“You talk to her like she’s an adult,” our friend commented, observing our parenting style.
“I guess we do,” I admitted, puzzled.
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that comment. My cousin mentioned it during our visit and I’d heard it at least once before. When I hear it, I always agree to be polite, but in truth I don’t quite know what it means. How do you talk to someone like a child? Aside from trying not to swear, we don’t change our vernacular around Rose. Are we supposed to? We’re first time parents. We don’t know any better.
There must be a right way to talk to your kids, then, right? What do the other parents do? I wish I knew. When we were a couple, we wanted intelligence on other couples’ sex lives. “What’s normal?” we wondered. We read women’s magazines. We read men’s magazines. We found out. But now there’s a new question, and there’s no magazine that answers it. Parenting magazines are full of advice, tips and tricks, but when it comes to intel, they don’t even try. I guess for every hundred parents surveyed, there would be a hundred different answers. They can tell us what’s best, but how do we find out what’s normal?
It’s not just the adult speech comment that befuddles me. I also wonder what all the other moms do while their kid plays. Rose is an only child and she plays by herself, usually while I sit on my ass and watch TV. By the time I see her in the afternoon, she’s already played with the other kids at the babysitter’s and had her nap. When she wakes up, I make her a snack and then I’m pretty much done parenting until dinner. She comes to me when she wants a book read or wants me to play, but she mostly entertains herself. The other moms all say they’re so busy. What do they do all day? It’s not an insult. I believe they’re busy. But I’m sincerely concerned that they know something I don’t. Am I a bad mommy? What should I be doing that I’m not?
If I didn’t doubt myself already, I wouldn’t care. But I do. We’re not raising Rose in a vacuum, but our contact with other parents is limited. I work mornings, when all the mommies usually get together, so I don’t have the social network that the stay-at-homes do. And even then, I’m not sure they really talk about the nuts and bolts of parenting. When I do see the other moms, we talk about our kids and do some troubleshooting but we don’t go over methodology. I could read parenting books, but again the dilemma: There are zillions of books out there. Which one is best? There’s no way to know.
So how do I know if I’m doing it right? I tell myself that Rose is a happy, well-adjusted two-year-old, and that’s what counts. But I remember some family friends had a fourteen-year-old daughter who walked around fingering the tatters of the crib lining draped around her neck. “They always treated her like an adult,” explained her behavior. I don’t want that to be Rose. I don’t want her to carry a security blanket when she’s twelve. I don’t want her in therapy saying we deprived her of a childhood. I don’t think that’s what we’re doing. We’re silly with her and we have pillow fights and we diaper her Elmo doll. Isn’t that giving her a childhood? She certainly doesn’t act like an adult. She’s happy all the time. She giggles and screeches and runs in circles around the living room. She hugs random strangers – yes, a bit worrisome but still the sweet, innocent behavior of a child.
Last night I read an article that addressed over-parenting. It detailed horrifying examples of parents micromanaging their kids’ lives. On the other end of the spectrum, we hear of overly-permissive parents who don’t pay much attention to their kids. I’ve seen both in action, and I think I fall somewhere in the middle. If moderation is the key to life, then maybe it’s the key to parenting. And if I embrace moderation, maybe it shouldn’t matter to me what other people do. Maybe there are a hundred different parenting styles for every hundred families and each one is right in its own way. Maybe our job over the next thirty years is to develop the one that’s right for us.