I recently checked out a book from the library about instituting Montessori practices at home for children from birth to age three. Miss E goes to a Montessori school, and we love it. I thought it might be nice to do some things with the Montessori philosophy for Little Sister, so after a bit of reading online I set up an infant space in our living room and it was actually a lot of fun. I only used materials we already had in our house, and Little Sister loved rolling around next to the mirror straightway. I thought the book would be a way to keep this low-key, child-driven approach going strong.
I was wrong.
The thing about contemporary parenting philosophies or teaching philosophies, at least as I’ve found them, is that everything feels all or nothing. The minute I cracked open this book and read about all of the things I hadn’t done when Little Sister was two and three and four months old, I felt defeated, sure there was no way to correct the irreparable harm I’d unwittingly done to my now-six-month-old baby by letting her mouth plastic toys or take the occasional nap in her car seat. So, why bother?
Friends and I have complained about this in regards to lots of things. It feels like if you can’t buy in completely, you might as well just adopt your child out to a pack of wolves. Because you’ve failed.
If you’re a babywearing mama, you’d better really go for it: soft-structured carriers worn for trips to the zoo or the grocery aren’t cutting it. Invest in a boutique wrap and master a back carry that lets you wear baby all day long. Are you breastfeeding? Nurse on demand, give up coffee and chocolate, never offer a pacifier or a bottle, and resign yourself to co-sleeping. Cloth diapering? Don’t you dare slap a disposable on that baby’s bottom, even during the problematic transition to solids. And if you’re going to buy organic strawberries for your toddler to munch, you’d really better dip into their college fund to buy organic everything.
But here’s the thing. It’s not possible for me to parent this way, no matter what beauteous images of complete parenthood the internet produces. Sometimes Little Sister will have to settle for a squeaky plastic teether rather than a sustainably-harvested and hand-crafted wooden rattle (seriously, she’ll have to settle for this forever, because, no). Sometimes her daddy or I will stand her up on her legs because of the great big smile she gets when we do, even if she spends the rest of her time on her belly or her back, free to explore. Sometimes Miss E will eat white rice and bread for dinner because I’m too tired to fight with her. Sometimes the television will be on when my children are awake, or I’ll drive them both around in the car for an hour to get them to sleep, or we’ll get to bed too late for stories or bribe with candy or forget to do any of the positive, respectful, empowering things we intended to do with our children.
The reality is that no matter what I choose to do, or how inconsistent my ability to follow through, I believe my girls will benefit from a mother that really thinks about how I can do best by them.
And only sometimes totally screws it up.