Project Parenting

As I mentioned in my last post, Cameron’s sleep habits aren’t great and we decided to hire a sleep consultant to help us. We met with her yesterday and tonight ‘Project Sleep’ begins, but the process has already got me thinking about a whole other topic – the expectations I have of myself as a mother.

It started when I was filling in the forms for the sleep consultant. There were pages of questions about every element of Cameron’s life – food, sleep, illness, birth, routine, environment, feeding. As I waded through it I had a growing sense of failure. I found myself trying to justify my answers because I knew there was a ‘better’ one. But another part of me was also asking why I felt like a failure? And my conclusion – too much information!

In this day and age, we are bombarded with information about how to raise a child. And frankly, I don’t think it helps. (Incidentally, I feel the same way about ante-natal classes.) I love the way Steve Wiens put it in his post ‘To parents of small children: Let me be the one who says it out loud’:

We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we’re failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning. One of the reasons we are so exhausted is that we are oversaturated with information about the kind of parents we should be.

Before I became a stay-at-home mom with Cameron, I worked in project orientated fields. We had clear targets, deadlines and processes. I get a kick out of that sort of thing which is great because sometimes a systematic approach is needed. Take ‘Project Sleep’ as an example – the timeline is two weeks, there is a clear process for each eventuality (naps, bedtime and night wakings) and we have a chart to map our progress. (All this quite aside from the fact that ‘Sleep Consultant’ looks great on a business card and just screams ‘corporate culture’.) But for every day mothering I’m learning that this is not how to approach parenting. For me, all the information can make me feel like raising a child is some sort of project. All those handy month-by-month milestones just get me asking questions like ‘Am I meeting my deadlines? Is Cameron on target? Am I performing well enough as a mom?’ Talk about pressure I don’t need in my life!

In the same post, Steve Wiens goes on to say:

…maybe it’s time to stop reading the blogs that tell you how to raise the next President who knows how to read when she’s three and who cooks, not only eats, her vegetables. Maybe it’s time to embrace being the kind of parent who says sorry when you yell. Who models what it’s like to take time for yourself. Who asks God to help you to be a better version of the person that you actually are, not for more strength to be an ideal parent.

I think this is good advice so I’ve stopped reading the books. It’s nice to know they are there if I have questions, but mostly I ignore their existence. I only subscribe to blogs that inspire and encourage me. And I reject those failure feelings each time they raise their nasty heads.

The thing is, that as well as info overload, we also live in a culture where perfectionism is celebrated. To use ‘Project Sleep’ again, one of the reasons why I’d love Cameron to sleep better is because I suspect that if I could just get a bit more rest, I could be one of those cookie baking, home decorating, meal conjuring, craft creating super moms who make sandwiches look like dinosaurs. But again I question myself – ‘Why do I feel like I need to be?’ That stuff isn’t necessary. Yes, it’s nice to do if you like baking and creating and making sandwiches look like dinosaurs, but those activities should be added extras, not a source of more pressure. Those things can be fun creative outlets but there is a huge problem if I feel like I need to be doing all that stuff to succeed as a mom.

Writing posts like this makes me realise just how much motherhood is changing my perceptions and ideas. Maybe it’s got to do with having so little time – I need to make sure I use it well! So I’m prioritizing differently. I’m living at a slower pace. And most importantly, I’m redefining my expectations.

A reality check

This evening I dropped off our recycling. I mention this because I’ve been trying to drop it off since last Saturday, so it’s indicative of the sort of week I’ve had. Firstly Cameron has been sick (nothing too serious, but still a new experience for both of us). Secondly my parents were here and rather over-ambitiously, I tried to use this time to get a whole lot of admin done. Thirdly, we’ve been having a heat wave. Combined, these three factors have resulted in one exhausted mamma!

Cameron’s health woes started last week when he had a slight sniffle. With no temperature or change in behaviour, I treated it at home with saline rinse, a humidifier (we have this cool froggie one) and a nasal aspirator. However last weekend he became so congested that we took him to the emergency room on Sunday morning to see a doctor (not the cheapest way to go about health care). He was diagnosed with an ear infection. At five weeks, my poor boy was given his first antibiotic and I experienced my first serious case of mothering guilt (why, oh why, did I not follow the advice of our paediatrician: always overreact).

