My last post was in August and it was about sleep. rest assured any of you who are concerned, we have not gotten Ruby out of our bed and she is still cosleeping with us. Sigh. On the plus side, if we time bedtime right, she will sleep a solid 12 hours straight. So theres that.
Lots has happened since my last post. I found out I’m pregnant (currently 17 weeks) I became a Childbirth Educator, I finished my birth trauma therapy (!!!!), and I’ve done a lot of soul searching and self discovery with this pregnancy. I might talk about it more later, or I might just keep that shit to myself, we’ll see. But what has really been pressing me lately, and what I’ve been really wanting to write about but haven’t gotten the chance to, is parenting.
It’s a freaking joy you guys. I know my education and my experience caring for children has well prepared me. I know that discovering a parenting philosophy that is not just backed by latest research, but is also respectful, slow, and joyous, has contributed significantly to my feeling like a successful parent. I can’t stress enough about how I hate the current view of parenting and children. Yes, that shit is hard. It’s a 24/7 job that requires you to be “on” all the time. But aren’t our kids worth that commitment? Its hard to be doing your best on minimal to no sleep. I know this. It’s hard to do your best when you’re lonely, your child doesn’t really talk back to you, or you don’t have friends/adult interaction for majority of the day/week. I totally get this. But I believe you can find joy in the loneliness and isolation. I believe you can do your vest best on no sleep. I’m going to share my top 3 views/positions on parenting with you that have changed and shaped how I parent and that give me peace and joy and an appreciation for the job I am doing and the child I am raising.
Just like in birth, we trust our bodies to birth our babies. In parenting we trust ourselves and our children. It’s simple but it’s profound, and it’s difficult to put into practice. This is because society has trained us to constantly question EVERYTHING. I trust Ruby. I trust that she will eat the food I offer her, and push her plate away when shes done. I trust that if she doesn’t like it, she will just eat more at the next meal. I trust that she knows her body the best. I trust she knows how to move her body in ways that feel good and right to HER. I am there for her (say, to spot her when she is climbing something challenging), but I do so with the foundation of trust that she knows what shes doing. This magical thing happens when you completely trust yourself and your child, your anxieties and worries and stresses melt away. You are able to parent in peace and you are able to slooowwww down and appreciate the things your child is doing in the moment without stressing about milestones or stages. I am human, I do have doubts and worries. Especially when I play the comparison game with other kids/parents. But whenever that sliver of doubt comes into my mind, I squash it with the giant word TRUST and forget about it.
2. CALM THE FUCK DOWN
Or, more politely, C the F D. Seriously. This is my biggest parenting strength and I truly believe it came from years of experience with children. The more chill you are about everything and anything, the more chill your kids will be and the less existent your kids’ behaviour issues will be. Kids thrive on reaction and attention. Why wouldn’t they? It’s the best way for them to figure out themselves and their world. It makes perfect sense for them to behave in ways that get the biggest reaction out of their parent/caregiver. So now you’re reading this and going ok then I’m doing my kid a disservice by never reacting to them, right? And my answer is no. Because thats where relationship and connection comes in and plays a huge part of their lives. Communicating, touch, and other bonding-relationship building things fill your child’s cup with the positive reaction/attention that they crave. So I’m not saying ignore your kids. I’m saying if your child is showing a behaviour you may look at as negative, calm down about it and be a loving, gentle parent to them instead. For example, it’s been chilly this month and I’m pregnant and simply did not take Ruby outside, like at all. This resulted in her craving to move and climb. She has this little fold up chair that was beside her kitchen. I look over and see her standing on it. I was super chill about this: “Oh you’re standing on there.” I could tell she wasn’t in any danger. Even if she was to fall off, which I trusted she wouldn’t, it wouldn’t be a big fall and she’d be okay. I looked over at her again after she made some kinda scared calls for me and I saw her standing on her kitchen. This is something she’s never done before, and I could tell she was scared. I could also tell that she wasn’t in immediate danger. She was stable and sturdy. I said “Oh wow what are you doing up there?!” In a very slow calm tone of voice. She clutched the top shelf and kinda yelled at me. I said “How are you going to get down?” She looked at me for help. I looked at the situation and could tell that she couldn’t get down on her own. I said, “do you need help down?” and she said “yes”. I put my arm around her and helped her down. I then told her that it wasn’t safe and that she shouldn’t go up there again-in a calm, non punishing more matter of fact tone of voice. (Even though I knew that she knew this) I asked her if she needed a hug (the connection part I’m talking about) and she said yes, I hugged her and then she went off to play. Now I believe this scenario would’ve been VERY different if I looked over to see her on