A discussion between Daniele Bolelli and Thaddeus Russell on episode 5 of the Unregistered podcast got me thinking about how I have been structuring my life. Bolelli brought up the fact that American Indians would at times leave one tribe for another. He said that nomadic hunters would have more interactions with disparate tribes and that some of them would join a band they had encountered in their travels. This idea of jumping tribes or bands is attractive to me.
Families: Many Flavors of Dysfunction
The two historians talked about all sorts of things, but their discussions about family and belonging stuck with me the most. My particular family histories; yes, I use the word histories. I feel comfortable saying I have been part of many different families in my life. I don’t know how the shock of moving from one family structure to the next impacted me, save I wanted to establish a steady family that would stay intact.
I longed for a traditional, authoritarian, Nuclear Family. I had one for a while, but I fell in love, left home and married my best friend as soon as I could. We vetted each other extensively, read books, sought counseling and we were on the same page. We should have married younger, more on that some other time. We ached for a family of our own. Thankfully a few months after our first anniversary, our first child was born to us healthy, whole and complete.
We were the broken ones. I stated above that we sought to be a strict, traditional family. My wife, a real goddess among women, had so thoroughly absorbed knowledge on pregnancy, birth and parenting that we knew enough to be discontent with our birth experience and with our baby. The birth experience was actually a bad experience, but grievances with medical birth in the United States can be aired in the future. Our baby was actually fine, but we couldn’t see it. We were trapped in the American way of parenting.
We grew up in a culture that celebrated women leaving their babies behind to chase that dollar or claim their identity, or something… My wife didn’t want that to be her and neither did I. I will confess that part of the desire to have her home with whatever children we might have, was rooted in the fact that I wanted somebody to be on top of them at all times making sure they were not straying from whatever norms we had set out for them. We wanted to be loved and feared (maybe mostly feared). Subconsciously, I thought a crucial aspect of that was distancing the children from us. That falls in line with what women choose to do in order to pursue a career. To an extent, it falls in line with what some women have to do to survive as a single mother. We knew we had to distance our baby from us. We set up a nursery with a crib in the other room. We wanted nursing to happen on a regular, predictable schedule. We wanted our baby to sleep on a particular schedule as well. Our struggles were rooted in bad expectations and ignorance.
A quick aside for those who are unfamiliar: babies grow inside of human beings. They are used to a lack of boundaries and having complete access to their mothers. Thank Heaven my wife remembered a book she had read which lead to another book that helped change our lives. Reading Dr. Sear’s Baby Sleep Book, we came to grips with the fact that our baby is a person with a will of her own. She didn’t want to be away from my wife while she slept. She didn’t want to nurse on a schedule, in fact she wanted to nurse almost incessantly. We decided to listen to her cues and treat her wants as needs because at that stage they are. So we invited our baby into our bed where my wife could take care of her needs and get some sleep. We were much happier after this.
Since the conventional wisdom failed us so spectacularly, we opened our minds to changing even more. We abandoned the authoritarian attitude towards parenting. We have chosen to form a deep connection with our children instead of controlling them. The plan is to love them and care for them in the hopes that they will return that love. We no longer punish for bad behaviors. We take misbehavior as a symptom of an underlying issue and seek to help our child work through it. We respect and treat them like people. This is extremely difficult to do and I am humbled by my failures at least once every week.
One of the aspects of our parenting style that makes it so difficult is the fact that we do not have the kind of support we want or that we think would be natural. Long ago, people lived with extended families. We don’t. I lived in an extended family situation and enjoyed it. My wife has never lived this way and has a hard time seeing how it would work for us. There are several factors that weigh into the fact that we don’t live as an extended family. One is the American ideal of family structures where everyone is so spread out. This independence is a type of isolation. There are times when we feel alone, but closing that gap and ending that loneliness would necessitate us combating a lot of ingrained cultural issues.
Perhaps we need to find the courage and resolve that those nomadic hunters did long ago. Owning the freedom to demand a certain way of life and claim it with your own hands is an impressive feat. In a way we did that by choosing to parent contrary to how we were raised. It hasn’t brought us trouble so much as an increased sense if alienation. I can accept that.