Armed with antibiotics I saw no reason to change any of the plans I’d made for the week. If what I had to do took less than two hours, I left Cameron with my folks. If it took more than two hours, he came with me. My boy has an incredibly high tolerance for adventuring it seems, and only when I’ve really pushed him does he start to fuss. This leads me to believe that I can do more adventuring with him than is probably wise. By Tuesday afternoon I’d pushed him too far. On reflection I realised I’d taken him out every day since the previous Friday. A day at home with lots of mommy-cuddles was in order so that’s what we did on Wednesday.

And then Thursday dawned. It was to be the toughest day in my mothering journey so far. It was the last day of Cameron’s antibiotic, but his nose didn’t seem much better so I made an appointment with the paediatrician (always overreact). I rushed to the hospital for the 12:30 appointment only to receive an SMS in the parking lot saying that the doctor was running half an hour late. I settled in for a wait that ended up being closer to an hour. While Cam’s ears had cleared up, he’d developed a post-nasal drip and had viral bronchiolitis. On the plus side all his reflexes were absolutely perfect and he passed his six-week check up with flying colours (weight 3.9kgs if anyone is interested). I fed him before leaving as there is a breastfeeding room at the paediatrician. This turned out to be an excellent decision as there had been a fire at Eskom while I was with the doctor and as a result the whole of Pretoria East was without power. It took me nearly an hour to get home while outside the temperature soared to 34 degrees. Thank goodness for air conditioning!

Part of Cameron’s new medication routine included nebulising him every four hours. I had my six-month check-up at the pulmonologist that afternoon, to which I had to take Cameron as he was due for a feed while I was there. (I’m only going to start expressing a bottle for him when he gets to eight weeks for those who think I’m overcomplicating matters.) Worried about the traffic, my mom and I decided to leave early for the pulmonologist and stop to buy a nebuliser on the way. And then the drama began. I was carrying Cameron to the car in his carry cot and I missed the last step on the way out. This resulted in me putting the carry cot down with some serious force as I collapsed on all fours. Super-sized dose of the mothering guilt! Cameron got such a fright he burst into tears but mercifully was absolutely fine as he was well cushioned. I immediately picked him up to console him. My mom rushed downstairs and started consoling me – at which point I burst into tears! We re-evaluated our plans and I left Cameron with my mom while I rushed out for the nebuliser. I cried all the way there, popping rescue remedy pills at every robot. I hobbled into the pharmacy, and demanded a nebuliser from the first shop assistant unfortunate to cross my path. On the trip home I managed to calm myself somewhat. I picked up my mom and Cameron and off to the pulmonologist we went. On arrival at his rooms we were met with a full waiting room – never a good sign at 16:30. That visit ended up taking two hours, during which time the events of the last four hours caught up with me. By the time we left, the sun was setting and I was absolutely exhausted.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since then and have titled this post ‘Reality check’ because that’s exactly what this week was in two ways. Firstly it was a reminder of just how little Cameron still is. Time has really warped for me in the last six weeks. On one hand it feels like Cameron has been here for months, which makes me a little complacent when planning outings. On the other hand I have to remember that he’s only two weeks past his due date which means I should be treating him more like a two-week old, and major adventuring is definitely not on the cards for two-week olds. In addition, he is still bonding with Col and I and leaving him with others (no matter how loving and wonderful those others are) is still a stressful experience for him.

The second reality check applied to how much I can realistically expect to do at the moment. Up until now I’ve been focusing solely on Cameron with one or two house-bound tasks on the side. However, trying to expand this focus while my parents were here has highlighted how much life has changed for me. I set incredibly high expectations for myself and once again I am having to reign those in – something I was challenged with during my pregnancy as well. With this comes the feeling of inadequacy as I see odd jobs around the house that need attention. I have to fight hard against these thoughts, remind myself of the season I am in and remember to be gentle with myself.

As I sit here, out of the corner of my eye I can see the canvases I was given by the wonderful EMD team when I resigned in June. On one of them is Isaiah 40:11, the last line of which I repeat to myself like some sort of mantra:

He tends his flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart;

he gently leads those that have young.

Another of the canvases says, ‘Love never fails.’ In the last two days I’ve fallen in love with Cameron on a whole new level. I love how he smells, his little noises, his expressions, how peacefully he sleeps. I sit for ages just staring at him. And in those moments with my precious baby boy, that love just rises and swells, completely and utterly overwhelming every part of me. God always knows just what we need, and I know this new level of love I feel for Cam is a well-timed gift. As a result, when I reflect on this tough week, all I feel is gratitude that I get to be on this amazing journey of motherhood.