vrijdag 23 november 2012

Lessons learned: Sometimes other people are right

Parents want to do right by their child. But as all parents discover, it's actually not that easy to know what your child needs.

Newborn E. didn't like to go out for a walk with me. Within ten minutes she'd be crying her little eyes out and no amount of singing or soft rocking could convince her to stay put. More experienced parents were stymied. A kid who doesn't like the pram? Weird.

Then we went to stay with the grandparents Tamtam and grandmother Tamtam took her out while delivering the church newsletter. I waited in trepidation for her imminent return with my crying six-week old. Ten minutes past. Fifteen minutes. Half an hour. After an hour grandmother Tamtam returned with a happily gurgling baby. 

I looked in the pram in wonder. Then I saw that contrary to my instructions grandmother Tamtam had not only put a hot water bottle but a woollen blanket and two instead of one baby caps on E. I had been monitoring her body temperature very carefully, and she was doing good, so according to the expert advice she didn't need all those extra layers. In fact, those layers could be dangerous as they might overheat her.

I was incensed. What if she had overheated and died!

"She looked cold", grandmother Tamtam shrugged. She assured she had had one eye trained on E. at all times, ready to whip off the woollen blanket in case of steam coming out of her ears. But she wasn't surprised that didn't happen. "It's freezing outside in the snow." 

I looked in the pram again. E. did look very happy. She yawned. She stretched. She fell asleep and slept for an astounding six hours, all cozily wrapped up in her woollen blanket.

From that day on, we've erred on the side of warmth with E., who apparently really detests feeling cold. She used to get a hot water bottle and three blankets when we went out walking (it was a really cold winter) and we'd even get up to refresh her nightly hot water bottle around midnight to ensure good sleep. E. adores the weather in Singapore. She has been thriving ever since we arrived here, as shown in her growth stats.

All of this as an example of how hard it is to know what your child needs. And that I have discovered that even though S. and I know E. best, sometimes other people are right. (Yes, yes, and often S. is right too, but let's not say that too loudly or he might hear us.)

For the last two months I have been subtly and lovingly bombarded with the message that I am not strict enough with E. Or that my boundaries aren't firm enough. Or that I'm sending mixed signals. 

This is quite possible. I can even see it happen sometimes. She'll be messing around with her food, colouring the table white with yoghurt, so I'll take the bowl away after a few warnings explaining that she doesn't seem hungry and then she turns those big blue eyes on me, slowly filling with tears... 

I do believe children need firm boundaries within which they can feel safe and be free. Pamela Druckerman writes that French parents know how to put authority in their voices, to which their children respond without having to be bribed or threatened. It's quite clear that I don't.

S. says that my voice sounds as if I'm trying to appeal to E.'s better side. As E. has only just turned two, her better side is still under construction, so this doesn't really work. I am trying to be more authorative, less ambiguous, less accommodating and more decisive. 

But however often people would tell me I'd make a good teacher, I always knew that I have no natural authority when it comes to children. And when I coached a team of six- and seven-year-olds in floorball, this point was brought home to me even more forcefully. They liked me - they just didn't listen to me.

Somehow I hadn't realized that that lack of natural decisive guidance ability would spill over into my private parenting practice. So all of you well-meaning people, I appreciate the advice. And I know you are right. I am trying. It's just doesn't come to me naturally, this whole authority thing

NaBloPoMo November 2012

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