Your entire life up until you have kids, you are taught morality and the "right way" to do things. You feel like you have a pretty firm grip on the differences between right and wrong and then, all of a sudden, your life goes topsy-turvy with the addition of a tiny little human. Interestingly, things start looking a little more "shades of gray" instead of black and white when it comes to the differences in right and wrong in certain situations.
You can talk to your significant other until you're blue in the face about what you will do or not do as a parent and think there is no way you'll ever budge from your resolutions. Then you actually HAVE the baby and you're trying to navigate through life with her and you'll realize that the pre-baby parents were sort of idiots and had NO idea how hard this would all be! That's when you realize that parenthood is a lot like those Choose Your Own Adventure books where the answers aren't always clear, black and white, or right or wrong. Sometimes you just CHOOSE SOMETHING and hope it doesn't lead you down the wrong story line and make you want to back track through the book to find out where you went wrong (which was TOTALLY cheating, by the way!)
I can't claim that your dad and I have made the "right" decision every single time so far with you. However, I can easily say we've done our best to weigh out the possible consequences of each of our decisions with you because, unlike those books where you could close the book and not have to suffer the actual consequences of your in-book actions, you are a real person who really looks to us to learn how to navigate this world. Here are a few examples of a little book I like to call Parenting: A Choose Your Own Adventure Story!
1. Mom and Dad take their adorable and well-behaved baby to a Mexican restaurant for a quick bite to eat as every one is a bit hungry. They sit down at a table, order the drinks, order an appetizer, and place their meal order with the friendly and helpful waitress. They settle in for the wait by engaging the adorable baby with some pre-meal puffs, toys, and a small glass of water.
All of a sudden, the well-behaved baby starts getting a little bit testy and grumpy. Mom and dad start to notice her getting louder and more resistant to the distractions. They also start to notice a few of the other tables looking their direction with a mix of pity and annoyance. The meal is already ordered (and probably cooking) and you know you're all hungry and too tired to go home and cook. What do you do?
A. Cancel your order and leave knowing they already have some of it finished making you look like a complete jerk to the restaurant staff, but making the other patrons of the establishment relieved to no longer have to deal with your grumpy child.
B. Stick it out, trying everything you can to pacify the grumpy child until the food comes. You know once the food gets here she'll be happy again because she's hungry and she LOVES Mexican food. The restaurant staff will be pleased you didn't cancel your order, but the patrons around you are visibly annoyed that you didn't take your leave as soon as the baby started getting loud and whiny.
Answer: Cool story... there IS no right answer here. You're going to be putting someone out no matter which option you choose. This is why your dad and I do our best to take you to places that are already loud so it drowns out your protests as much as possible, allowing us to all get our meal and leave without being stabbed by the eye-daggers of the other patrons. We also don't take you anywhere that we know to have a long wait because you have an internal timer that starts as soon as your butt hits the high chair that dictates how long you will tolerate the dining experience. We have a few places that are on high-rotation right now because we've had great success taking you there. Still, it isn't always perfect and each time brings a possibly of new things happening and new opportunities for choosing our own adventure!
2. Okay, mom and dad and baby stayed at the Mexican restaurant through the entire meal! Congrats! The triad gets up to leave and the mom and dad discover, much to their horror, that the entirety of the baby's meal is now taking up residence on the floor. That is one MESSY baby! The mom and dad are immediately embarrassed that this happened. What do they do?
A. Leave a HUGE tip and book it on out of there with their tails between their legs. It's a restaurant and mom and dad know that there isn't a lot they can do about it NOW. Besides, part of the huge tip they just left means they can just leave that slop-heap of a high chair looking like a Tasmanian devil just had dinner because technically it isn't their responsibility to clean that mess!
B. Mom and dad apologize to the not-quite-so friendly-now waitress and ask for some extra napkins to do their best to clean up the mess. The baby starts getting annoyed at the hesitation to immediately leave so mom and dad decide they've done their best to clean up what they could, and it's time to leave before the other patrons and the waitress get stabby. A larger-than-usual tip is left, but it isn't huge because mom and dad cleaned up a majority of the mess even though they didn't have to.
Answer: Well... it depends! Sometimes we do answer A and other times we try to do answer B. It really depends on the restaurant, the food we gave you, the amount of mess, whether it would be a waste of our time to try to clean it when the wait staff could clean it up quickly with a broom and how generous we're feeling with the extra tip money. Is either answer right or wrong? Maybe. Then again, maybe not! That's the fun of parenthood! Variables can easily change in each situation making one answer more right than the other at any given time! Enjoy the chaos!
