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Parenting Under Pressure

Kim Hayes
Shaw Air Force Base SC USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 3 May-June 2000 p. 82-84

Every parent is influenced by many factors, including cultural practices, family traditions, religious beliefs, and medical information or misinformation. I'd like to share my story about how my religious beliefs impacted my parenting.

When my husband, Will, and I were expecting our first child eight years ago, other parents at our church were quick to share the philosophies of Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo. This minister and his registered nurse wife claimed to have extrapolated their ideas on infant care from the Bible. Their mission is to teach others how to parent "God's way." That was exactly what I wanted to do. In addition, there was peer pressure in our church to follow this philosophy. Little Johnny was praised by the pastor because he slept through the night from the day he came home from the hospital and never cried in the nursery.

I completed the book and tape series, Preparation for Parenting, a few weeks before my due date. The program promised bright, happy, confident, obedient children. The main goal was to teach the baby who is boss by sticking to a schedule and not giving in to his whims. This was accomplished by moving the baby through daily cycles of sleeping alone, eating, and playing alone. The Ezzos explained that while animals act according to instinct, humans should act according to God's commands. They quoted passages from the Bible that they felt supported their ideas to convince new parents not to rely on their loving instincts. I became convinced that since I could trust neither my instincts nor my heart, I must follow this plan. I felt that I loved my child enough to do what was best for him regardless of how I felt at the moment.

Adam finally arrived after a long medicated birth. Early separation and nipple confusion were powerful obstacles to breastfeeding. As I struggled to persevere with breastfeeding through these problems, I was hindered by my impression that to give my child the best I must adhere to this plan. I followed the rule to limit the length and frequency of nursing sessions. As breastfeeding became more painful and Adam lost more weight, I became confused. Things were not working according to the plan. My heart told me to hold and nurse Adam for what I had been taught was much too long a time. I wondered, "Is he hungry?" I had serious self-doubt. I thought the "biblical" plan I had learned could not be wrong, so I must be wrong. Maybe something was wrong with my milk. Adam cried so much he lost his voice. Was my commitment to tough love really best for Adam? I had to do something different.

By six weeks, my doctor confirmed my suspicion. Adam, a projectile vomiter, was "allergic" to my milk. The doctor prescribed a soy formula. Giving Adam a bottle devastated me. My "preparation for parenting" made me feel I had failed the first important step of being a good mother. Everyone in the Bible was breastfed. I felt we had taken a serious deviation from the plan.

I soon noticed that all the babies more than six months old at our church took bottles too. A friend consoled me, saying that she had never been able to nurse past three months. She thought Adam was an exception to the "no holding" rule. He obviously had colic and needed to be consoled. She had found a front pack helpful with her colicky baby. This advice from an experienced mother gave me permission to adapt the program to my baby without fear of being ostracized from other members of my church. I was reassured that there could be more than one "Christian" way to parent my baby.

My mind opened to the idea that there were alternatives. Using the Bible as a guide, I searched for help in my struggle. I focused on respecting Adam. I practiced the Golden Rule, treating him the way I would want to be treated. Gradually I started trusting my heart.

While I was pregnant with our next son, Phillip, I prepared in a totally different way. I found an accepting La Leche League Leader who helped me to work through my thoughts about breastfeeding and parenting. I read THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and other books from the Group's Library. When I attended La Leche League meetings, I met a different peer group - one that encouraged me to do what I felt was best for my child without pressure. I learned about mothering through breastfeeding Phillip. It was such a healing experience. I was able to enjoy my baby without guilt. The struggle was replaced with peace.

I have since learned that the parenting curriculum that gave me so much trouble has many followers and has even been adapted to secular audiences. As my family has moved with my husband's military service, we have encountered it in each new community. Many churches and other groups promote its use to their membership. Parents perceive this curriculum as commandments from God. I have observed that parents following this philosophy are often subject to peer pressure that this is the only correct way to parent.

The gentle encouragement I received to enjoy and tenderly love my baby was the key to helping me deal with my confusion, disappointment, and feelings of failure. I hope my story helps others who wonder if this kind of parenting philosophy is for them.

Adapted from an article that originally appeared in the March 1999 issue of Palmetto Palette, LLL of South Carolina's Area Leaders' Letter.

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