April 2, 2013

“Read” Your Child

I grew up with only one sibling, a brother not much younger than I, and I lived out in the country as a teen so I didn’t have many babysitting opportunities. I was a classroom teacher for years before becoming a mom, but I taught teenagers. Thus, I was quite nervous while pregnant with my older daughter, unsure that I’d know how to properly care for and nurture a baby.

I read several “what to expect” books during my pregnancy and planned to read all the most highly recommended parenting books to make sure I’d “get it right.” In fact, I eagerly dove into one book just days after coming home from the hospital because it was all the rage among some of my friends at the time, and it claimed to teach parents a sure-fire way to get a baby onto a schedule almost immediately. As a naturally organized person – my husband’s nickname for me is “Rou-Tina!” – that sounded good to me.

As I read the first chapter, I thought, “I’m not sure about this. It sounds too rigid. She’s just a baby.” But, what did I know? This author was a Christian “expert,” and I was an insecure neophyte. So I began implementing his recommendations even though forcing my newborn onto an unbendable schedule of my choosing seemed to make her miserable. In fact, she slept far less and cried far more that day than she had during all of the previous week.

By the second day, as I continued reading right through Rachel’s tired and hungry screams – because the book said I had to “teach” her that it “wasn’t time” for her to eat or sleep yet – I felt sick to my stomach. What was I doing to my precious girl? Why was I relying on the “expertise” of a stranger who had never met my daughter? Why did I need to put my newborn on a strict schedule anyway? Wouldn’t there be plenty of time to develop a routine later?

I made it through the second chapter. But, as I closed the book, I thought, “Enough! I need to ‘read’ Rachel, not this book!” I scooped up my wailing daughter, rocking and cooing until she calmed down. Then we cuddled together as I fed her – despite the fact that the book said I was supposed to make her wait another hour – and she fell asleep in my arms – one more “mistake” according to the “expert.”

I actually ended up throwing that book in the trash – no small feat for a bibliophile such as I. But I was so concerned about the author’s harsh approach that I wouldn’t donate it; I didn’t want to risk being responsible for any other new mom seeing it and believing its advice was right.

And thus began my journey of learning to “read” my children.

It’s not that I’m opposed to outside parenting resources; I’ve actually read several good books over the years and have a few favorite websites as well. And I enjoy asking for help from friends further along on the parenting journey.

But I’ve learned that, though advice from “experts” can be helpful, the more important thing is that I become an expert on the particular children with whom God has blessed me. That is, I need to “study” – through careful observation and intimate interaction – the particular make-up of each of my children until I become an expert in knowing as much as I possibly can about how the Lord has uniquely wired each one. Then I can wisely choose which outside “parenting techniques” might work and which to dismiss from our home. And I’ll have the wisdom to then custom-fit the helpful ideas. Doing it the other way – trying to shape my child to fit the “experts’” opinions – is misguided, backwards, and potentially very harmful.

I know I wasn’t alone in my insecurity. In fact, many in my generation and among those younger feel very incapable of mothering well because most of us were given little training and practice as girls. But I can attest, from this vantage point just a little further down the road, that our God can be trusted. He gave you a mother’s heart when He gave you a child, and He will empower you with wisdom as you invest your time and energy to learn to “read” your child.

Photo Credit: ECohen


1 comment:

Rita said...

I loved your article, Tina. How very important it is, in deed, for parents to "read" their baby. My sisters and I were all raised basicly the same and yet, all raised their children a little bit differently, according to their baby's needs...not that they didn't learn a lot from our mom. I can attest to having some pretty terrific neices and nephews so "one size" does not fit all. Through my many years of babysitting, I certainly learned that all babies are different and need to be treated as such. How I hope young mothers read your article and take it to heart!

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