I’m a big fan of mottos and quotes. For example, my personal happiness motto comes from one of my favorite writers, Kelly Corrigan, who often talks about her three-part formula for happiness: “Make yourself useful doing something hard with good people.” When I think back to my happiest memories–the moments when I felt most fulfilled and proud–they almost always involved all three of these components, and if I find myself feeling dissatisfied or unhappy with a particular area of my life, I return to the motto and find the source of my problem contained within its simple wisdom. Maybe I haven’t been very productive or have been focusing on the wrong things. Maybe I haven’t been challenging myself enough personally and professionally. Or maybe I have a person in my life who has been draining my energy or need to connect with a wise, caring friend.
To be sure, these past seven months of parenthood fall under the purview of this formula. After growing, birthing, and breastfeeding a baby, I’ll never again question the usefulness of my presence. I’ve got 99 problems, but being useful isn’t one of them. I don’t think I need to convince you that parenting is hard, and of course, walking this crazy journey with a wonderful man like my husband makes it the most worthwhile endeavor of my life. By this definition, parenthood is a happiness factory.
After the birth of my daughter in April, I found myself needing a similar mantra. I don’t remember where we first heard it, but our parenting motto quickly became, “Do what works until it doesn’t work anymore.” You see, our digital world can pose some challenges to a neurotic first-time mother in possession of an iPhone.
Am I making enough milk? How often should I nurse her? How often should I pump? I drank a cup of coffee this morning before nursing her; did that cause brain damage? Is she sleeping enough? Is she alert enough? She will only sleep in the MamaRoo; are we causing long-term damage? Do I need to hold her more? Do I need to put her down awake so she learns to self-soothe? Do I need to establish a schedule now before we set up bad sleep habits? Does she need a baby probiotic? Is this poop normal? Do I have an over-supply issue? Do I have an UNDER-supply issue? Do we need to try a sleep sack? Is it time to drop the swaddle? When should we transition her to the crib? Is she forming a solid attachment to us? Why is she so fussy? When will I feel normal again?
It’s no exaggeration that the above brain-dump transcript continually looped through my mind for most of my waking hours. For weeks. That’s why finding our parenting motto was such a huge relief to me: It provided an immediate response to the endless questioning. I could repeat it like a mantra, as often as needed. It helped me build my confidence as a mother by teaching me how to answer my own questions.
For all the above questions, the answer became, “Is the process you are following still working? Is the baby happy? Are you happy? Then everything is fine.”
In addition to helping me resolve fictional problems, it also helped me resolve actual problems. At 4:02 a.m. one Thursday morning when Lyra was four months old, we unceremoniously decided that having her sleep in our room was no longer working. She slept like a dream in her crib the next night, and though I shed a few tears at the empty bassinet by my bed, I was able to accept that it was time.
“Do what works until it doesn’t work anymore” also helps keep me present. I tend to worry a lot, and most of my worry revolves around future-scenario projections. I use this motto to remind myself that everything is working. We are doing great. I don’t need to focus on what might not be working in the future until that future actually arrives.
And perhaps most importantly, this motto helps me remember that in order for “things” to be working, they need to work for me, too. I remember one day when Lyra was three weeks old, and I was trying to follow a BabyWise schedule. I had put her in the crib for a nap instead of letting her sleep on my chest. I texted a friend in tears, saying that letting her sleep on my chest was my favorite thing in the world, but I was trying really hard to do what was best for her. My friend said, “If something is your favorite thing in the world–by all means, do that thing.” And I decided right then and there that BabyWise was not working for ME. And if something doesn’t work for me, it can’t work for my child.
Mamas, our needs should not come second to our children’s needs. They are one and the same. There are so many ways to be a good parent. So parent the way you are.
Do you have a parenting motto? What is it?