Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Divine Maternity

Every mom is different and so is every child. There is no one right way to parent.

I learned something very valuable in General Conference this weekend. I learned that we have more in common as mothers in Zion than we have differences. All the important things we have in common. I've been secretly bitter and antagonistic towards other moms who, in their zeal and love for their babies, left me feeling inadequate and then, as a defense mechanism, spiteful and self-righteous. But I was wrong and if I have offended you, I'm sorry.

President Eyring talked about the need for unity in the church and, although he wasn't talking about our need to come together as mothers and women, that's what I heard. That's what I needed to hear. A great day of unity is coming and I want to be a part of it. If that is to be, I knew I needed to give up my pride. Eyring said that we focus too much on our differences. We exaggerate them, trying to seperate ourselves from eachother, trying to be better than each other. He was talking about me. He admonished me, reminded me that our differences are insignificant when compared to the similar heritage we share. Those differences are shades of divinity. They are not polar opposites but slight shifts in focus.

We are all daughters of God and our divine spirits all yearn to become like our Heavenly Parents. Whenever we feel strongly about something, it is because we can sense that it is an echo of our God's love. Whenever another mother feels strongly about the way the she parents, it is because she knows something about the character of God.

And now I see the character of God in those mothers around me. They are amazing; they inspire me even when I choose to do something different. Because our differing styles are similar in love.

I chose to bear my son, Soren, in a hospital with pain medication and his birth was wondrous and absolutely perfect. So was the birth of Margaret, whose mother labored for days in her very own home and triumphed over fear and pain without the assistance of drugs or medical personel. We both experienced the spiritual and empowering gift of childbirth. But I respect so much those mothers who have to give up their plans of vaginal birth and offer the escape hatch to emerging life. Mothers who end up choosing cesarean are a great example to me of both physical and emotional sacrifice on behalf of their infant.

I chose to breastfeed Soren for the first 9 months and I cherished that physical representation of the link between us. I am amazed by this mother who, at great personal sacrifice, continues to nurse to the great benefit of her toddler. I am also amazed by this mother who, in the face of great (dare I say?) persecution, bottle-feeds her baby with love, tenderness, and humility that in no way diminishes the mother-child bond. We are all nourishing our babies with emotional and physical sustenance.

I chose a crib for my son, and his very own room. I chose early sleep training; Soren and I both needed it. But I have learned that mothering is a 24-hour job from a good friend who sleeps with her baby and feeds him several times in the night. In spite of all my nights of good sleep, sometimes she has more energy and optimism during the day than even I can muster up. We both guide our sons with love, making sure they are well rested.

I chose to implement a 1/2 hour long "room time" each day for my son when he plays alone in his room and I tidy up. But I am inspired by Paula from my ward, who carries her daughter Penelope in a sling while she does housework! I can see how happy it makes Penny to stay close to her mother and it reminds me that all children need special time with their parents.

I chose not to babyproof my house, at least not most things. I am *trying* to teach Soren self control by imposing boundaries on him and sometimes it seems like he gets it. But I love to see moms who have made their homes a safe haven for their child, a place to explore and enjoy. And I don't think these values are mutually exclusive! I am never surprised to meet children who are both creative and obedient, self-managing and confident.

I chose to feed my baby on a schedule, which (when implemented at 3 months) improved his temperament (and mine) drastically. But I understand and value the lesson of trust and tenderness given with milk by mothers who feed on demand like my favorite mom blogger. But in spite of the fact that I no longer feed for comfort, Soren has learned to trust me. He knows that I will meet his needs and show him a way to be happy and comfortable. Any mother can share that bond of trust with their child, no matter their feeding philosophy. We will all rush to their aid and respond according to the spirit when our sons and daughters call out to us.

I chose cloth diapers mostly because I am so cheap. But I don't think that what we put on our child's butt is any good indicator of our quality as a mother. I am blown away by TopHat, who is learning to identify her baby's elimination signs and teaching her 6-month-old to use a mini-potty. I am impressed by Liz, who makes her own wipes! But the contemporary mother who has most inspired me is April, who uses disposable diapers and, as a consequence, has one less worry getting in the way of having fun with Sequoia. Diapers do not make the mom.

To all mothers earnestly loving and raising a valiant generation, I honor you. Especially those of you who feel inadequate. Our children need us to be their mothers, not a philosophy and definitely not another. I know that every baby needs his or her unique mother and that each mother can have the Holy Ghost with her to give individual tailored help. And that all of us, even when we choose "opposites" can be love incarnate to our family. I grateful for this lesson and so sorry that it took me so long to get it.


mk said...

Although I don't have children yet, I really appreciate this post. As I read it, I realized other areas of my life in which I need to adopt this mindset. You're a wonderful mother, Carolyn, and so are all of the other women who do the best they can to love their babies. This post was, for me, the first step away from snarkiness. Thank you.

Jennie Yri said...

The beginning of this post reminded me of exactly how I felt when I first got married, and I was so mad at you all the time for having your "perfect little marriage". But the Lord made us all so gloriously different, so of course our trials and joys will be different. And now that I'm here in Texas, I am even more amazed at how much I use my own agency to cause myself trouble. But it does increase my joy. I'm not really making sense, but oh well.

Madelyn said...

I know you're a great mom! And though it's hard to admit it sometimes, other moms do alright too. ;) I'm totally with you on the sleep/feeding schedule! But wow, cloth diapers?! Target brand diapers is what we've always used, half the price and completely adequate.

TopHat said...

I'll agree that some things just don't matter like diapering.

I understand what you are saying: we do need unity among women and I feel Satan tries really hard to get us at each other- and he does a good job sometimes.

But I'm not going to say that every parenting philosophy is created equal- for example, there should be no allowances on child abuse. Parents who hit and belittle their children shouldn't be able to get away with, "This is just how I parent and you just parent differently and everything is ok."

I don't think causing guilt is effective, but I don't think we should accept everything as "ok."

But you are right that we need to be more unified and less critical of each other's choices.

Heather of the EO said...

I just read this after I commented on your most recent post. Holy cow, lady. You are speaking so eloquently of what I'm about to start sharing on my blog. I love it! Excellent post!

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

I found your blog through Heather. Loved your comments and insight. I loved general conference too and learned alot from what elder Eyring said about not judging others as a way to promote unity. Good stuff!

LisAway said...

What an interesting post! I think I am so much like you. Besides the cloth diapers, we do all the same things you mentioned. Even down to the babyproofing (except we put away things like marbles that he could choke on). All of our kids have learned what they can't get into by us telling them.

Our kids are relatively well behaved and especially calm and obedient as babies/toddlers. I used to think it was all because of our excellent parenting techniques but the older and wiser I get, the more I think we were given the children we were given because we would not be able to handle some of those out of control children some people struggle with. I realize that those parents are probably stronger than I am, and therefore are given greater parental challenges.

I really loved your perspective and it helps me to remember not to judge other mothers for their choices. They love their children, too, and are trying to do what they feel works best for their family!!