Thursday, November 30, 2006

Knowing Where You Stand On Baby Issues

Even before your baby is born, you will find that you hear from everyone about how you should raise the child. Your grandparents, your neighbors, and even strangers will make comments to you on how you should dress, bathe, feed, or discipline the child. If you are like most first-time parents, you will find yourself overwhelmed with the advice and with the decisions you will need to make in the coming months. This barrage of advice, then, can be even more daunting.

Your best bet in dealing with the advice is to know how you feel about various issues. Some issues, such as whether the baby should wear a hat and socks everyday, seem mundane while others, including how much to hold the baby, are pivotal to who you are as a parent. The reality is that I have learned in my first two years of parenting that some of those everyday decisions, and even the big ones, are not set in stone. My son refused to wear hats. While we covered him well in the beginning, once the spring arrived, we saw no need to continue trying to force the issue. Still in the sultry July heat in our Southern town, I had several older ladies tell me condescendingly that great misery would befall my little one because he was not forced to wear a hat with strings tied around his little chin to keep it on. That seemed wrong to me, though. Obviously he would wear the hat if his head were cold. His head incidentally was typically sweating while the ladies were sharing their wisdom with me.

Over time, I have learned that my son will in fact wear a hat if his head is cold. Now, he sometimes wanders around our house wearing our hats or his own or other objects not really intended as hats. The point is that these ladies were sharing age-old advice that is not necessarily true. What I found more offensive than their comments, though, was that they often were miffed it I did not give in and whip out a hat to put on him. My Southern upbringing does not permit me rudeness to the elderly, though I had to bite my tongue to keep from breaking those beliefs on several occasions.

As my baby has grown into a toddler, I have discovered that the commenting gets worse and even becomes abstract. You can make it through those first few months with just a smile and nod and be on your way, but sooner or later you will find that others want to comment on how people raise their children. I am proud to say that my one-year-old typically behaves in public, but people still will share random comments about how more parents today need to spank their children or that they are being coddled too much.

These comments are where you have to decide how much you want to stick to your guns. Perhaps you believe spanking is acceptable; reverse the situation. Imagine sitting with someone from your church who is going on ad nauseum about the ills of spanking. Do you, as the parent of a wonderful little baby, share your beliefs? Do you simply ignore the situation? My constitution allows me only so much ignoring before I have to jump in.

We have commented on our beliefs about such issues as forcing children to go to bed without meals (a practice we despise) and permitting children to demand material possessions (another practice we cannot tolerate). At some point, I have to make my feelings known. Of course, as the parent of an infant, you will find that everyone dismisses your thoughts because your child is so little. Of course, you do not believe in harsh discipline or you do believe in the goodness of children. What do you know?

Over time, you likely will realize, as we have, that your opinions will change. A stubborn toddler may require scolding more than you had imagined, or perhaps an introverted child will need little intervention or even interaction from you. Whatever decisions you make about parenting, form them before your baby is born and be open to change as you go along.

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