When I was pregnant with John, I did what all good first-time mothers do: I turned to the internet for parenting advice. I read article after article, poured over study after study, in my efforts to learn everything I could about the varying theories on infant sleep, eating habits, and stimulation. I knew twenty-five different ways to soothe a fussy newborn, fifty of the best techniques for baby stimulation during play, ten myths regarding infant sleep. I knew the exact number of infants who had died from SIDS in the past decade as the result of sleeping on their stomachs, the best strollers for an active mother, the most worth-while toys to help make your child smarter. And then John was born, and I promptly forgot each and every word that I had read.
Suddenly I was faced with the reality of a newborn who hated being swaddled (I thought there wasn’t a baby in the world that could resist the swaddle!), refused to sleep in his bassinet no matter how dark the room was or how soothing the white noise, and screamed through his bottles no matter what type of bottle or formula we used. And so I did what all first-time mothers do at one point or another: I turned to my friends with children for help.
When I was pregnant with John, I thought I knew what parenting methods we would use in raising John. I had read plenty of articles and studies on countless theories for infant sleep, eating, and stimulation, and I thought I knew what we would do in every situation that we would face. And then reality set in, and none of those articles and studies seemed to be particularly helpful.
Instead, I turned to my friends for help. Many of them had children themselves, and they had faced the whole gamut of typical infant issues collectively. One offered me incredibly helpful advice on sleep techniques that had worked with her son, introducing us to the wonder that was the baby swing and the world of sleep training. Another told me about the eating problems that she had faced with her own daughter, and her own support of women who opted to use formula gave me the courage to take that route myself. Their own experience as mothers provided better support than anything that I could have found on the internet, and I was amazed to watch my own parenting techniques and philosophies shaped by their presence in my life.
My friends did not just refer me to good pediatricians and websites (though they did that too), but they helped to shape me as a parent. While the websites, articles, and studies opened my eyes to the whole range of parenting methods and philosophies (and there really are a lot out there), it was my friends who actually determined what kind of mother I became. And honestly, it wasn’t all my friends. It wasn’t even the friends that I had been closest with before becoming a mother. It was the friends who were there.
In the end, it was the friends who were readily available, the ones who texted me back at 3AM when John refused to go back to sleep, the ones who happened to be on Facebook when I was desperate to get John to nap for more than ten minutes. To be honest, I hadn’t even been good friends with some of the women who offered me parenting advice. I had needed help, and they had been there. To be honest, my parenting philosophies have largely been shaped by coincidence, or perhaps divine providence. It could have been any mother who happened to be online at 3AM, or when John had been fussing for two hours straight, but it wasn’t just any mother who responded to my pleas for help. More often than not, they provided me with the very piece of advice that I desperately needed. Many people would attribute this all to chance and coincidence, but I cannot help but see God’s hand in it all.
For one, many of these conversations led to major reprieves in our lives at home. It was because of one friend’s support that I made the decision to switch to formula. It was by another friend’s advice that we chose to sleep train our son to help him become a better sleeper, which improved everyone’s moods. These had been the pieces of advice that we needed, and I don’t know if I would have reached the same conclusions without their support. I had been terrified about the repercussions and judgment that would come with a decision to abandon all efforts at breastfeeding, and I had always assumed that I would be incapable of listening to my son cry. As it turns out, no amount of criticism could ever change my mind about formula-feeding, and a few tears are completely worth it when they’re followed by a full night’s sleep and smiles in the morning (this goes for both parents and child).
I cannot deny that my friendships have affected my parenting style, and inevitably it has changed my child. John is a much happier baby now that he is never wanting for food or sleep. He is more free with his smiles, and there is nothing more energizing at 6AM than a baby looking up at you from his crib with a goofy smile on his face. My choice of friends has unquestionably affected my son, but my son has also affected the nature of my friendships. Some of the women who have offered me parenting advice were already good friends before I had a child. We were friends, and in one case, roommates, in college, and it comes as no surprise that I should value their advice and support. Other women have become good friends of mine as the result of our shared motherhood. As they have shared their own experiences with me, and as I have experienced very similar situations with my own son, we have been drawn together. Some of my strongest friendships have been formed as the result of my son and my desire to meet his needs. My son has undeniably been shaped by my friendships, but it’s also true that my friendships have also been shaped by my son. And needless to say, both my son and my friends have shaped me into the mother that I am today, and I am eternally grateful for their love, support, 3AM text messages, and 6AM goofy smiles.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!