dinsdag 11 november 2014

Lessons learned: Children sometimes need to be alone

Bits and pieces of parenting advice have stuck with me over the years. "Don't try to fix everything", somebody said to me when I was stressing out about why my baby was crying. "Sometimes you get up on the wrong side of the bed. Your child is as much a person as you. Maybe she's just grumpy today."

This advice holds true four years later (FOUR YEARS people, the years are SHORT).

I would love to cuddle my little ones through their tantrums, or to sit next to Blondie as she calms down in the time-out chair. But she doesn't even let me kiss her boo-boos better. At least Big Boy still thinks I have the magical healing touch. But he never lets me cuddle him to sleep.* We may gently pet his back if he's snoozing, and he definitely loves having somebody in the room with him, but other than that, could we please respect his space?

It's not that my kids are not cuddly. Quite the opposite. Big Boy loves to run a hugging circuit, using all available family members as checkpoints. He may do up to a dozen circuits, if we let him. Blondie routinely climbs into my bed at night for midnight cuddles. Both of them have perfected the art of the monkey, i.e. clinging with all limbs to my trunk. They fight over who gets to be carried in the manduca.

But when I read this story of how a father takes his tantrummy child into the "time-in" chair for a calming cuddle and I pictured trying that with Blondie... Well. Things would not get better.

It's so hard to leave my children alone when they cry. But I learnt the hard way that sometimes, that is exactly what they need. Blondie has, when she is getting upset, looked at me and deliberately done something naughty. If that doesn't get her into her 'naughty chair', she'll up the naughtiness, until we get to the point where I can't ignore her behaviour any longer. So much for 'gentle discipline' and 'positive reinforcement'.

I walked for hours to get Big Boy to sleep. I was determined that I would not. let. him. cry. I would be THERE, I would be hugging him, he would be safe and secure in my arms, always knowing that he was loved.


The more I carried, the less he slept. The more I rocked, the less he slept. The more I sang and cooed and petted, the less he slept. Until I crumbled and gave in, and let him cry. Of course, it was no magic trick. He didn't immediately start sleeping through the night. But he did start to sleep much better after I gave up on interfering with his falling asleep.

And now that he's almost two years old and it's time for his nap or night, I sing to him, I put him in his crib, I hand him his book and I walk out the room. He plays for a bit, and then falls asleep, quietly and calmly. On his own.

When Blondie is upset, she needs to be alone to calm down. When Big Boy is tired, he needs to be alone to fall alseep. I wish I could simply love them and cuddle them out of bad feelings and into good moods and general happiness, but guess what? I can't.

Sometimes I think that the attachment parenting ideology taps into this urge we have of protecting our children from the world. We want to make everything right, provide everything they need. We forget that what we want for them may not the same as what they need from us.

Because these beautiful children are their own persons, with their own quirks and wants, and the best I can do is to try to give them what they need, even, especially, if that is not what I need.

And sometimes that means just leaving them alone.

* The night after I wrote this, a huge thunderstorm crashed over our house just as I was putting the children to bed. We ended up all three of us huddled together in Blondie's bed (Man Tamtam was travelling) and fell asleep holding each other tightly. I should write stuff like this more often. Because in related news, ever since I wrote about Big Boy's joyful assaults, he's been incredibly gentle and sweet to all of us.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

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