As the evening winds down Keana prepares her young toddler for bed. They start with a relaxing bath, a snuggly story, and then Keana sets him down gently in his little bed. He snuggles in for a minute, pulls his favorite blanket up to his face, pauses to watch his mother leave the room, then sits up and begins to cry. Keana is too tired to listen to him howl and she thinks to herself, “I know I shouldn’t, but if I just snuggle him in bed with me …”
All of us are inundated with information about how to raise a child the “right” way. These recommendations flood the bookstores and parenting websites. Truthfully, although there are many researched recommendations for important items such as car seats, pools and choking hazards, I believe there are many right ways for us to raise our children.
I learned a lot about how to listen to different perspectives on parenting from my work with families in an early childhood setting. In our field we have learned to avoid discussing our practices in terms or what is right and what is wrong. Instead of referring to the best way to do something, which can be polarizing, we try to remember that different approaches work effectively in different situations. We try to create a dialog and enhance growth rather than shut down discussion. We recognize that all children and families are unique and different methods serve different purposes. This principle became even more important to me when I had my own children and I began to talk with other moms about their experiences.
Whether we consider parenting in terms of potty training, diet and nutrition, or bedtime routines, we need to remember that each family is different. This realization became apparent to me when I discovered that my friend’s son was still sleeping in their family bed at age 6 or 7. At first I was a little startled by her revelation, but as she told me more about her experience, I learned that he was born several weeks premature. When she brought him home from the hospital attached to a heart monitor she was afraid to let him sleep anywhere but right next to her. Weeks turned to months and she just never moved him to his own bed. I reflected on how her experience as a mother had been so different than mine. How scary it must have been to think that her son could stop breathing while sleeping alone. In a similar position, perhaps I would have made the same choice. I learned to be more respectful of families and the difficult decisions they make every day.
So how do we share our experiences as parents in an open way?
Accept that everyone is doing their best. When it comes to our children, we are all doing what we consider to be the best thing. Whether it has to do with the menu we plan, our discipline techniques or those bedtime routines, we have found a technique that works best for our family. Acceptance allows us to include different points of view in the discussion.
Accept that there are many right ways. Each family makes decisions within the contexts of their family. Whether parents move a crib next to the family bed, put their child to sleep in his own crib in his own room, or lie down with a toddler at night, it’s their choice for their family.
When it comes to bedtime in our home I prefer to enjoy every snuggly moment with my children. We enjoy a few books in my big bed, sometimes as many as 10, then my daughter heads to her room to say her prayers with Daddy while I snuggle with my toddler for a few more minutes until he falls asleep and I can carry him to bed. Various experts recommend different methods but in the end we chose routines that work for our individual family. When it comes to the best way to create a happy home, how to potty train, or how to put your children to bed, I am right, and so are you. There are many right ways to be a wonderful parent.
Tracy Galuski, PhD, is a professor of early childhood studies at SUNY Empire State College in Buffalo, New York.