3. Mom and dad have to run to the store to either grab a few things or do the weekly grocery shopping. They have to bring the baby along even though she's not a huge fan of sitting in the grocery cart for more than .02 nanoseconds. Mom and dad are in the middle of getting everything they need, their cart is half full, when the baby gets into full-on cranky mode! Mom and dad have schedules, which make it hard to find time to do everything so the grocery shopping MUST happen! What do they do??
A. Mom finds something to put in the baby's hands to give her something to do while they're there. While holding the object, the baby puts it in her mouth and slobbers all over it. Mom wasn't intending on purchasing the object, just using it long enough to keep the baby entertained and then quietly slipping it back on the shelf before leaving. Now it's encrusted in baby drool. Mom debates about whether to buy the object or just wipe it down with wipes, but ultimately gives in and purchases the object out of guilt. For that small fee, the baby WAS kept entertained though so mom considers it a small price to pay for overall peace and quiet.
B. Mom grabs the diaper bag and pulls out the container of puffs, fills the snack pod with them, and lets the baby go to town on them. The problem with the snack pod full of puffs is that the baby only gets about 1/3 of them in her mouth on any given attempt, leaving a Hansel and Gretel-style trail of puffs behind the shopping cart throughout the store. Mom does her best to pick them up as they go, but it slows down the shopping process and the baby starts losing her patience because it is taking so long. To show her displeasure, the baby grabs the puff container and throws it on the ground. The lid comes off, spraying puffs EVERYWHERE. Mom is annoyed at the loss of a half of a canister of expensive puffs AND embarrassed at the mess. She decides to just quickly finish the shopping with a grumpy baby as fast as humanly possible. When she gets home she realizes she forgot the ONE MAJOR THING she went to the store for in the first place. She has to make another trip after the baby is in bed at home with dad.
Answer: Neither of these is a true win for the mom and dad. Sometimes when going out with the grumpy baby, there is no winner!
4. Mom and dad try really hard not to expose the baby to sick people because they know a sick baby is a miserable baby and a miserable baby makes for equally miserable parents! One day when they are all out and about, they see someone who hasn't seen the baby in a LONG time and gets very excited to hold and snuggle the baby! Mom and dad realize immediately that the person wanting to hold the baby is sniffling and sneezing and coughing like a sea lion and look at each other with a horrified look knowing that this diseased human wants to inflict his/her plague on your perfectly healthy child. Mom and dad have a good run going of no sick baby and aren't looking forward to dealing with it, but they don't want to hurt their friend's feelings either. What do they do??
A. Eh, babies get sick all the time. Mom and dad's friend hasn't seen their baby in a long time and genuinely wants to connect to her! Maybe the baby won't catch the cold during the short amount of time she'll be held and mom and dad know it will make the other person so happy to interact with the baby. Mom and dad risk it for the sake of their friendship. The baby starts coughing and sniffling two days later and the following week is a nightmare of snot, coughs and no sleep for anyone.
B. Mom and dad make note of the person's obvious maladies and say with conviction, "I'm so glad to see you, but it appears you might have a cold so could we wait until next time for you to pick the baby up and snuggle her?" The other person tries to make excuses about how the cold is almost over or that the cold isn't a cold at all, but rather allergies. Mom and dad still feel uncomfortable with the person holding and breathing on the baby, but they give in for the sake of their friendship. The baby starts coughing and sniffling two days later and the following week is a nightmare of snot, coughs and no sleep for anyone.
C. Mom and dad remember how miserable it was last time baby had a cold and they resolved NOT to let anyone who is showing symptoms of a cold anywhere near that baby because of the PTSD everyone suffered from the last time. They are resolved in their decision so even though they run into someone they love and respect, they are firm in letting that person know that they should not pick up the baby and breathe all over her. They balk, they whine, they look super offended, but mom and dad stand firm. Their friendship might suffer for a while, but at least the baby won't get sick, right? The baby starts coughing and sniffling two days later and the following week is a nightmare of snot, coughs and no sleep for anyone. This is because babies get colds at the mere mention of someone having a cold and there is no way to stop them from getting one. Welcome to parenthood!!
Answer: Every answer is the same. That kid is getting a cold! Break out the humidifier!
4. Mom, who is the primary person responsible for getting up in the night to attend to the baby, has had a really rough week or two of baby not getting good sleep. As a result, she is getting worn down and finds that her once-young-body that used to survive on Smarties, microwave pizza, and 30 minutes of sleep each night during college can barely stand anything less than 5 hours of sleep. Mom has a TON of vacation time saved up at work because she worried that she would need it if something happened with the baby. Now, she needs to use some of it up before she loses it. This seems like the PERFECT week to take a day off and rejuvenate herself because she's starting to feel like a pretty crappy shell-of-a-mom, which makes her feel guilty. She chooses to take a Wednesday off, a day that the baby normally goes to day care. She questions whether she should keep the baby home that day with her since she's off of work, or if she should take the baby into day care because she needs some rest and the day is already paid for anyway. What does she do?
