In Buddhism, there’s a certain philosophy of “the Middle Way” (being the mid point between extremes) as the path to enlightenment. I may not be headed anywhere near enlightenment, but I’ve found myself on a kind of “Middle Way” path in terms of motherhood. Perhaps the only thing that’s surprising about this is that it’s surprising to me at all.
Generally, I’m a very liberal person. I’m a tye-dyed in the wool hippie pacifist type. I grew up in Vermont, which is pretty much Mecca for granola crunchers. I went to preschool on a commune (literally) and after flirting with more standard forms of education went to college at an alternative school with no grades and a logo that looks not unlike a pot leaf (Hemp… I mean, HAMPshire College). I’m a Buddhist whose political aspirations include giving the world a hug. One would certainly think that I’d be a pretty hippie-fied mother.
And yet… this isn’t what I’ve found to be true at all.
Certainly, I have my moments. While we’re not there yet, Paulo will not be allowed to play with guns in the home. That’s a big one for me, especially as the mama of a boy, not to condone violence or “toys” whose only purpose is to play-act violence. Sorry in advance there, buddy, but my own mama wouldn’t let me have G.I. Joes to go with my Barbies because she – and I’m quoting her verbatim, as told to me age six – “didn’t want representations of the military industrial complex in the home.” I wasn’t allowed to have so much as a super soaker, putting me at a distinct disadvantage against the armed forces of the neighborhood boys. Again, sorry Paulo, but you’ll have to get some balloons and use them strategically as grenades. It’s just how it’s gonna be.
(Appropriately, I just realized that he’s wearing his Buddha Belly onesie as I’m writing this.)
On the other hand… I’ve started attending a playgroup with some other “hippie” type mamas and it’s really brought home how far out there I’m not. There are some ways in which I feel that by comparison, I’m practically driving a minivan and voting Republican. (Please note: I drive a Honda Fit and in 2000, I voted for Nader and I apologize.) Sure, I breastfeed and co-sleep, but I also use disposable diapers. Oh, yeah, I wanted to use cloth and give the earth a hug – but my husband doesn’t like the idea of poop in the washing machine, so here we are. Yes, I sacrificed the planet for marital harmony.
Even in terms of breastfeeding, when Nuno takes Paulo for the morning shift (those sweet, sweet four hours which are the longest chunk of uninterrupted sleep I’ve had since he was born 10 weeks ago), he gets supplemented with formula. For various reasons, I decided not to pump which makes me a bit of an anomaly with the La Leche League crowd. We had actually planned to supplement quite a bit more than we are, and the only reason that hasn’t happened is that breastfeeding is actually easier than I thought it would be. We’d started out planning on almost a 50/50 split, and I’m pleasantly surprised to say that The Whuff is 95% breastfed.
Also with co-sleeping, I’m far from a hard-liner. With us, it was partially a matter of necessity being as we’re currently in a one bedroom apartment. We’ll be moving this summer and The Whuff will have his own room and we’ll start the process of sleep-training if and when he ever stops nursing every two hours. I don’t plan on having him in bed with me for the next year, or even the next six months. It’s just what works for now.
Which is really the point of motherhood – especially new motherhood. You’ve got to do whatever works. While my ideals might be a lot more “bohemian,” my reality is that we’re happiest when dad’s not freaking out about poop, and mom can occasionally sleep for more than two hours at a time. As a nanny, I made it a point not to judge anyone’s parenting habits and now as a mom, I feel even more strongly that you’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do to make it through the night intact. I might not breastfeed Paulo until he’s 2 (I probably won’t!), but if that’s someone else’s choice and it works for them – I’m for it. Likewise if a mother doesn’t feel like breastfeeding works for her and she would rather formula feed – I’m for it.
As I go along my own mothering journey, I’m finding that there really are very, very few issues where I have hardline viewpoints about what any parent “should” do and the ones that there are come down to public health issues. I personally feel that every parent “should” vaccinate, but I understand that not all parents feel this way. Similarly, I feel like all babies “should” be put on their backs to sleep, but again, not all parents are worried about SIDS risks to the same extent that I am. These are really the only two issues I can think of where someone going the other way rankles me a bit – and that’s simply because I worry about the health/safety of their child. Still, it’s their child, not mine.
My own child and I are finding our path on the Middle Way leaving our ideals behind us and simply taking what works.