When we were preparing to parent, we gobbled up any and all “good parenting” tips: no TV, constructive play, babywearing, “back to sleep,” only organic, cloth diapers, and more. But then Gabe came along and we learned the difference between ideal parenting and actual parenting.
The nurse who facilitates one of my moms’ groups calls this clash the “pristine world” and the “practical world.” She’s helped me be able to articulate the gap between what parents are “supposed” to do and what we are able to do, and it’s made me feel better about my parenting choices.
In the pristine world, I would only use cloth diapers. We stocked up on BumGeniuses, and I was ready to sit smugly in the knowledge that I was being environmentally responsible. In the practical world, when I use a day’s worth, they need to be washed that night and dry for the next day (and I only have a day’s worth because they’re $20 each). When Gabe wears them, he gets high-centered and can’t roll over. I hate the feeling (and smell) of carrying a poopy diaper around when I have to change them in the middle of a day of running errands. And my husband won’t use them, instead preferring to use disposables (and not even the organic disposables, but the terribly expensive and not-at-all-environmentally-friendly Pampers). So while I still occasionally stick Gabe in his reusable diapers, for the most part, I’m paying for fancy diapers for my son to poop in and throw away.
In the pristine world, I would stick him in a Moby Wrap and we’d go about our day chest-to-chest. In the practical world, I have two Moby Wraps I’ve used a half-a-dozen times, but couldn’t quite coordinate the wrapping, twisting, and tying while also balancing a squirming and pissed-off infant in the middle of it all. Instead, I bought a Beco Gemini, learned to click the straps behind my back, and limit my baby-wearing to shopping and dog-walking. He won’t settle for being worn around the house, preferring instead to be on the floor, where he can scoot backwards in circles and squeal at the dog.
In the pristine world, he’d never be in the same room as a watched TV. We’d listen exclusively to KEXP and classical music and spend hours watching the leaves on the trees. In the practical world, Josh has made it a ritual to watch football with Gabe on the weekends. On Saturday, G wears his UW onesie and they watch the Huskies, and on Sunday, they watch the Seahawks (it’s never too early to teach your child about disappointment in others’ actions!). These blocks of time give me valuable study hours, and give the gentlemen in my house some one-on-one time. In the practical world, we still listen to a lot of KEXP, but Gabe is also regularly serenaded with Gaga.
In the pristine world, I would only eat organic, and he would only eat organic. In the practical world, organic is freaking expensive. I compromise with organic dairy for myself, and making my own baby food from whatever I can afford. If it needs to be peeled before cooking, it’s conventional. If the whole thing is being processed, it’s organic. While Gabe needs to eat healthy, we also need to be able to pay our bills.
The one place we’ve compromised the least is sleep. He sleeps on his back, as recommended. He slept in the co-sleeper next to us for five months (six is recommended, but he got too big). Now that he’s in the crib, he sleeps without a blanket and with white noise. Only within the last week have we relaxed about side- or stomach-sleeping. If he can get to the position, he can sleep in it. As parents, we’ve had SIDS risks drilled into our heads since that first positive pee stick, and it’s hard to do something that I’ve been told might possibly kill my baby (even if it looks more comfortable). I finally gave in and bought mesh crib bumpers, because the first few nights in the crib involved multiple baby freak-outs after he rolled and got his feet stuck in the bars.
More and more, this is what I’ve learned about parenting–you learn the pristine, but you live with the practical. Our job is to find the line between the two, and hew to it.