom, recounting nightmares of my baby boy screaming in his Pack N Play at daycare because his mom didn’t teach him how to fall sleep. Finally, my mom, in her infinite wisdom, said that maybe this wasn’t the right time, and that maybe I should try again later. I grabbed my son from his crib and wrapped him in my arms. I stood in my living room, bare feet on our tile floor with the windows open, tears falling on his swaddled body as I rocked him to sleep in my arms. John Mayer’s words sang softly in the background, and I decided that being close to him, dancing to "Heart of Life," was the best way to end my maternity leave.
This is the allegory of my life these days. I read all the books by Ezzo, Karp, and Weissbluth. I read them like a prescription, dutifully following the instructions with pretty hit-or-miss results. I text friends who give timely advice and encouragement, but still, it doesn’t look like what they described. I fall apart in tears, wondering how I’ll help my son grow to be healthy and capable. And then I realized that’s supposed to happen. I know him better than the Babywise people. So far there’s only one expert in this field, and it’s me.
One minute I'm reading everything I can get my hands on, trying to figure out how to make sure he’ll get good SAT scores because I taught him how to fall asleep on his own, and the next minute I'm releasing all that information into thin air when I realize that I know my baby better than the books. Then I do my own thing, and we slow dance to my favorite songs and a wave of assuredness sweeps over me.
This is what motherhood has taught me: to do my thing.
I’ve lived 31 years under my own tutelage of comparisons and unattainable expectations. When something breaks down or falls apart, I assume full responsibility, even if it’s not mine to own. Now that I’m a parent, this unhealthy mode of operation pours out onto my sweet baby boy. He doesn’t need a mom who is living by the books; he needs a mom who studies him first and makes decisions with him in mind, not a prescribed sleep schedule. He needs a mom who feels the freedom to keep him up late to play with his cousins and a mom who doesn’t feel guilty when he isn’t the happiest baby on the block.
Suddenly I understand that the years I spent observing and striving to be like someone else or some foreign form of myself isn’t who I want to be. And so much deeper than that, my son, with every bone in his body, every tooth that is starting to make itself known, needs me to believe that I am enough for him—needs me to believe that my decision is the best one for him, even if it means making mistakes here and there. He needs me, wholeheartedly, in every Brene Brown manner.
I’ve fought comparison for decades. I’ve wrung my hands dry in angst over trivial mistakes, wishing I could turn back time, not to change careers or travel to a new continent, but to rephrase what I said to that person so that I didn’t sound like an aggressive snob or whatever hideous person I’ve characterized for myself.
I don’t want that for myself, and I certainly don’t want that for my son. I will read the books and get advice, but my new practice is going to be to take a deep breath and just do my thing. I will steady my footing in who I am and who I am to my son. I am exactly who he needs, faults and all.
Corrie Myers is a wife, new mom, writer, and high school English teacher. This Bay Area native has been wooed over by the beaches of San Clemente, CA. In addition to her family and friends, she loves books, making lists, the beach, Napa, wine, summer camp, and school spirit. She blogs as often as possible at Gonna Get There.
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