As someone raised to be strongly feminist, becoming a mother was a bit disorienting for me. In my mind, a good mother was a working mother. The intense feelings of joy, love and attachment that swept over me within moments of Baby W’s birth caught me completely off-guard. Here was not a burden or an inconvenience to deal with and get through so that I could go back to doing important, grown-up things like making money. Here was a tiny, blessed creature that knew nothing other than to trust me to support and care for him. This miniature angel belongs more to God than he does to me. He was not a task to be struck from a to-do list; he is a gift to embrace and welcome. (Not saying that working moms feel babies as burdens—it’s just how I thought I would feel. Even when I was pregnant, I thought to myself “Gee, I hope I like my baby”).
So totally against everything I had said and felt before, I quit my job. Though I loved my son, this was painfully ambivalent for me. I had viewed my value through the lens of my career and education; now those stopped (though education, in a way, always continues). It was a type of identity crisis.
Of course, it was my own hang up not to respect child-rearing as equally valuable to vocations outside the home. Though I was Catholic and gave lip-service to the value of motherhood, my heart lagged behind and in some ways still does. Occasionally, I have trouble respecting myself when I compare myself with other women. This is a problem and a struggle. (I know comparing is deeply harmful; and I know that true feminism, which simply affirms the value of women, does not disparage the choice to stay home).
Enter natural parenting. For me, it’s a philosophy that helps me give identity to my new role. It helps me reframe my day and my chores. I am not a slave underneath mounds of diapers and laundry longing desperately to do something “meaningful” with my time. No, I AM doing something meaningful with my time. It is meaningful to connect with my child. It is meaningful to be in the moment with him, loving him, watching him and nurturing him. Natural parenting affirms the value of being in the moment with the child and not looking at him as a manipulator or a problem to be fixed. Natural parenting sees only a baby to be cuddled and loved.
There are also communities organized around this style of parenting, which is super-helpful. People build their identities in different ways, and one of the biggest is communities. Most people go to work and connect with peers around their jobs; students go to school and connect via classes and academics. The typical pieces of individual identities are (and I’m making this up off the cuff) family, work, school, faith, locale, etc. Work and school are now gone for me. Those were two big pieces of my identity puzzle to subtract at once.
Of course, I still have the Church, and I don’t want to downplay the role of Catholicism in my life. Friendship with Jesus and His Church was there before I quit working and it is still present. Nevertheless, after losing work and school as identity pieces, adding natural parenting helped fill the void. Though naturally I retained family, Church, and locale.
I’ve attended Baby Wearing International meetings and hope to meet up with Attachment Parenting International. It’s reassuring and uplifting to meet other moms who have gone through what I have. And they aren’t weird or crazy-hippy. Haha! Finding a community that is organized around loving children has helped me add an identity piece in place of the ones lost.
Maybe any mom-group or play group would work. But I take special joy in groups specifically devoted to viewing children as full persons deserving of respect and as blessings to be present with. It’s so sad how often little ones are seen as burdens because they require work and diminish the time we have “for ourselves.” In reality, we are ourselves all the time. Time spent caring for another is not time lost. As Jesus taught it Gospels, we become truly alive when we die to ourselves. Happiness and love are found when we give ourselves to others as Jesus did. As John Paul II’s personalism recognized, love means seeing the other person as an “I”, an acting-subject worth as much as I am. To me, responsive parenting and gentle discipline embody these principles because they treat the baby as an individual equal in value to me and therefore worthy of love, time and care. And in this self-giving, there is joy. Truly, far more joy than I ever expected or imagined to be possible.
[Let’s be clear, though: I am NOT saying that only natural parenting is joyful or the only way to love and enjoy children. I believe most parents with their myriad philosophies are joyful and loving. This post is not intended to knock or disparage others who may not do what I do. I’m not even trying to say that natural parenting is better or best for everyone; parents need to do what works for them. My only goal with this post is to explain why I enjoy a parenting philosophy that can seem unusual given the other pieces of my worldview.]
So, I’m a natural parent (in many ways) because it sees children as persons worthy of love and it helps me to savor the joy of self-giving. It’s so easy to squander happiness right now while waiting for tomorrow’s promises that never seem to arrive.
[Coming up: more on happiness and the beatitudes]