A Gobful of Thoughts on Parenting
Yesterday, Henry and I went back to our pediatrician for a check-up on his right ear. A couple of weeks ago, Henry's daycare called me in the middle of the day, saying that Henry awoke from his nap screaming, pacing, crying and clutching his right ear. I whisked him home, gave him some Tylenol, and made him a little nest in our bed. He moaned and cried for about two hours and then suddenly popped up our bed and asked, "Can I have some food?" Joel and I suspected that his ear drum had ruptured with his all-too-quick turnabout, but didn't see any evidence. Still, the next day, I took Henry to the doctor and sure enough, he'd ruptured his tympanic membrane. But, I digress ...
Yesterday, we went back to the doctor to see if his ear drum was healing. The doctor gave me some advice about how much medicine to give Henry, to continue his nasal spray ("I hate that stuff," said Henry.), and then asked the routine questions about his habits:
Doc: Is Henry eating well?
Doc: Is he sleeping well?
Me: Oh, Henry's always been a great sleeper, since he was about 6 weeks old.
Doc: How'd you get him to do that??
We lapsed into a five minute conversation about how to get a newborn to sleep. Our doctor has a nine month old that wakes up every two hours every night and she and her husband are struggling with their major sleep debt. I gave her a quick rundown of my suggestions (e.g., Don't feed the baby in the middle of the night; if he wakes, try to give him a quick snuggle or a short back rub and then put him right back into bed; don't get up at his first cry, give him a few minutes to solve his own problems; and - last, but never least - stuff your head under the pillow and let him cry).
I didn't have an arsenal of baby sleep tricks when we were struggling to get Adelaide to sleep. In fact, I'll admit that we made a lot of mistakes that added to our troubles when we thought that they'd help. But, I've learned that sometimes when talking to other parents who've been through difficult parenting situations, sometimes you just need permission to try something new. By permission, I mean that sometimes when somebody just says, "It's okay to let your baby cry a little bit," it gives you a sense of relief and empowerment when faced with night after night of sleep deprivation.
I remember visiting my parents when Adelaide was fourteen months old. She would toddle around, getting into the Christmas tree, stuffing handfuls of green and red M&Ms into her gob, and generally acting out. I felt exasperated with her naughty behavior, but had no idea what to do to change it. I remember my mom said, "You know, Aimee, I think that Adelaide is old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong. You should start giving her time-outs." Getting permission to reprimand and challenge my daughter's behavior with consequences was just what I needed.
Nearly every week that I work, I encounter a newly minted mother who's struggling with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is not easy; it's an art, not a science. Everybody, namely mom and baby, need to be on board with it and they need to practice. And practice a lot. Care providers put a lot of pressure on people to breastfeed for good reasons, but sometimes breastfeeding is not a good fit for every family. Sometimes, the struggling mother just needs someone to say, "This is your choice. You're the parent. You love your baby. One way that you show your love is by deciding what's right for your family." I say that at work a lot.
We don't parent everything right all the time, every day, but Joel and I are working together to make the best choices for our family that help our kids have a strong sense of community, a big handful of manners, and a whole lot of fun. Now that we've mastered sleeping through the night, Adelaide and Henry are taking on new responsibilities. Adelaide sets the table at mealtimes, and they both are learning to pass food and to wait for everyone to be served before eating. They both do daily chores, like window washing, wiping the table, and picking up after themselves. Henry tidies his bedroom by putting all the toys on the floor into his toy box every day. Adelaide helped me with dishes the other night and we had a ball, watching You Tube clips of the BeeGees and learning the Electric Slide while cleaning the kitchen. After supper, we've been trying a Family Storytime, where Joel reads James and the Giant Peach while Henry and Adelaide and I play puzzles or draw quietly and listen to the story. Joel and I are learning that if we have high expectations - from sleeping through the night to dusting the coffee table to listening quietly while someone else is speaking - our kids will rise to meet our expectations. Sure, somedays we still have a lot of whining, a lot of boundary testing, and a lot of Time Outs, but we're all a work-in-progress, aren't we? Generally, we're learning that parenting Adelaide and Henry is kind of an amazing responsibility, really.