Thursday, June 9, 2011

Laid-back or lazy?

As you may have figured out by now, we're a pretty laid-back pair of parents. This parenting style, as it were, is partly based on personality and partly on philosophy. Which is to say, Jon and I are pretty chilled out people to begin with (okay, mostly me for that one, but Jon goes with the flow within his own set ways, if that is possible). But I would be stricter with myself in a heartbeat if I thought that was what Gus needed. I just happen to think that babies do well when their needs are addressed in a child-led, as opposed to parent-led, way.

In our house, this manifests itself in a variety of ways. Gus doesn't have a set napping schedule or bedtime. There is a pretty regular rhythm to each day, and I try to pay close attention to his mood and then nurse him to sleep (or attempt to, anyway!) when he starts to act tired. We have a fairly regular bedtime, but we don't force him to sleep or ignore him while he stays awake after that time. I breastfeed on demand. Solid food meals are baby-led as well, so I don't force him to eat a certain amount. I do try and encourage him to taste the various things I put on his tray, but if he is not in the mood for food, then he will just skip that meal and make it up at the next meal or with milk.

This all works really well for me. I am not the type of person who could  follow a schedule where I have to put baby down for a nap at a certain time every day--I need more flexibility in my life than that. And while some people would hate not knowing that their baby is eating x meals a day and drinking y ounces of milk, it would drive me up the wall to worry about an extra ounce here or a missed meal there.

More importantly, this seems to work really well for Gus, too. He is such an easy-going little guy. People often comment on how happy he is (or, more often, how "well behaved" he is, which I interpret to mean he seems contented). To me, this shows that the way we are doing things fits his personality just as well as it fits ours.

The thing I worry about is taking things too far. I thought about this the other night when it was 9.30 and Gus was still crawling back and forth on the bed, playing with everything he could get his hands on. I felt maybe I should have been doing more to get him to sleep. Was I, as a parent, just letting him down, and thereby nurturing a child who would never listen to any authority, never do anything but what pleased him in that moment? Sure, he's only 7 months old now, but do we need to start instilling better habits? Am I just letting him stay up late because I am too lazy to impose a bedtime?

People talk a lot about how children "need limits" and "crave boundaries". This post at Demand EUPHORIA really made me think about that little axiom. She says:
I'm still the same person as I was as a child. I have the same feelings and thoughts now as I did then. I think kids are just like adults in terms of how they want to be treated. I think people, young and old, want to have ultimate control over their bodies and their lives.
It all comes back to the idea that children are people too, and they deserve to have their feelings and wishes respected. Do I really know better than Gus what he needs at any given moment? And if he does need boundaries and limits, are these things that can be malleable, that we can work out together, as a family, as he gets older, or do they need to be imposed upon him?

I think a big part of the difficulty I have with this is that "common knowledge" says that this is what parents do: impose limits, set boundaries, ensure that the kiddos toe the line. One thing I have found out about myself in the last 7 months, though, is that the decisions I make are not mainstream (you would have thought I'd have figured this out about myself earlier in my life, but apparently not!). But just because we, as parents, are making decisions we feel are best for our family doesn't mean it is always easy to go against the cultural norm.  I am very conscious of how others might see me (I'm a people pleaser, for sure), and I think I have a fear of being labelled permissive--in a bad way.

I *think* Jon and I are doing okay parenting our little babe. But it's such a journey, this parenting thing, and I feel we constantly have to step back, take stock of how things are going, and think about what needs to be tweaked. At the moment, I'm going to say things are mostly good. But I really want to parent intentionally, doing things because they are best for our family, not because I am too lazy to do any differently.


  1. I often see people making the point that "natural parenting" works great for lazy moms (mostly by natural parents poking fun at themselves), and I totally get what they're saying, but I don't think any of us are truly being lazy. It would take far less physical energy to put a child in bed at a certain time and let them fall asleep on their own, rather than parenting them to sleep for example.

    Sometimes if feels lazy because it's so darned logical and simple, but you are definitely not a lazy mom!

  2. I struggle with this, too. I think at this age (my son is only a few months older), the rules that need to be set are safety and 'courtesy'. For example, we don't let Peter stand in his high chair or in the tub. We discourage him from yelling in restaurants or during Mass. This way he is learning that there are rules, but they are not arbitrary. I think deciding when to instill rules, and what they should be, will be an ongoing process as we parent, though.

  3. Geoff's mom babysat for Dominic these past three days while I was at work and at the beginning she asked me about his schedule and I kind of laughed. Uh his schedule is when he is tired, I put him to sleep. When hungry, I feed him ect. I agree with Melissa that it is harder and more time consuming to parent your child to sleep, cosleep, breastfeed on demand, ect. But we do it because it is what is best for them right now. There will come a time when life gets a little more strict, but I will deal with that when the time comes. :)

    See you next week!!

  4. I'll chime in here (and probably be that really annoying "more experienced mom"), having been through this stage 3 times, and now having 6, 4 and 2-year-old kids.

    Following the child in the first year & a half or so is the only way to go. Eventually, you'll find that Baby does need a "schedule." Kids do need routine, just not in the baby year. And you're right, you'll feel your way into it. My kids got onto a two-nap-a-day schedule sometime in the first year (late), and sometime in the second year they eased back to a single afternoon nap. You have to lead them to this, but you can do that and still be an attachment parent. It's not lazy at all; it requires great thought and creativity to lead a child to the place you're trying to get them, without stomping over their needs and preferences. The older they get, the more needed are the routines. One of my blog friends is doing a whole series of parenting practices, which are awesome. Here's the one on routines:

    Okay, I'll stop being annoying now and go get showered for church. :)