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If You Give a Perfectionist a Choice (and Other Reflections on Parenting)

 

Ethan took the three older kids to a tiny-pandemic-birthday-party-in-a-big-space this afternoon. This is the first time the kids have left our apartment complex since mid-February, aside from visiting their brother in the hospital and attending a required interview at the Embassy. They were pumped. Like composing a tune and rocking out on the futon and/or sitting near the door with socks and bugspray on ready to go (personality-dependent division).

The relative silence of the past hour turned me into Superwoman. I’m listening to classical music while eating baked oatmeal and writing a blog I had time to think about during my uninterrupted workout. Our baby is sleeping in front of our industrial-sized fan. The 90 degree-heat and unmentionable humidity can’t hold me back.

I remember watching mothers of more than one child in utter amazement as a first-time mom just eight years ago. Did they have extra arms? Extra hours in their days? How did they do it?

In the hospital last month, nurses and visitors eyed me with confusion. One nurse laughed, “You had a baby, and you’re up moving around like nothing even happened.” I smiled and told them I have been caring for three very energetic kids stuck inside at home. For months on end. Feeding and changing a single newborn with help from nurses felt like a trip to the spa.

The first time doing anything, with obvious exceptions (including special needs and financial crisis), is the hardest. When encountering a new mom who appeared in awe of our little circus, I’ve smiled and said, “It gets easier.” In my head, I would add, “And you get stronger.” Today I found myself wondering why it gets easier. Why did keeping one baby alive seem so desperately difficult less than a decade ago, and now feels like a vacation? Experience is the obvious answer. But what does experience provide?

With our first, I attempted to schedule every minute of his day (bless my heart, and the hearts of anyone who tried to babysit). This baby is easier. Surely, constitution plays a role (one with colic and another with volatile reflux added layers of complexity). But also I can now mindlessly and efficiently run down the list of why babies cry. This list is quite short, actually: hungry, hot/cold, scared, overstimulated, tired, gassy, wet/dirty, sick, or in pain. Humorously, addressing each of these can be helpful in calming older kids and adults.

Perhaps the primary edge experience gives in parenting is decreasing the number of novel, minute-by-minute choices. Decisions are stressful for most people, but as a perfectionist I find myself constantly constructing mental algorithms for what will make the most people happy while requiring the least effort from each of them.

In a day of seemingly endless options, experience allows us to bypass some of the cost-benefit considerations that quickly become overwhelming. I don’t need to research Attachment Parenting or cloth diapering or Cry-It-Out because I know none of these will work in our current set-up (four kids, two bedrooms, partial lockdown, absurd temperatures, no dryer). Research can be exhausting and often creates an atmosphere of second-guessing. What am I doing wrong? If only I had more information! THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO FAIL.

What I didn’t realize until years later is: there are just as many ways to succeed. And also, babies mirror our emotions. Calm mom, calm baby (and kids, actually). Frantic mom, frantic baby (and kids). By nature, I am not a calm person. But God is teaching me to take deeper breaths and trust Him more with the details, which means I don’t need to research every parenting strategy and create endless quality improvement cycles. So I find myself with more time to snuggle my easiest baby, reflect, and enjoy the tornado of energy that will descend upon our home imminently. No extra arms, or extra hours in my day. Just a mind with fewer choice to consider and a heart learning to surrender.




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