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Is overthinking parenting such a bad thing?

March 29, 2012

Well, “overthinking” by definition implies “you’re thinking too much/hard.” I’d say most people say I do too much for a person with zero kids and an empty uterus. I certainly feel very strongly that “the best laid plans” may amount to zilch, and I am fully aware of that when I research other parent’s experiences with children and parenting. Mostly, it’s something I want so badly…that I just can’t help it.

However, sadly, we do have plenty of folks who have clearly DO NOT THINK about the fact that they are responsible for the most vulnerable members of our society. Clearly some amount of thinking helps in making a good parent. Personally, I’m of the opinion that any parent who has ever had a moment of doubt about a parenting decision is a Good Parent. That parenting decision? That implies thinking. That moment of doubt? That implies critical thinking, and trying to figure out the long term implications of whatever choice is on the table. This group includes, luckily for us, almost everyone who has chosen to have or adopt a child.

But what should people be thinking about before they have a child?

Seeing how the parenting world is filled with people who have a LOT of judgment on certain issues, and relatively little solid research behind many of those issues, sometimes it seems we’ve got little to go on but the personal experiences of several million parents. My research has been helpful for me in sussing out a couple main points:

– Babies do not all have the same temperament. So, do NOT get focused on just one parenting philosophy to the exclusion of all others, even if it seems to go against what you think you might want – it may well not be what your baby wants. For example, many cosleeping parents found they loved cosleeping by accident when it made nursing on demand so much easier – and only after the fact found their crib and baby’s nursery totally unused. By contrast, there are certainly parents who planned on cosleeping who ended up purchasing a crib and figuring out a nursery situation last minute because NOBODY in their family slept well with cosleeping. Are ether of these groups of parents “wrong”? No, they’re actually both right – because the lesson both groups of parents learned was to follow their baby’s temperament.  But sometimes it seems the judgment comes from parents who “made” a parenting decision (cosleeping or nursery) and their baby fit perfectly into the pattern they envisioned on this particular point, who sometimes are a little more judgmental of folks who happen to have babies who, I don’t know, cry more, or put their parents through more stress for having to work to find a solution. Ideally the best policy is to keep an open mind because you just don’t know what your baby’s needs will be. And that includes judgment about other parents.

– Still, parenting is not an arena where all decisions are equally valid. Research has shown that some feeding methods are better, some attitudes about discipline are better. Some ages are better for having kids biologically (yeah, XY and I won’t make the first marker of me under 30. But I’ll be damned if we wait for me to turn 35 or older). Unless, however, you see a parent (or anyone) actively abusing a child, don’t assume that it’s individual ignorance that led the parent to the “lesser” parenting decision. Mostly there are huge hurdles to overcome that only the individual parent(s) and child(ren) know about, and yes, most of them have heard the best policy from an expert or 20 before talking to you. My personal take is that blaming the individual just makes for some nasty fights, without really accomplishing anything to better the world’s children. Work on fixing the system (if it’s a research-supported issue) before you judge the parent. If there’s no research, then ask the scientists to get on it. (Where are you scientists?)

Small picture? Well, I would like to be the best mom for my kid (or kids) as is possible.  I also feel pretty strongly that:

– Time (with my children) is more important to me than money.

– Money is still pretty freakin’ important, though. (See 539, cost of preschool/daycare, cloth diapering, etc.) We want to have a full-on budget, a house, and relatively flush retirement savings before we step off the birth-control wagon. Said budget needs to accommodate the drop in income we’re expecting from me not working as much as previously (I’m currently the higher wage earner). We don’t know what the future holds with parenting, but obviously, there’s no turning back once we get started.

– Patience is key. Rushing XY has never been a successful strategy in our relationship, and rushing myself won’t help at all on a irreversible decision. All the (over)thinking I’ve done in the past five years has lead me to some really interesting conclusions. I know I want a hospital birth with a midwife, I know I want to breastfeed, I’m thinking pretty strongly I’d like a Montessori nursery. There’s no way I wouldn’t cloth diaper (but if I find XY buying secret disposables, I won’t divorce him. Just give him the same sad look I give when he’s drinking out of Styrofoam drink containers. And make sure such purchases aren’t on our joint credit card.) I know that even with all of these plans I could fall victim to a curveball: a special needs child; a battle with infertility; postpartum depression. Or even something I haven’t thought of yet (imagine that!). Either way, right now is NOT the time, but I’ll let you know when we get started.

– I don’t want my parenting dreams to be the end-all of my adventures in life. For example, I hope that before retirement I’m able to take a sabbatical to a foreign country and travel the world, with my school-age (or older) kids. Will this take lots of money and planning? Yes! But it’s worth it to me, and it’s also representative of why it’s important for me not to get hung up on the day-to-day question of “should we have a baby today?” The idea of parenting is obviously one I take very seriously, but I also don’t see it as defining me overall. I’ve had a very cool life so far, and I expect I will continue to, even if I never become a parent (the odds of that are next-to-nothing, of course, but considering I do feel some ambivalence about adoption, not impossible).

In conclusion, go ahead, think, and overthink your decisions. Eventually you’ll have to jump in with both feet, and realize that the water’s nothing like what you expected. (But hopefully it’s awesome.)

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