I have no idea.
I've been thinking about parenting styles a lot over the past few days. Like most parents, I often feel like I am failing at this whole parenthood thing. Many days I look over my performance and I cringe at all the ways I flubbed and I imagine all the ways my kids will suffer because of my inadequacy. I find solace in conversations with friends who also struggle, who share the same frustration and triumph of rough days.
I also meet moms who seem to have it completely together. Moms whose strengths are the opposite of my weaknesses. Moms whose grace and patience I envy. Moms who, unintentionally, make me feel like I have no idea what I am doing.
What brought on all this overthinking?
My mom's neighbor.
The other day I was talking with my mom's neighbor, whom I will call Mary. Mary is a lovely woman with 6 kids, of which her youngest four are between the ages of 2 and 10. Since I visit my mom a lot, I've chatted with Mary many times before. My girls have played with her kids. I see her outside often. You see, Mary is always outside with her kids. Her kids play outside all day long, under the careful watch of their mother, as all kids should.
Over time I've learned bits and pieces about Mary. I knew she homeschooled her children, and recently learned she is passionate about couponing. Her kids are kind, polite, and play well together. What I have been most struck by, though, is Mary's joyful demeanor, her patience, and, most of all, her contentment.
I had a chance to chat with her in more depth a few days ago. And somehow the conversation turned to parenting styles. I learned that when she was raising her two oldest sons (who are in their twenties now), she was in sales for a large company. Her boys were in school, and as a family they travelled the world. There is a large gap between her oldest kids and her youngest. And somewhere in that time, something changed for Mary. She took her kids out of school (even the oldest, who was a freshmen in high school at the time). And as she started adding new kids to the family, she began practicing attachment parenting.
"In the first year of my kid's lives, I never put them down," Mary shared. And it's true. Her latest addition is close to 18 months old, and for the first 12 months, Mary carried her everywhere. I watched her do it. But let me emphasize, happily. She did this happily. She didn't begrudge or complain. She was always the picture of pride and grace as she worked through each of her kids first years (of which I witnessed her two youngest).
Mary also shared that they co-sleep with the youngest 4. The oldest of the four is getting to an age where he is considering moving to his own room, but hasn't made the leap yet. "Oh we love it. We all sleep in our room, read books. The youngest two sleep with us in the bed since they are so small. I wouldn't have it any other way."
During our conversation I couldn't help but ask question after question, as I was completely intrigued with her way of life. I find myself overwhelmed with two rambunctious kiddos, yet she finds a way to masterfully homeschool her brood while practicing attachment parenting. I've never seen her yell (a weakness of mine that I am ashamed of). I asked, "Do you ever go out with your husband? Do you have time away from the kids?" Mary shook her head. "Nope, we hardly ever go anywhere. And we like it that way. We travelled the world years ago. We like being home now. We like being with our kids."
There are a million combinations of parenting styles out there. Some parents strictly follow certain philosophies, while others pick and choose aspects that reflect their natural tendencies and beliefs. I think how we were raised greatly affects how we parent our own kids. I shared that my family was not terribly physically affectionate, which impacts how I interact with my girls today. Our personalities play largely into our parenting styles as well.
Yet, as I spoke with Mary, I found myself wanting what she had. I found myself wondering if I've been doing it wrong this whole time. I started asking myself, "What if I'd been more flexible with scheduling and sleeping? What if I'd held my kids more? Have I not snuggled them enough?" I became acutely aware of my faults and weaknesses, cringing at the thought of how I might look through the eyes of other parents. And I wondered how badly I was completely screwing my kids up due to the parenting choices I've made thus far.
So I've been processing all this for a few days.
And you know what conclusion I've come to?
I'm a Parenting Work-in-Progress.
I am sure if someone had to define my parenting style, they would see me as a conglomerate of many random philosophies. I seem to be a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of mom. In the end, I try to do what works for me: what is best for me, what is best for my kids, what gets me through the day. I work on learning and changing, because I'm always trying to be a better mom.
And most importantly?
I love my kids with all my heart.
This is one of the most important qualities a parent can have.
As I learn, I grow. I try new things. And I am so, so glad I got a chance to sit down with Mary. Because it gives me an opportunity to take a hard look at how I am parenting right now, and how I might changes things for the better.
So you, friend?
You are a work in progress. You are not finished. You are not set. You can learn, change, grow. You can be better. Don't let your faults get you down, don't let your weaknesses hold you back. Today is a new day. You get a clean slate, a fresh start.
Today is the first of many days you can be a new kind of parent.
And if today is not your day?
Tomorrow works too.