Saturday March 9, 2013

I have a confession. I have no clue as to what I am doing when it comes to being a parent. There, I said it. I am as clueless as I was when two pink lines formed on that test stick. Sure, I have learned a lot about how to parent my child. I think I have found what works for us, for now.

And that, my friends, is the key. I have found what works for us. For now. For this stage in our daughter’s life. For this, our current family situation. Tomorrow could and most likely will be different. The second she learns a new skill or even a new word the game will be changed and, with it, our parenting.

There has been a lot of media attention recently on parenting styles. Who is right and who is wrong? Studies and experts weigh in on how to best raise your children. If you do too much of A but not enough of B your children are doomed to live a life void of self esteem and value. Be careful, if you do C long enough then your child will never want to leave your side. And, don’t get them started on D. If you even think of trying D with your child then you are doomed to fail.

Really? How do these so-called parenting experts know what my child needs or what your child needs? There are definite consistencies with all children. I think we can all agree that children need sustenance, rest, safety, air and love. It is how each of us choose to go about providing these things that has everyone up in arms. Expert No. 1 disagrees with Expert No. 2 and Expert No. 3 just publicly called them both idiots. They leave the average parent scratching their heads wondering who to believe.

There has even been names given to different parenting styles: Attachment Parenting; Permissive Parenting; Free Range Parenting; Authoritative Parenting; Authoritarian Parenting; Indulgent Parenting; and Helicopter Parenting -- just to name a few. (Is your head spinning yet?) These parenting styles will all claim to be the most effective. They will all back up their claims with studies and the aforementioned experts. They will assure you that you are doing it right, as long as you are doing it their way.

Imagine being a first-time parent amidst all this labeling. It is scary enough without having to pledge your allegiance to a particular style of parenting right out of the gate. And what if your child does not respond well to the style in which you have selected? What if doing something completely opposite feels right? And the experts, what will they say? Well, they will probably say that you are doing it wrong.

Then what? You have now broken your allegiance. You have crossed the invisible battle lines and dabbled in a different style of parenting. You try to find others like you online only to discover that the Internet is full of parents that are extremely opinionated about their particular style and they are always right. They make you feel like you are not trying hard enough. So, you ignore them only to check your mailbox to see a certain magazine aggressively asking, "Are You Mom Enough?"

The answer is simple. Yes, yes you are mom enough. The very question is ridiculous and an insult to moms everywhere. This labeling has got to end. This segmented view of parenting that ends up pitting mom against mom is too much. We need each other. We need cheerleaders on the sidelines and teammates on the field. We need friends who can relate to showing up to an appointment smelling like sour milk and coffee in yesterdays outfit. We need to know that during the 2 a.m. feeding there will be kindred spirits on Facebook to chat with. They say it takes a village to raise a child and we need that village to not be at war with each other.

So, here it is, my unsolicited, I-am-no-expert, anti-expert advice: Do the best you can at this very moment. Listen to your gut, follow your heart and, above all, do what feels right. Drop the label. Parenting is not high school. We don’t need the cliques that once defined us. We define us now. Let your family and your child guide you in your parenting choices. Become your own expert. You know your children and yourself best. 

And, when you have moments where you feel like the only parent in the world who doesn’t know what they are doing, know that there is at least one more out there that has no idea as to what she is doing either.

Welcome to the village, my friends.

Michelle Stephens is a wife, mom to a toddler, photographer, writer, the most outgoing shy person you will ever meet and a super hero in her head. She blogs at www.JuiceboxConfession.com. Email her at JuiceboxConfession@gmail.com, Follow her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/JuiceboxConfession.