You don’t need my permission, but you have it anyway

I met Erin in my new mom support group; her son was 12 days older than Julian. We spent hours together with our babies when they were two and three months old, walking with strollers, going out to lunch, and when we went back to work, we created a nanny share at my house. She would come pick Paxton up every afternoon, but if he was asleep when she arrived, we’d sit and talk till he woke up. So as much as I believe that what goes on in other people’s houses is a great and intriguing mystery, I think Erin and I had exchanged as much information about our habits as humanly possible without marrying each other.

I knew that at Erin’s house, they had a mechanical baby swing which featured a side-to-side rocking motion, and that her baby slept in it for a good part of the night.  I also knew that she did sit-ups in the dark while she waited for him to fall back asleep. And, I knew that she asked her pediatrician if letting the baby sleep swaddled in the swing while it rocked full force all night long was okay.

“Whatever works,” said the pediatrician, a mother of three.

When my second child was born, she was incredibly fussy and slept poorly.

“Give me that swing!” I demanded of Erin.

And for the next few months, Scarlett spent her nights swinging full speed side-to-side, till 6 am. My husband and I got used to the sound of the swing rocking against the wood floor in our bedroom.

When Heather’s third baby was born, the overnight swing had been normalized in our extended mom social circle.  Sawyer spent his share of time in an Ergo while Heather was awake and in an electric pendulum made by Fisher Price when she was asleep. Through knowing other moms she trusted who had gone this route, she felt it was permissible.

At a birthday party recently, I was chatting with two second-time moms — one of whom was a doctor — who were struggling with their newborn’s sleep and I told them about the overnight swing. I said, “You don’t need my permission to do this, but if you feel like that makes it okay, know that I used a swing all night long with Scarlett.”

“I’m going to try it,” they both said. “And I kind of did need your permission,” confessed the doctor.

I’ve seen the power of permission at play in many contexts. Parenting writer Meagan Francis has said she hates the playground, giving loads of women the okay to confess that they, too, don’t like standing outside getting sand in their shoes for hours on end.

How about this one: At a social gathering, no one wants to dive into the food first. When the first brave soul dips a carrot into Ranch, others will follow. Permission to eat granted.

Sometimes we doubt our own ideas or instincts until we see them reflected in others, validating our emotions.  Heather and I started this blog because we found that taking care of a baby was lonely as a one-on-one activity. The hours were long and it felt like we were always waiting for our little companions to either fall asleep or wake up. By putting this idea out there (here?) where others could see it, I hope that we’ve helped normalize that feeling.

It’s okay to feel bored, anxious, or to be counting the minutes til your partner gets home. It’s okay to look for distractions, to do things to entertain yourself, to explore activities not found in What to Expect In Your Baby’s First Year.

The advent of social networks is a huge shift for moms. Unlike when my mom had me, and had only one parenting book to look to for the answers, you guys can find permission anytime of day or night. But remember, you don’t even need to ask.

(illustration by Amy Saidens from The Rookie Moms Handbook: 250 activities to do with (and without!) your baby)