top of the kitchen, jumped frantically off the couch, yelled OH MY GOD, and ran to her. For one, that would scare the living daylights out of her and potentially cause her to lose balance and get truly hurt. Two, what message does that send to her about trust and her body? If my mom doesn’t believe I can do things then I am unable to do them. And three, what a powerful reaction. Could you imagine being 18 months old and having the ability to render that kind of strong out of control reaction from an ADULT!? What a power trip. What a thrill. I believe that if I did react like that then she would keep finding ways to climb that kitchen to get that same reaction from me (and for the record, she can never attempted to, or climbed that kitchen since). And then her climbing would truly become dangerous because the motivation behind it would be to “see how bad mom can lose her shit over this” and not a “natural discovery over ones body and it’s abilities to climb”. I believe wholeheartedly, that if we as adults gain the self control to stay calm and relaxed with our kids, we can eliminate annoying negative testing behaviour. The behaviour that gets toddlers labelled as bullies or “bad” or the hitter or the biter. I am not saying it’s easy to accomplish this, and our kids will do things and put themselves in situations where our immediate reaction is to lose our shit. But if we are able to take a breath and a step back and gain control over our voices and our reactions, our kids are going to realize that the people in charge of raising them are confident and calm. And when kids are discovering themselves and their world and especially their emotions, things can feel big and scary and out of control. But if the big people around them are calm, they can be too.
I touched on this in the previous two points but I think that it needs it’s own point because it’s really important. When you have a baby, a pretty big sound bite lately has been about the bond. Skin to skin, feeding with love, showering your newborn with cuddles and kisses and everything else you can imagine to build that bond. Those are beautiful, important things, but it doesn’t end with infancy. The bond is building throughout your child’s entire life. It is the core of who they are in relation to you. It’s about your relationship. It’s about the level of respect you show to your child and people around them. It’s about communicating and observing your child. It’s definitely about consistent routines, limits, and schedules so that your child has a level of knowledge about their day, what they can and cannot do, and when/where things happen to them. This increases the child’s sense of security which is essential to the bond and the relationship. I’d say that toddlers need this more than ever. They are discovering the world in a whole new independent way and that can be very daunting. They need the security of their parent to fall back on. They need to know they can experience huge scary unknown emotions without shame or judgement from the people who are supposed to love them most. Toddlers especially need some control over their lives. They need routines, simple choices, and enforced limits so that they can navigate who they are, what they are doing, and what they cannot do. Setting limits is difficult with toddlers especially because they HAVE to challenge it. It’s in their being to do so. They MUST have a strong reaction to a hard limit. And the most confident thing that the parent can do is to calmly enforce that limit and allow the feelings that come from it. Kids need to know that they can feel safe in expressing their dislike of a limit to their parents without feeling scared of being punished for it. Of course, it’s a child’s job to discover the world around them, and it’s the parent’s job to ensure they are safe and that if there are things they shouldn’t be getting into, that they’re not accessible to the child. Example: It’s Rubys job to discover the toilet water. It’s my job to buy a safety lock and keep the toilet locked so she is unable to play in it. It’s counterproductive and inappropriate to leave it unlocked and then get upset with her every she goes for the toilet water. We set them up for success. We set up their environment with appropriate things to discover so that we minimize the amount of limits we need to set. This ensures that they do their job as children, and we do our jobs staying calm and confident and not annoyed/frustrated.
Now I’m not saying that I am perfect. I definitely have my days where I lose my cool and overreact. I absolutely have my days where I misjudge Ruby’s needs or lose track of time and cause her to be over tired/hungry. But these days are few and far between because the more I follow those three principles, the more I know Ruby as a person, the more joyful I find being her mom is, and the more confidently I am able to set limits, communicate with her, and stay calm. I find that these things take practice, patience, and grace. They don’t just come. We need to learn to apologize to our children and ourselves for bad days, and try hard to be better the next day. But believe me, when you put these things into practice, you may find your stresses floating away, you may find so much love and joy in yourself and your child and your job as a parent. And most importantly, you may find that this parenting job isn’t what they want you to believe it is. It can be beautiful and peaceful and relaxing and it can make you a better person. Not to mention the child you’re raising. You are most definitely making them kind, GOOD, people this world desperately needs. And there needs to be NO apology for that.