A. Mom is no kind of mom unless she's taking care of herself. She realizes she will not get any rest and relaxation with a busy 1 year old running around. The 1 year old LOVES going to day care and keeping her home with mom would mean she would miss out on playing with her day care friends, which makes her grumpy. A grumpy baby would make for an even more stressed mom so mom decides to take her into day care and use the day as a mini-vacation. At the end of the day she is refreshed and so excited to go and see her baby! Mom is rested, which means she is more interactive and more patient with her baby. Everyone wins!
B. Mom lets the guilt take over and keeps the baby home with her. The baby is grumpy because there's no one else to play with and mom doesn't seem very interactive today either. Mom tries her hardest to take a nap when the baby does, hoping to get a bit of sleep to catch up from the last week or two, but the neighbor dogs start barking, making it impossible for her to get to sleep for the first hour of baby's nap. Baby is oblivious to the barking. Finally, mom falls asleep, but baby has decided to cut her nap short so mom only gets about 30 minutes of sleep before baby is up and ready to play! Mom drags her butt out of bed and takes the baby to the park so she can at least have some other kids to play with before the day is over. Mom is like the walking dead. Oh, and her last appointment at the dr.'s office showed her blood pressure higher than usual. The doctor suggested taking a day off for herself, but her mom guilt just wouldn't allow it.
Answer: It depends. Honestly, I have taken a day or two off where I sent you to day care because you're happier at day care with your friends, we already paid for the day, and because I do feel like I'm a better mom when I feel human. I have felt guilty for doing so, but in the end I know that there are three things in life that I need to take care of: 1. You. 2. Your dad. and 3. Me. Some of these things get more attention than others at any given time, but they are all important. I love you more than life itself, but there is NO point in me martyring myself over needing a little time to myself from time to time and if/when you're a mother, I hope you realize the same thing about yourself. You are no good to anyone if you're too stressed out and exhausted to be a good mom. I will continue to take care of myself when I need to so I can be the best I can be for you. Other people might have different answers, but this has worked for us and that's what matters!
5. Mom and dad have a very busy 1 year old on their hands! She is into everything and curious about how things work. She doesn't know how to protect herself or what things are dangerous. It is up to mom and dad to decide how they are going to let her explore her world and how much they are going to intervene. One day, baby decides it's time for her to learn how to climb the stairs. Mom and dad are terrified at the baby's new-found determination to conquer those stairs but they don't want to limit their baby, either. What do they do??
A. Mom and dad decide that their baby is simply too young for the stairs. Her balance isn't great all of the time and even with them hovering over her, they worry that she's going to take a tumble and seriously hurt herself. Every time the baby goes near the stairs, mom and dad rush in and move her away from them saying, "no no!" She gets frustrated. The stairs are all she wants!!! Eventually, she just gives up because she knows she won't get to try them anyway. She doesn't make an attempt at the stairs again for another several months. She also doesn't make an attempt at a few other things she was interested in because mom and dad keep telling her no. She is disappointed and frustrated but what can she do? Mom and dad make the rules.
B. Mom and dad aren't ready for their baby to be ready for the stairs, but they decided early on that they didn't want to be helicopter parents or limit their baby in any way. They let her try the stairs and, lo and behold, she gets them ALL on the first try! She's so proud of herself and mom and dad are proud, too! She tries them again time and time again. Sometimes she does them perfectly, other times she slips a little bit. Once or twice she even fell off of the bottom step onto the floor because the baby gate gives her access to the one stair, while blocking the rest of them. She cried, but she always gets up and tries again! She starts attempting other things, too. Mom and dad are terrified that she will hurt herself, but they don't want to limit her exploration and discovery. They are always nearby and never let her do anything that is seriously dangerous, but they DO let her fall from time to time so she learns how things work. She remains adventurous and is often times more than her mom and dad think they can handle, but at least she knows that she can try things without being held back. She is confident and genuinely excited about new experiences.
Answer: You know, I can't tell anyone how to raise their kid, but OUR answer is always going to be option B. I never want you to think that you can't do something without trying first. We're always going to encourage you to try something new, but we'll also be here for you if you fall. Life is too full of exciting opportunities and trying to limit your exposure to those new and exciting things just seems cruel. You are so fascinated by life! To squash any part of that, to limit you, that just doesn't fit our parenting-style and it doesn't fit your kid-style, either.
I hope you enjoyed your Choose Your Own Adventure! I also hope it helps you realize that there are often no "right" answers when you parent a kid, but there are "more right for that particular situation at that particular time" answers. These answers change constantly! Everyone's parenting experience is going to be different and there are a variety of variables which will constantly test your resolve as a parent, but that's part of what makes it exciting!