Sunday, May 21, 2006

slings and arrows

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this about parenting and how different parenting situations can seem foreign to each other. One anonymous (wisely so?) commentator pushed me on it, saying this:

are you saying that you are a superior parent because your kid's sick?

First of all, I would never call my kid "sick." To have a diagnosis is not necessarily to be defined by it. If he were, well that would make the diagnosis a handicap and a real illness. Trust me - the kid who hiked three hours with me on Sunday is not, by any stretch of the imagination, sick. Biologically quirky, sure - but not sick. (I reserve the right to change my mind five years from now when he makes farting sounds with his armpits.)

I can see why you'd think I was just on a rampaging ego trip about my parenting, but let me ask you this: if I'm purportedly a superior parent to my sibling, then are parents of say, kids with cancer, better parents than me? Or are these the degrees of parenting, in which any ordinary person just does what needs to be done, with love and care?

I can't be an ordinary parent, even if I wanted. I don't even really understand *how* to be an ordinary parent. Or how to be a cancer mom, living in the hospital for months with a frighteningly sick kid and no promised happy endings. But I bet that if I had to, I could. And that if my brother had to, well, I'm hopeful that he could, too. He just doesn't want to think about it.

The thing is that it's very easy to promote your parenting style above someone else's, irrespective of your kid's medical needs. Just take the great sleep debate. There are Ferber families, Jay Gordon families, Sears families and all stripes in between. And any one of those adherents will happily offer to introduce you to the gospel that is their methodology for getting their kid to sleep. Will your sleep method work for me? Maybe, maybe not - my kid might have different sleep patterns, and so be less malleable by your method. Who knows?

My eldest was a happy sleeper, though for years he refused to sleep longer than 2 hours, 45 minutes. It was as if a little timer would go off in his head, and he'd wake up. Yes, we could get him back to sleep, and no, we couldn't talk him out of the pattern. And yes, I have a shelf-ful of sleep books. Annotated. He fnally grew out of it somewhere around his third birthday.

The child's sleep habits were a topic of some interest to those trying to Fix The Tragedy that was our life back then. (eh? whatever.) One day, one brother came to me and explained what he did to put his child to sleep. You should try it, he urged. For once, I managed to smile and thank him for the suggestion. Yes, schedules and rituals are nice, I knew, but what I needed was a sleep method that could handle IV pumps beeping in the middle of the night, the sound of the PA system at the nurses' station and God help us, the 2-3 checks of the kiddo's vitals by the clinical assistants. Oh, there was ritual there - just not the kind my brother meant.

My sib and I parented in vastly different worlds back then...although these days, not so far removed. Tonight we embarked on a crusade to gently teach our eight month old to sleep in his crib. And you just know I'll be pulling one of those books off the shelf, because for this child and this parenting style it is relevant.

So no, not better. Different. Harder sometimes, more joyous other times (think of a sine wave, then multiply it per parenting type - higher highs, lower lows). What would distinguish the better parent from the lesser is whether you can adapt what you expected to what is and what is needed of you. What you actually do, well, that's the details, no?

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