With informed parenting comes the knowledge of a wide variety of practices that can foster our children’s development. Not only are there practical things we can do in our homes, but in the spirit of creating a better world for our children to grow up in, there are many opportunities for activism. It is certainly beneficial to learn as much as possible about child development and parenting practices. It is also important to speak out and take action when it comes to issues that are important to our children and their world, but one person can only do so much. Somewhere between infant massage, art projects, providing exposure to a second language, and boycotting Nestlé, overwhelm can set in.
Like many relatively well-informed new parents before me, I had plans of all sorts before my daughter was born – grand ideas of all the fabulous things I was going to do. Also like many new parents before me, I found myself approaching burnout pretty quickly. It took many months for me to learn that I didn’t have to do everything. Learning to set priorities rather than trying to do it all has been a crucial step on my own journey toward balance. By no means have I arrived, but I have learned a few valuable lessons so far:
I am not raising the average child. I am raising my child.
While all of those beneficial parenting practices are wonderful for many children, some of them may not work for my child at all. I know how wonderful infant massage can be, for example. The list of potential benefits for children is quite long. When it came to my child, however, relaxing on the bed while mama offered a massage was never going to happen. Believe me, I tried! She had no interest in being still, ever, so that idea had to be scrapped. What may be a beautiful thing for one child can be a source of frustration for the next. Infant massage quickly moved to the bottom of my list, while time spent outdoors moved straight to the top as I realized what a calming effect it had on my baby. The more I observe and learn about my daughter, the more I discover how I can best support her, and this helps me to prioritize instead of feeling a need to embrace every natural parenting practice out there.
I am not every woman.
I have worked hard to surround myself with a diverse, inspiring community of women. I am thankful to them for many things, but there is one drawback: I have often caught myself feeling like I need to acquire all of the wonderful skills that they have. Why can’t I sew as well as Emily, or bake like Karen? The more time goes on, however, the more I see that we each have our own strengths. I only have so much time in my day, and for the most part it is best spent doing the things that I do well. My house is seldom organized and I’m not much of a decorator, but that’s okay because I do some pretty neat things in other arenas. Of course it’s great to acquire new skills and hobbies, but it can wait until there’s a bit more room on my plate. I am not every woman, but I do a pretty decent job of being me.
Agreement does not equal passion.
I often encounter parents who are extremely passionate about issues like gender-neutral parenting, homeschooling, unschooling, homebirth, and feminism. I read articles from these impassioned parents online, and I talk with them about these topics in person. I find myself inspired, nodding along in agreement with their position and with the importance of change in various arenas. Eventually, though, all of these issues stack up in my mind and I become overwhelmed. Where do I dedicate my time?
After a point, I had to realize that I could not wholeheartedly dedicate myself to fighting for every issue that I consider important. My agreement with a cause does not equate to passion. I think gender-neutral parenting is important, for example, and I strive to raise my child without the pressure to fit into a stereotype. The reality is, however, that I am just not as passionate about that particular issue as I am about working to ensure that all women have the information and support they need to breastfeed their children for as long as is mutually desired. Mothering and working on the things that I am most passionate about keeps me busy as it is, and I think that’s enough for now. In the interest of balance, I have had to prioritize and let go of my desire to be an activist for every cause I agree with.
I have yet to achieve perfect balance as a parent, and I don’t expect I will for a while, but learning to prioritize by following my child’s needs and my own skills and passions has been a huge step in the right direction.
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