Monday, February 4, 2008

Parental Decision-Making

One thing I have really noticed since I became a parent is how hard it is for me to make decisions about how to best respond as a parent. I am notorious in m family for being very decisive and definite in my decisions, but since I had Molly I agonize over every little decision where she is concerned. Since she is only 4.5 months old, there are not that many decisions to make beyond some very basic things. A funny example of this new family phenomenon is how my husband and I became overwhelmed by all the choices in the diaper isle at Target right before she was born. The diaper isle seemed to have endless kinds of diapers even within the same brand. How would we choose?

We left there with some diapers but had the sinking feeling that we had no idea what we were up against. Some choices were easy for us, like the decision to breastfeed and the decision not to be a co-sleeping family. It was also pretty easy for us to decide that I would not return to work and would focus on graduate school and taking care of Molly. The Cry-It-Out debate was really the first decision that seemed important in setting the tone for how we would respond to Molly's behaviors. I read as much as I could and was still completely baffled by how to make a decision to respond to night waking that was not hunger, diaper, or need-based beyond a desire to play with mom and dad at 3 a.m. In the end, I should acknowledge that my husband never really had as much struggle with the decision. He agonizes about these things considerably less than I do. My own parents finally commented that Molly would be OK, no matter what we did. I really believed this to be true, but still felt paralyzed by having to make a choice.

I think it is this consistency thing that makes it hard for me. I had always had an easy time with decisions because I knew if it didn't work, I could just make another decision to go in a different direction. With parenting, this rapid-change decision-making is not so easy as the child ages. I believe it is really important to be consistent so your child develops a clear understanding of expectations, rewards, how they will be responded to, and that their parents are in charge. If you are going to maintain this level of consistency with what behaviors you encourage or discourage you cannot just change direction with how you parent when things get hard. Your child is going to cry, throw a fit, and maybe tell you they hate you when they are 16, and that is hard. But you do not have the option of shifting to a new parenting philosophy midstream. Even if you did, the tears would still fall at some point. This is not to say that you can never adjust your parenting to meet the needs of your child as they develop, but that you need to consistently give it a chance. Just because it is hard in the process of being consistent, that doesn't mean that your approach is all wrong.

Right now we are still working on being consistent with how we put Molly down to sleep and how we will respond at night when she feels like playing. In the future, things will be harder in terms of the types of behaviors we will be challenged with. I am wondering if it is not so much exactly what supportive and responsive parenting method that you choose, but whether or not you have the strength to be consistent with it that makes the difference to the child. This point is seldom emphasized in the doomsday parenting books that advocate their method so definitively.


Art said...

Most of what I've read about parenting "systems" touts the particular system being marketed as being right in some kind of absolute sense. In my experience, parenting choice aren't just related to which system is best in the abstract.

Different systems work more or less well depending on the personalities and values of the parents who apply them and the children to whom they are applied.

Megan (FriedOkra) said...

I wonder if you still see comments to this blog. I hope so. Do you blog somewhere else now? I stumbled across your discussion of Molly's crying-it-out (something I'm struggling through with my second child right now) and felt I'd finally found someone I could relate to as a Mom. I so loved your concluding paragraphs in that post and in this one. Would love to read more if you're still blogging.