In an endless sea of parenting style choices, I’m solidly on Team “Do What Works For You And Your Family As Long As No One Is Being Hurt.” (Won't exactly fit on a jersey, but some folks benefit from the extra clarification, so.) Personally, I'd much rather figure out what works for me and my family than follow a rigid formula that doesn't. But that raises a big question: if you're not sticking to a script, how can you tell if your parenting choices aren't working for you anymore? When it comes to things like co-sleeping, or breastfeeding, or anything else outside the realm of "things I have to do so my kid doesn't die," how do you know when it's time to switch things up if you are no longer following the parenting template laid out in a book, or by your own parents, or by your friends?
For me, a lot of it comes from listening to that sinking feeling inside that just starts blaring like a siren once part of me has figured out it's time to move on, even if the rest of mind or my heart haven't quite caught on yet. That's definitely how I realized I needed to start weaning my son after nearly two years of basically being a La Leche League poster mom and baby. Basically, I realized that breastfeeding was starting to be a thing I dreaded instead of the cozy, sweet experience it had been before. I'm having a similar experience with bed-sharing. After months and months of being the best sleep solution for me, my partner, and our son, he's gotten a lot bigger and we are just no longer about that thrashing sleepy toddler life.
It can be hard to change a thing you've been doing for a while, or even for the entire time you've been a parent. There's so much guilt, and confusion, and worry that making a change could permanently affect your relationship. However, kids are pretty resilient. As long as they're being cared for by happy, healthy parents who are honest and supportive about the changes we need to make, our kids are usually OK in the end.
Or so I'm hoping, because now that I've had exactly one single taste of what it feels like for my son to sleep through the night in his own room, I am not going back and nobody can make me.
When Your Gut Reaction To The Thought Of Doing That Thing Is A Visceral “OMG, NOPE”
Any mom who's ever experienced breastfeeding aversions knows exactly what I'm talking about, but this feeling could be around anything; from realizing you're done with breastfeeding, to realizing that you don't want to raise your kids with the religion you were raised with. If it's not a matter of life and death, and your gut is just not feeling it anymore, it's probably time to listen and make other plans.
When That Thing Is Slowly Becoming Something You Truly Dread
Sometimes the feeling doesn't hit you all at once, so much as it slooooowly creeps up on you until you notice that maybe you kinda dread going to the school you picked for your little ones, or you're really just way too lonely to keep being a stay-at-home mom. Sometimes it can take a little while to create a new situation that works better, but adjusting to a new situation can sometimes be way better than trying to make yourself adjust to an old situation that's not working anymore.
When Something That Originally Made Mom Life Easier…
I used to be really strict about what kinds of foods my son ate and kept his diet to pretty much exclusively single-ingredient, whole foods. It made it easier to figure out if he had a reaction to something, and it eased my transition from relatively inoffensive breastmilk-only diapers to much stinkier solid food diapers.
...Starts To Make Your Life Harder
Once he got more mobile, though, and became able to request or get foods for himself while out in social situations, it got a lot harder to be the organic food police at every meal. Between not wanting to have to ask for every ingredient list, or spend half my time out with friends and family dealing with a screaming toddler who wanted to try what everyone else was eating, and wanting him to be as full as possible so he'd be less interested in breastfeeding, I officially became over it.
Kids are always growing and changing, so it makes total sense that stuff that used to work for us earlier in their lives might become physically or emotionally uncomfortable and stop working eventually. This whole "time is flying, who is this big kid and what have they done with my little baby?" is basically a giant kick in the feels, but sometimes accepting it means we get a little freedom and relief from stuff (like getting kicked in the face by a sleeping toddler) that was starting to be a major drag. So that's cool, at least.
When Your Kid Says So
There are some things our kids will pretty much never be totally on board with, even if they're necessary. (Trying to brush a toddler's teeth comes to mind.) But when we're talking about optional stuff, their opinion about it should carry weight. So if you're really into something like babywearing, for example, but your baby's reaction recently is something like, "Get me TF out of this carrier!" then babywearing isn't working anymore.
When Your Only Reason For Still Doing It Is Because You Think You “Should”
"Should" is such a tricky word. If you officially dread carrying out one of your choices, but your main reason for continuing to do it is because "I'm the kind of mother who does x," rather than "This is important for me and my family," it's probably not worth holding on to. Good mothers make a variety of choices. It's more important to be healthy and happy with your family than to do things that help you fit into a certain kind of mothering tribe.
When You’re Only Doing It Because You’re Worried About What Other People Will Think If You Stop
If you try to make a list of why you should keep doing something, and the only argument in the "pro" column is, "People might judge me if I stop," you can probably just go ahead and stop. "People" aren't living in your situation, feeling what you're feeling or sacrificing what you're sacrificing. "People" aren't paying your bills or doing anything else that you can't do if you're spending your time and energy on stuff that's making you miserable. So don't let "people" make your decisions. (Especially since those "people" are usually in your imagination, not the flesh-and-blood world. We often imagine other people judge us way more harshly than they actually do.)
When It’s Having A Negative Impact On Your Relationship With Your Kid
Our love for our children is deep, abiding, and unshakeable. However, our like for the stuff we do as parents can be a different story, and can creep into our relationship. If sleep training, or comfort nursing, or anything else you're opting into is affecting how you feel about your child, or how they feel about you — not just feeling inconvenient, but making you feel resentful or like you like them less — find a way to stop. It's not worth it.
When It’s Messing Up Your Physical Health
As a mom of a young baby, bed-sharing was absolutely the best choice for my family. It was the best way to get a solid amount of sleep and keep our son happy while letting me breastfeed him on demand throughout the night.
As a mom of a toddler, bed-sharing is starting to kill my back, and night nursing is just no longer something I want any part of. Co-sleeping is not a matter of life or death, so I'm not willing to sacrifice my health for it. That means it's not working, so we're transitioning our son to his room.
When It’s Messing Up Your Mental Health
There's plenty of stuff about parenting that is unavoidably hard, no question. But there's a major difference between, "Ugh, getting up with a newborn every couple of hours kinda sucks" and feeling like things that used to work for you are making you more anxious or depressed. If any of the optional things you're doing are starting to trigger serious anxiety, thoughts of harming yourself or others, or any other symptoms of mental illness, stop doing them and get help. (Ditto for if motherhood itself is overwhelming you to that point.)
You only get one brain, and it's the most important organ you have. Guard it fiercely.