I had a great conversation with some friends last week about the differences in how we do things. Some of us homeschool, some send their kids to public school or private school. Some of my friends have their babies in the hospital, some *even* with epidurals, maybe induced or having c-sections or maybe a non-complicated delivery. I have my babies at home, in the water when possible. There’s breastfeeding or bottle-feeding – formula or pumping. Vaccinate or don’t. Cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers. On and on… I guess we were talking about the nefarious “Mommy Wars.” As us moms talked, I was struck by how amazing each family really was. It didn’t matter which one of us had an epidural or co-slept with our toddlers – all of our families are strong and our kids are healthy and happy. And, as my wise friend Arian said, no matter what decisions we make about all of these crazy issues, we all love our kids dearly.
That conversation buzzed in my head a lot this weekend. Mainly because I do many things that might seem to align with the “this is the only right way” side of things. But we don’t believe that. We homeschool because it is a beautiful fit for the way our family works. David and I both highly value constant contact with our kids. That’s not a bad value, but it’s not really any better than the parents who highly value the experiences their kids will receive in a more traditional school setting. It seems like most counter-culture groups feel defensive, and so there is often an attacking tone in their defense of homeschooling or home birth, breastfeeding or delaying vaccines, but the reality is that none of those decisions are what keeps a family strong.
I birth our babies at home. That can be a really touchy issue for many women. Some are convinced that they would have died or their baby would have died if they hadn’t given birth in a hospital – while others just plain prefer to do things the way most of our culture does them. I do understand that point of view, and I am VERY grateful for modern medicine! But my personal story is that I don’t have high-risks factors and we really feel more comfortable with the home birth mode of care, so I choose to deliver at home with a trained midwife that will recognize the signs and transport me to hospital if there is a need. Of course I prefer a home birth to a hospital birth – because I prefer everything at home if possible! I’m joking a little here, but you get the point. Naturally, I have valid reasons beyond just liking things at home, but I truly believe that is a personal choice, and really none of my business if you prefer the hospital. In most cases, thanks to the advances of science and medicine, where you give birth doesn’t change the outcome of a healthy baby to take care of, and I promise that I cannot tell the difference between the kids that were born in a hospital versus those that were born at home – they all look the same in kindergarten. 😉
I only breastfeed our kids. I’ve never even tried a bottle with any of them. Not because I think I’m a better mom, but because my mom said pumping was painful, and I didn’t like the idea of sterilizing bottles and keeping track of frozen milk. I’ve got enough on my mind without adding extra activities to my day! Do I think that women that pump (or Heaven forbid, use formula!) don’t love their babies? Ludicrous! Once again, I’ve never been able to tell the difference between kids that were fed one way versus another – and I happen to know many wonderful, intelligent people who were either formula-fed or breastfed, and both groups still love their mothers.
Homeschooling, home birth, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, organic food, the list goes on and on… The fact is, I’ve seen families that did all of those things, and it didn’t make their families any stronger than those who had epidurals in the hospital, formula fed, sent their kids to public school, and fed them white bread sandwiches with a bag of chips every day. In college, I spent a good bit of time with a woman named Debbie at our church whose family did things very differently from the way my parents did things. She had 3 kids. They were all in public school, and not in the best school district. Her husband worked the night shift, and she worked certain days. They did not eat homemade, whole wheat bread every day like we did. They watched TV shows. And they loved each other and served the Lord in beautiful ways. Debbie made a profound impression in my life when she let me come over to hang out in between classes. I would follow her around as she did laundry, planned dinner, I would ride with her to grocery shop or to pick up her kids from school. I watched her live her everyday life, and I joined in. Sometimes we had deep discussions about our faith, and sometimes I just learned what it was like for her to run her household. Through it all, I learned more from Debbie than from all my college courses.
What I have observed through the years is that the families that stay close only have one thing in common: breastfeeding. Just kidding! I was wondering if you were paying attention. The one secret I have observed about strong families is that the parents like to be with their kids. It’s not about what activities they do with them or sign them up for, it’s that the parents are talking about those activities, engaged and listening to their kids. It’s not about whether they had a c-section or cloth diapered or stayed at home. Every family that stays truly close as the kids grow is a family that learns to like being with each other. It’s simple. If you like being around your kids, they will like being around you.
The secret is simple, but the living it out can be challenging. I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t immediately delighting in Liam when he was born. Sure, he was home birthed, breastfed, co-slept the first year, fed only organic super-foods, and I never left him with anyone for his first year of life, but I wasn’t delighting in him. Transitioning to motherhood was tough, and he was an extremely demanding baby. Of course, I deeply loved him and would turn “Mama Bear” on anyone who criticized or threatened him, but it took a lot of time for me to learn how to enjoy his company. Then Paul came along, and he was a totally different personality. I should have expected that, but for some crazy reason I thought all our kids would be the same. Paul was also home birthed and breastfed (no co-sleeping, though – that was too much for me), and he was an extremely easy-going, pleasant baby. Even still, I had to learn how to enjoy Paul. It didn’t take as long, since I had practice with Liam, but it still wasn’t instant. Next week, David and I will share some of the tips we discovered that help in delighting in our children, so stay tuned!
What do you think about this? Do you think delighting in your kids is the secret to a strong family? What has your experience been with learning to enjoy your children? I would love to hear what you think!