I walked the floor with a baby on each shoulder gently bounce, bounce, bouncing them, my back burning, hoping to ease my twins to sleep. They must've been just a few weeks old, our fourth and fifth kids, recently out of the neonatal intensive care unit, all of us recovering from their premature birth as I tried to learn two new little ones. What worked. What didn't. How to navigate a whole new life. Again.
One of the boys, Cael, my snuffler and snuggler and warm-skin lover, conked right out, comforted by the mama sounds and mama smells and chaos all around us.
The other twin, though? Oy. Cai didn't settle. And so for him, I continued to pace. Was he colicky? Gassy? Burpy? Sick? Over-stimulated? Hungry? Bored? I didn't know.
He cried and cried, and I walked and walked, and I didn't know.
My mom-in-law was over, and she offered to help. "Can I take him for a bit?" Judy asked. "Give you a break?"
Sometimes I dream of being a grandmother. All the wonderful parts of childrearing with as many breaks as I need, full nights of sleep, less constant anxiety and barely any vomit at all. Other times, I think it must be a special kind of hell, this Grand Parenting, where I'll have to ask permission to take the baby who owns a piece of my soul.
Judy asked for Cai. To give me a break. And I didn't want to let her have him because I wanted to do it myself. To be the comforter. The soother. But my back was on fire, and I recognized Grandma's need was the same as my own. So I let her have him, although my heart was grudging.
I assumed she would walk him. Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth as I had done. Or, perhaps, she'd think she could sit with him in the rocking chair and she'd learn -- quickly -- that he cried harder when sitting. Instead, she laid him on his back on the couch and sat down next to him.
I thought, "You have got to be kidding me. I've been walking this child for hours. For days. And you're going to take him and just lay him down? That's not gonna work. That's ridiculous. That's..."
He was asleep.
Out. Arms askew. Blissful on the couch next to his grandmother. He twitched and then settled as if to say thank God you all finally quit touching me.
That wasn't the first time my kids were going to send my parenting method packing, laughing in the face of my One Right Way.
As for the twins, it turns out I'm parenting opposites:
Safety and DANGER.
Night Owl and MORNING GUY.
Vegetables and SUGAR.
"Hold Me" and "LEAVE ME ALONE!"
Are your twins identical, Beth? Um, NO. Not to mention my other three children, all of whom think they're entitled to their own individual preferences and needs.
When my oldest was a baby, we subscribed to the cry-it-out method of bedtime because it was the Right Way to Raise a Child. The Only Way, really. The Godly Way, for sure. I didn't know there were other options, and, when I got wind of them, I was pretty sure they were Wrong because I had read a book.
I hated sleep training. It went against every grain in my gut if guts have grains. It went against my gut grain, is what I'm saying. My baby girl cried for me, and I sat outside her room and cried, too. And it didn't occur to me for years -- literal years -- that both of us miserable indicated it was time to consider a change. I just thought... I don't know... that miserable was part of it.
And then we had three children, and we made some adjustments. Night terrors and attachment issues and bloody noses and vomit and wet beds and sheer desperation will do that to you. We started sleeping on kids' bedroom floors. Upright in chairs. With kids in our bed. And I use "sleeping" in the loosest possible sense of the word.
In the end, Greg and I settled on One Right Sleeping Strategy for our family, just not on the same one. Greg is an ongoing proponent of Make the Kids Sleep in Their Own Rooms THAT'S WHY THEY HAVE THEM, and also, THIS IS MY BED, GET OUT. And I wholeheartedly buy the But Someday I Want to Remember I Had Their Legs in My Bladder and Elbows in My Eyes and Hot Breath in My Hair and ONE DAY MY BABIES ARE GOING TO LEAVE ME method.
It works out well between us.
And, actually, it does. Because Greg and I agree easily on one thing: we're never going to sleep again and the method we use to get to "Hey, look! More midnight laundry!" doesn't much matter. Because, of course, the word "sleep" in "sleep method" is meant to be figurative, which the manuals decline to mention. No matter what method you choose to help your kids sleep? It's unlikely to net YOU any at all.
Who knew, right? Well, not me when I was a new mama, that's for sure. I thought sleep training or attachment parenting or whatever, if done right, if done the way it's prescribed, was supposed to result in sleep for us all. Or well adjusted children. Or well adjusted parents.
I mean, eventually it does, right? Parenting takes time, after all. But, in general, WRONG.
Which brings me to the entire point of this post, and it's this:
Dear New Mama,
Did you know?
You don't have to choose.
Parenting. It's just so... whew!... devastating and triumphant. And that learning curve is WOW! Learning your child and yourself and your partner and your method and your madness and your magic all at once? WOW. And doing it again with each subsequent child? Really WOW.
Then along come the people. ALL THE PEOPLE. Who tell you what to do. And that there's just One Right Way. The gurus. The books. Facebook. The grocery-store advisers. And they all talk in snapshots, with stationary bits of information, instead of telling you the more complex truth: There are Lots of Right Ways. Loads and loads. And this parenting picture is never at a standstill. Never ever. It moves, friends. It's a moving picture. A talkie. In color. And surround sound. And high definition. On the BIGGEST screen of all. Your life.
And so New Mama,
Did you know?
You don't have to choose.
Not a sleep method. Not a feeding method. Not a potty or a pee or a poop method. Not a once-and-for-all, 'til-death-do-us-part method. You don't have to choose.
What is this, "you don't have to choose?"
That's what I'm saying, friend. That's what I mean. These parenting methods? The ones by the experts and from mama friends and the church and the schools and the doctors and the neighbors and the lady at the park who's a specialist?
You don't have to choose.
You don't have to choose for once and for all. You don't have to subscribe for forever. You don't have to buy into this or to that. You don't have to believe like in ice cream or world peace.
You can if you want to. You can choose, of course. But, new mama, you don't have to choose.
You can try different things. It's okay to try them. The sleep training and the all-night bladder-kicking. The cloth diapering and the ruin-the-earthing. The breast feeding and the bottle feeding. It's okay to move in the picture.
If something's not working, you can ditch it. Pitch it. Without ruining your baby or yourself or your mind. If something's not working, you can do something else. You can, if you want. You can.
You can, and I know. I know 'cause I did. Or didn't. Or don't. Or, rather, it's truer to say that I won't. Not anymore. Now I just do what works. For right now. In this time. For this kid. In this space. For this night. For this meal. For this minute, what's right.
Here's the truth I've learned after five. And the twins at the end drove it home. All children are different. And all parents, too. With our needs and our wants and our whims. "Rock me!" "Hold me!" "Leave me alone!" So I try. And I move. And I breathe and I bend. And, in the end...
In the end, I'm happier and much better off when I'm me. Wild and free. And picking and choosing. And making mistakes. And making thing better. And making things best.
And my kids? Most important of all, my kids are better off, too. When I choose what works for us all, not a rule.
Beth Woolsey is the writer and humorist behind the Five Kids Is A Lot of Kids blog, where this article was originally published. Beth is described by readers as "optimistic, authentic, poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, [capturing] the mom experience with all its pathos and humor."