So far this blog has focused heavily on the newborn and young infant phase. I think partly the reason I have talked (and will keep talking) about this stage is because I believe that is when our babies are most vulnerable and dependent on us; and the obvious- where I have experience. I started this blog when my little one was five months old, but the reality of my situation is that my “baby” is growing! She is now a mobile, babbling, solid-food-eating nine month old. And with that, comes new (and sometimes rough) terrain.
Lately my daughter has been… hmm how do I say it? A TERROR! She has transformed from a sweet, delicate newborn into a screaming, whiny, bratty, needy, IMPOSSIBLE baby at times! I thought I had plenty of time until this phase began. What on earth was going on? Of course, mommy guilt crept in and I began to blame myself. I started to think she is behaving this way because I am going against the natural order of things by leaving her to work full time (and I’m still not entirely convinced this doesn’t hold some truth). I start to doubt myself as a mother; wonder if I have this whole thing backwards. I think to myself, maybe I am “spoiling” her? Wasn’t my entire philosophy that this is impossible at this age? Did I create a monster?! I started to question my bond with her- do I not know her anymore? I was stressed, guilty, and insecure. I thought I was supposed to enjoy and be in awe by everything she did at every moment, good and bad. But the truth was- I missed her! I missed my happy, loving, easy baby.
I may feel strongly about certain topics (i.e. co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, vaccination), but I am still a NEW mom navigating through this journey of parenthood and baby dom. I am still learning. I still doubt myself. I still seek out advice from other mothers. I know I’ve already made mistakes and will do some things differently the next time around. What can I say? I am human. I am flawed.
Maybe my husband is right. Maybe I am too hard on myself. But aren’t we all? Doesn’t this pressure come with the territory of having something, someone this important in my life?
We as mothers have ingrained maternal instincts, but we do not have a manual! (Despite futile attempts by many). This job is hard and confusing and exhausting! The bulk of my parenting philosophy is to learn as much as I can, and take and apply what feels natural to me with maybe some tweaking here and there. To absorb it all but leave it behind if it doesn’t “feel right” or correlate with my views. When I started to seek advice about my cranky baby dilemma, a lot of the responses went something like this: “teach that baby No!“, “She needs to know who’s boss!“. It just didn’t feel right to me; it didn’t align with my parenting philosophy at all. I was to discipline my nine month old? She’s just a baby! I like this quote from Dr. Sears when talking about our cultures perspective of babies/toddlers:
“The newborn who cries a lot is seen as a tyrant whose noises should be squelched rather than as a little person who needs help. The toddler is a manipulator who is out to dominate the parents if they aren’t careful”
But hey, maybe they were right? What do I know; I’ve never done this before. They have raised more kids than I have. So one night, when my little one was throwing a fit because she wanted to get out of her highchair…. My husband and I yelled at her. Her face went from shock…. to….. full blown crocodile tears. Our hearts broke. She was so confused and scared. She didn’t learn anything from this experience- she’s only nine months old! Never. Again. (Well… Maybe I shouldn’t say never).
When I was reading The Continuum Concept (I know I know this book again? I’ll move on soon, I promise- but it is a bible of sorts when it comes to natural parenting), I came across this concept of children being “Innately right”. I really liked this concept; it made a lot of sense to me. It is the belief that we are all born acting and behaving appropriately; that we innately follow whatever “code” that is already instilled within us to be social, right creatures. That we are unblemished and pure by nature. We are animals after all. A good modern day example of this is seen with breastfeeding; the very first thing you are told when nursing a newborn is that “feeding on demand” i.e. whenever the baby wants, is crucial, because an infant knows exactly how much milk they need. The author explains that the adults in this hunter-gatherer society give their children love, guidance, respect, and security (in the form of trust and early attachment- for example, a newborn/young baby is never seen away from their mother, they are wrapped to the mothers body majority of the time, are breastfed frequently, and sleep next to the mother) and in turn they expect self-reliant socially “right” creatures capable of exhibiting self-preservation very early on (the babies are even seen playing with machetes!).
I found this account to be fascinating; she witnessed a member of the tribe build a play pen to house his 3 year old. When the toddler realized he was trapped, he screamed and demanded to get out. The tribesmen burnt the pen to the ground and never looked back. The toddler’s behavior was a clear message that confinement was not within the bounds of the natural order of things and they quickly restored harmony. In her two years of living with these people, she rarely if ever witnessed a tantrum, meltdown, or disobedient child OR a parent losing their patience. I know what you’re thinking…because I thought the same. It must have been a free for all. But, in fact it was just the opposite: the children aimed to please, adults were respected and idolized.
This concept kept popping back in to my head. My little one was clearly not at harmony. Perhaps I already screwed up or even worse- I couldn’t rely on my intuition at all. I wanted to see what other mothers thought about tantrums and discipline at such a young age, so I started to Google, talk to other mothers, and borrow some books. It occurred to me perhaps my baby was in fact “innately right” after all, that somehow, someway my baby and I became disconnected and she was letting me know.
On top of being a new mother and the sole food source for a tiny being, I have a household to run, a job to go to, a marriage to maintain, some semblance of a social life to keep…and a passion to follow. I sometimes think just because I am present that I am present…. when the truth is life is hectic and I get caught in the chaos. I become distracted and overwhelmed and lose focus on what is really important.
That day when I picked her up after work, I left my cell-phone in my purse, I left the TV off and the laptop shut and I just ….played with her…. undisturbed, without distractions, for hours… and my sweet angel baby returned to me.
I was again reminded of how important my role is in her life once the weekend came and my “to-do” list of household chores and social obligations returned… and therefore so did the alter ego of my child. Once again, I stopped what I was doing- I put down my laundry basket and I took my cranky baby in my arms and put her to my breast… I caressed her hair and stared into her eyes… and there we sat, connected, energies intertwined for what seemed like an eternity. I didn’t succumb to her unruly demands; I didn’t “give in” to her. I loved her, I re-connected with her. It only took this short amount of time to restore whatever connection she needed from me and she played peacefully for the rest of the night.
During those moments I sat staring into her eyes, I suddenly started to feel the panic that was beginning to swell in my throat recede… my body started to relax… and I felt my confidence begin to restore.
Do I believe in this “innately right” thing to the text? Do I think I “found the cure all” to tantrums? Of course not- not in the here and now, at least. (And she definitely does not follow that self-preservative thing because I am saving her life at least once a day). But I do think being aware of this perspective helps me be a little bit more patient with her, a little more understanding and curious as to why she is behaving the way she is rather than viewing her will as something that needs to be broken. I was reminded of what I already knew, that our bond, our connection, is important. Sometimes it’s the simplest things we complicate the most and now every day when I pick her up… before I begin to worry about the dishes in the sink or the laundry piled up in the hall… I sit on the floor.. and I re-connect with a child who missed her mother all day.
I still have a long way to go on this journey, and many new challenges to face. If I’ve learned anything over these last nine months- it’s that parenthood is constantly changing and I am constantly adapting. But when I find myself lost or feel my confidence begin to falter, I research, I read, I talk- I blog! I do not just accept the “done thing”. I take what I feel in my heart is right, and tailor it to my parenting.
We are all out here doing our best, learning and growing, gaining experience and confidence, making mistakes and beating ourselves up for them, but I have no doubt that we will all find our way…even if we hit a few tantrums along the road.