February 3, 2015

There Are Some Things I Do Know

My post the other night about knowing all about parenting got me thinking a lot. So much so that I had a nightmare about it the night after I wrote it. I dreamed I ran into an old daycare parent at the grocery store and the girls were about 2. She asked me how potty training was going and I told her were just starting it. For some reason I felt the need to tell her what we were doing and she laughed in my face. She told me I was crazy, it would never work, especially because they were my own children and not daycare kids. I was really upset and woke up angry at this poor mom. All I could think was, "That's how I potty trained YOUR child when you wanted to do it! Why wouldn't it work?!"

That's besides the point though - what really matters is why in the hell I was dreaming about this in the first place.

I think I was a little hard on myself in my post, declaring that I knew nothing about parenting. It's true, I know very little about actually being a parent but that's not to say I know nothing about children or the care that they require. All that we child care providers learn over our careers make us unique in our ability to parent with prior knowledge of methods, tools, technique and results. A professional baker doesn't have to start from scratch when baking cookies with their child at home any more than I have to use a blank slate when it comes to caring for children.

The vast majority of people I know have spent maybe a total of one month of their lives with children before having their own. Plenty of these people have never changed a diaper let alone bathed, fed or toilet trained child. I've done so with hundreds of children. In fact I've spent most of my adult life doing just those things and then some. I may not be a great parent, yet, but I am a skilled and qualified child care provider who has amassed a wealth of helpful knowledge that absolutely aids in my daily life as a new mom. I think that's worth something and I hate that I have discounted it simply because of the logistics of actually having a child who relies on you all day and night versus just 40-50 hours a week as I did in child care.

One of the reasons I thought I knew so much was because I've had the luxury of trying things out in a controlled setting with a number of children at different stages in their lives. If a child was having difficulty, say with potty training at home, I would implement one of the strategies I had tried in the past and inform the parent of it and working together we would tackle the problem. If the parent wasn't on board it was always more difficult but I learned to adapt and make do and more often then not we would end up with children who were potty trained at school but not at home until months later. Why am I having doubts now that my method will work on my own children? Why am I actually afraid that they will be in diapers until kindergarten (does it really matter if they are?)

Well, I answered these questions the last time, I guess. It's what I didn't realize until actually becoming a mom, despite being told "just wait until you have your own" a million times. It's because that's not how this relationship works. Children's relationships with their parents are wired differently than with care providers. Mom and Dad have been there through it all, heard your very first cry and cried and smiled right along with you from the second you arrived on earth. As parents we love with a ferocity that can terrify grown men. And you, as the child on the receiving end of that love, KNOW it. From an eerily early point - you can literally feel your love for us just as strongly as we can although we feel and understand it as love, to you it is simply all you know. You don't know what it means but you know that it feels good and when it goes away it makes you sad. So you cry. And we come and fix the pain, because, god damn it, we're supposed to. We are hard-wired to.

This instinctual love makes implementing and following through with even the most logical parenting choices incredibly difficult. Starting from that first night - maybe you tell yourself you're going to stick to a schedule so you all get some sleep or that you won't ever let baby sleep in your bed. Yet as soon as you feel like baby might be hungry you're sticking a boob or a bottle in their face or pulling them into your bed because they're too damn cute not to snuggle up with. That's what I'm up against, it's biology and I wasn't meant to understand it until the change took place in my own body. It's the meaning of life itself.

We break our own rules all the time as parents not because it's easier for us but because we don't have a choice - they're our children and we're meant to provide for and protect them no matter what. It changes the ground rules for any type of life training, just ask any care provider whose been told how wonderful she is with children while she scratches her head and quietly thinks about how her own child is so difficult at times. How her child does not seem to listen to her or how none of the proven methods she knows are working with them. I find this to be even more distressing because we providers, unlike most new parents, actually have experience with so many of the struggles we face as parents.

As providers, we have been there, done that, time and again. I have tried the various methods for sleep and toilet training and tantrums etc. Through trial and error I have found and can attest to the ones that work and the ones that make the situation worse. But like I said before no one method works for every child every time. This is where my fears got the better of me and where I got the feeling that even with all that I know, I really know nothing. The truth is, none of us can know until we are forced to try it with our own children. Then we find what works for us and our family and we can finally say we have a working knowledge of not only these methods but of our children themselves.

All this just to say that there are some things that I do know.
I know how to change a diaper in 30 seconds.
I know how to clothe a baby in 2 minutes with little tears and struggle.
I know how to put any carseat into a vehicle and how to get any size child into that car seat safely.
And, addressing our latest battle, I absolutely know how to put a child to sleep.

The lines just blurred when it came to my own children. Because... instinct. Instinct told me to go to them, to hold them, to nurse them, despite the fact that I am very obviously inhibiting their natural ability to sleep. As soon as I started bringing them in my bed again and nursing them on demand all night long, their sleep became disruptive and not at all restful. I need to use my other instincts, the ones that come with years of experience caring for other people's children. I need to go back to basics and forget about all the mushy aspects of being mom. And so I did.

Last night, I threw back to my old daycare days and did exactly what I've done with the hundreds of children I have helped fall asleep. I sat by their beds, rubbed their bellies or arms and shushed them while reminding them I am here and I know this is hard but it was time for sleep and when we wake up we can play.

Guess what? It took an hour (as it would to break a month long habit of falling asleep in my bed nursing) but they fell asleep. And when they woke up an hour later we did it again. This time it only took 15 minutes. The next time they woke up it was 4am and it was only to let out a few yelps in protest. I sleepily held the monitor close and told myself that if they had cried I would go in but they didn't. It was like they were just trying to see what would happen. After a few yells each they went back to sleep and woke up ready to eat at 630. I nursed them and laid them back down, awake but drowsy, and they slept until 830 when we all got up. For the first time in a month I got almost 6 hours of straight sleep without them in our bed.

Yes, I know the benefits of comfort nursing. I know it's ok to co-sleep. I loved it. I know they may be too young to sleep train by certain parenting styles. But I also know that what we were doing was not working for me and my family. I will never abandon my children to figure out how to sleep on their own, but as I said from the beginning I can help them learn and guide them through the process of falling asleep without inhibiting their natural ability to do so. It's only been one night and I know it will change as we have more teeth come in and growth spurts occur but for now, we're counting this as a victory.

See, I do know some things.


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