By nature, I am a mathematician. I have lived my life believing there is a right answer for every problem. I am also a scientist, in that I believe that if there is not a right answer, then more research will lead to the discovery of one. I excelled in school not by using my own intuition and smarts, but by learning how to solve the equations and memorize the facts, without necessarily understanding them. I’ve armed myself with resources on how to live successfully and even on how to make a strong marriage. These resources have directed me through life.
To prepare, I created a spreadsheet with seven tabs where I collected articles, blog posts, and other resources on every topic I could think of. I even had resources on how to enjoy the present moment. My registry tab was 80 rows long and 5-10 columns wide (one item per row and 5-10 brands of that item to choose from, with accompanying customer reviews). I took 6 classes on birth, breastfeeding, and caring for the baby. I had a dozen books, one which even laid out a day by day plan on how to care for the baby and get her to sleep for the first 6 weeks. I have always excelled in research and this was now my shining moment. I was so ready.
You can see where this is going.
Cut to me immediately postpartum: books shoved aside, feeding on demand, no schedule, and feeling lost and frantic. I had accepted that the books were not going to help, but I had not accepted that my gut and intuition were enough. I just tried to survive with the feeling that I had no idea what I was doing and that I was permanently screwing up this child.
A few months in: new books were in place on how to feed her solids and how to get her to sleep through the night. I received daily emails from six different websites that told me what my baby should be doing and links to 5 different articles on the subject. Even though the resources hadn’t helped in the beginning, I was convinced that now they would. I kept a detailed log of her every move and even created line charts and pie charts from the daily data I collected. Surely such information would give me the answers.
It gave me the answer that there was no answer. It was just one big mess.
Finally, 18 months postpartum, I came home from the library with 4 different books on how to raise a toddler. Then, on one particular hopeless and emotional night when I was struggling to get her to eat real food, I admitted to my husband that I was afraid to make any decision regarding her that wasn’t advised by a professional. He tore the books away from me and ordered me to just stop. Stop trying to find a correct answer. Stop trying to find a definition for the perfect mother and, for goodness sake, stop trying to achieve it. Stop doubting any intuition I have just because it can’t be confirmed by multiple other resources.
Now, I have lived my whole life relying on research because I’m terrified to make a mistake. In the case of parenting, the stakes just feel too high to me to make my own decisions in the matter. For some reason, I’m convinced that if I do what I want to do as a parent, my child will end up on Dr. Phil. Perhaps I’m afraid of being the one to blame. If I rely on the professionals, I can blame them if something goes wrong.
But, I am driving myself crazy.
My most recent meltdown is probably the best wake-up call I’ve had in regards to actually putting down the books. However, this is not something I can change overnight. No matter how deliberate or determined I am, I will, perhaps forever, have the instinct to research my way to a decision. I am only just starting to make decisions about my daughter based on what I feel is best, and feeling confident in doing so.
There have definitely been some cases where I’ve read something that I certainly didn’t have intuition about and it turned out to be very helpful and affirming; but, I take it way too far. The best way to use the resources is to use them as guides and adapt their information to what works for you. But for me, I can’t get the nagging feeling out of my head that I’m selling my family short by doing that. Who am I to declare what is best for my family?
I’m the mother… I guess.
I need to believe that that’s good enough. I need to believe and trust that I’m a legit authority on the subject of my daughter. I need to believe that I am qualified to make decisions regarding her. And there just isn’t a book out there to help me believe that. Trust me, I’ve been obsessively looking.
So how does a black and white thinker (who believes that everything in life can be explained and solved) reconcile parenthood?
Faith. That word which fills the gaps that science cannot.
Faith, and also love. I need to believe that that is enough.
Pardon me while I run off to Google that.