(Author’s note: I wrote this about 5 years ago when my son was 1. My husband and I have since separated, but when I read this today, I would not change a thing and if I am lucky enough to have another, I would do it all exactly the same way.)
You never know what kind of parent you’ll be until you bring home that bundle of joy. Sure, you and your spouse (or partner) can plan all you want and discuss how you aim to raise your child and you can argue about how your kid will never behave like your friends’ kids, but until you come face to face with this tiny being who will control your life for the next 18 years, you can’t know what kind of parenting will be required of you.
Of course personality plays quite a big role, but even if you are a type-A personality, you can still be a laid-back parent. More and more, parents seem to want to put their kids in a protective bubble, but kids need freedom to develop into the people they are supposed to be. And no amount of protection from you is going to prevent those basic bumps and bruises, so you may as well go with the flow.
Schedule, schmedule: Everyone knows that babies need structure. But exactly what that means is entirely up to you. Since my then-husband and I both worked and didn’t get home until almost 7, we didn’t want our son going to sleep early. We wanted to come home and be able to spend time with him. And we preferred him to sleep later in the morning so we could get ready for work uninterrupted. So while most of my friend’s babies were in bed by 7 or 8, Owen stayed up until 10 or 11 and then slept past 8 in the morning. He still had an hourly schedule of feedings and naps but we did not stress about getting him down at a specific time. When he was tired, he would let us know. And as he has gotten older and more active he has dictated his own bedtime, now going in before 8 while still sleeping until 7:30 or later. So while we stuck to feeding and napping him regularly, if he went to bed early or woke up late, we just adjusted accordingly.
Prisoner in your own home: If you don’t take your child out with you and get him used to sleeping in other places, you are never going to have a social life. Unless you want to shell out for a babysitter all the time. From the first day out of the hospital, my son was sleeping in his stroller as I went for daily walks. Or he would sleep in his car seat if we were running errands. Or he would sleep in his pack-and-play if we went to visit friends or family. He has never had a problem sleeping anywhere and because I wanted him with me, this has made it easy to still be as social as I have always been. Of course he mostly napped in his crib, but I wanted him to be used to other environments so he would feel safe to sleep there as well.
Don’t be a health cop: Everyone wants their child to eat as healthy as possible. When I started nursing I never had enough breast milk to satisfy my son. He was a hungry baby and after I nursed him he was still hungry. So rather than obsess about his nutritional needs and make myself more emotional than I already was, I just gave him a bottle “chaser” after every feed. This way he got the best of me but the formula sustenance he needed. Now many people might disagree with me here, but even my doctor said a little breast milk is better than nothing and I needed to do what worked for my sanity and my son’s stomach. As he got older and began solids, we let him try everything that we had. I was lucky in that I had an easy, morning sickness and heartburn-free pregnancy. I ate spicy foods and a variety of foods until the day my son came into the world. I attribute this to the fact that he is a good eater. And while I don’t want him eating junk or fried foods, a taste of ice cream or a bit of chocolate every so often (so long as your child has no food allergies) is perfectly fine. Everything in moderation. After all, we always want what we can’t have, so if you let them have it now, they won’t overindulge on it later.
To travel or not to travel: That is not even a question. When my son was one month old we had to fly to St. Louis for my brother’s wedding. It was not an option to leave him home, and with my doctor’s assurance that he was more likely to catch something from a relative touching him, than a crowded airplane, we made the journey from NY. Since we had connecting flights, he was on 4 flights by his 4th week. And guess what? Not a peep, or cry on any of those flights. He either slept, or I nursed him. The white noise on an airplane is better than any swing or rocker at putting babies to sleep. And he did not get sick. 3 months later we were off to London to visit my husband’s family. And 3 months after that, Atlanta to visit my brother and his wife. And 6 months after that Hawaii – 3 islands in total. He was just about perfect on each flight. Why? Because he is used to it. You need to remember that babies are great adapters. They will surprise you in how they go along with whatever you do, so long as you are sure to take care of their needs. With plenty of food and toys in tow, you do not need to fear taking your baby anywhere.
Germ is not a four letter word: We were never obsessed with germs. My then-husband and I rarely get sick and we both believed the more germs you are exposed to, the stronger your immunity will become. So we never carried bottles of hand-sanitizer, and we believed in the 5-second rule for food and pacifiers (except on carpet – that’s just gross) and we let our friends kids come over and play if they have colds. And as you might have guessed, my son has had a handful of minor colds since he was born and nothing remotely serious. He had all his shots and I nursed him for 5 months so that is enough immunity for anybody as far as I’m concerned. And apparently he agrees.
We all fall down: The first two years are just primed for bumps and bruises. Between sitting up, crawling and walking, accidents will happen. Especially with boys. And while you certainly don’t want to endanger your child, you can’t wrap them in bubble wrap either. Once your home is childproofed, feel free to let them go. Sure they will fall and get bumps – my son rarely goes a week without a bruise – but that is how they learn. A friend of mine was pleasantly astounded that when my son began to walk I would let him leave the room and not chase after him. I know my home and I know my child, and I am secure in the fact that he can’t harm himself anymore alone than if I was watching him. I know this because he has managed to fall down in front of me or just sitting on the floor he will bump his head, but there is nothing I can do to prevent it. So I kiss him and let him go and do it again. It’s all part of learning and gaining independence and if I stifle him, he will not develop into the person I know he is meant to be.
Alone time: Maybe it is because I work full-time, but when I come home, I have things to do. Of course the most important thing is to spend time with my child, but I also have to make dinner, pay bills, clean, get organized, catch up on paperwork etc. That means that my son needs to entertain himself. It is so important for children to be able to play on their own. And while I love to play and interact with him, it is just as wonderful for him to play next to me while I am doing something around the house. If I am making dinner, he plays on the floor with Tupperware or the magnets on the fridge. If I am in the office on the computer, he will kick his soccer ball, or look around the room for something he can have fun with. We even kept a small amount of toys in the family room so if we wanted to relax in front of the TV for 10 minutes, our son can read a book or play with his cars or trucks.
Happy and healthy: At the end of the day, the most important thing is that your child is happy and healthy. My son is one of the happiest 6 year-olds I know, and people comment on his great disposition wherever I go. I like to think it is because we were laid-back parents that he has developed into a happy, easy-going child. But even if this is his personality, I would not change a thing.
How about you? What’s your biggest tip for being a laid-back mom?