Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Community Is Better than Experts

By Joy Pullmann

My three-year-old son learned a new word this week: Proud. I told him for the first time I was proud of him when he learned to ditch his diapers, all in three days. I'm not sure he understands what the word means--it's an abstract concept, after all, which is why he hasn't heard it before--but it was the best way I could think to express my approval.

My husband actually changes most of the diapers in this house, and makes most of the meals (we havesome role reversal going on because I'm currently the full-time breadwinner), so I wasn't as much relieved to get out of a big chore of mine as tickled pink my little boy managed to figure this out so fast. I mean, he went from peeing in his pants without thinking about it to marching himself to the bathroom at the right impulse, pulling pants down and up himself, doing his business, and cleaning up afterward. That was a lot to learn in six hours. But we haven't had an accident in two days (fingers crossed), and there were a few unintentional ones the two days before that.

My little guy is pugnacious: He frequently resists doing what we want once he knows it's something we want. But he was so fast with figuring this all out himself I'm amazed and very pleased. He's currently the favorite kid (the other is teething and crabby, so that makes us all biased).

I've never potty trained anyone before. Once, when my smallest brother reverted to dirtying his pants, I told him the next accident would be cleaned off with the hose, and followed through. That ended the problem. But I didn't train him, and I had no idea how to do any of this. So I did the logical thing: Asked my mom. Actually, my mom didn't seem to remember exactly how she trained, but my mother in law did. Thank goodness for her, because we have a third coming and three kids in diapers sounds like a nightmare, even if my husband does most of them.

Other women with children are my most valuable resource for figuring out this whole mom thing. We have a mother at church who has three courteous, charming sons. I don't know how she did it, but she has an open invitation to our house for dinner to advise. I once met another family at a fancy dinner engagement. They also had three sons, about ages 8, 10, and 12. I was so impressed by their behavior at an adult dinner that I asked their mother how she did it. She was only too happy to tell me. And the best reassurances I've had about my new life have been learning that everyone is as crazy as we are. So it must be ok that I hate being pregnant and that I can't have a phone conversation while the kids are awake. Knowing that I'm not alone and the ability to learn from other people's mistakes has been a huge psychological support for me.

This would seem like a normal thing, but it's often not. My friends who are also learning to baby and mother sit down and compare notes from the bestselling advice books written by experts, and sometimes we laugh at how silly some things sound, and more often groan over how they all seem to contradict each other. For example, some people are really into co-sleeping. Others (usually experts) think that leads to SIDS, so the idea horrifies them. Well, I wanted my first son to sleep by himself when he was born because I like to sleep undisturbed, but he simply would not sleep at all when we did that. So to save my sanity, into bed he came, and that solved that and no one died. So when other moms ask me "What do you think about cosleeping," I tell them that it was necessary for one kid and if their newborn needs comfort why the heck not give them their own mommy back until they can sleep alone. (SIDS seems to be more related to adult smoking near babies and bottle feeding.) But I'm not so squishy that the kids co-sleep with us for long. It's fine if people want to have a family bed, but I don't. As soon as our little guy started kicking us out of the bed (I think that was about six months old), into the crib he went.

Anyway. If I had read some book that told me to co-sleep, or not to, and tried to enforce it like a rule rather than doing what made my life sane, switching when necessary, I would have gone mad. Usually the good mothers I ask for advice are practical like this, while experts tend not to be.

All of this chatter (I really am a mother now) is a roundabout way of saying that I think lots of young mothers now feel isolated. They don't have any or many older women they can ask about all their many little aggravations and inexperiences. And lots of their peers aren't having kids, or are having them later. So no wonder they buy books. And I'm not against advice books (we used one to potty train my little fellow, after all), but they seem a sort of sad replacement for a quick phone call to or hallway conversation with a wise woman.

Image by Todd Morris.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Joy! This is true even outside the context of motherhood. When I lived alone in my year between college and marriage, I had several flat tires. (They must have dumped screws instead of gravel on my driveway, or something.) I only sort of knew how to change a tire, and I definitely knew I wasn't strong enough to do it. I called a guy I knew from church the first couple times; when he threw his back out, I called a co-worker -- who called another co-worker to figure out how to change it. They all took good care of me!

    It's good for us to be able to ask for help. It's good for us to be willing to help. It's good for us to be generous, and to be grateful. All of that is part of love.


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