March 10, 2016

The Struggle Is So Real - But So Worth It

It's been a long time.

The last month has been the longest of my life. I really think it was worse than my last month pregnant with twins and their first month of life.

The wonderful chaos of toddler twins punched into high gear a few weeks ago and I kind of lost my footing in this here parenting game. Like always, just as I started to feel like I knew what the hell I was doing they decide to switch up the rules and I'm caught totally unprepared and overwhelmed.

Up until last week they were up to pretty typical toddler stuff - throwing food and eating like birds, testing limits and into absolutely everything. Seriously who thought it was a good idea to put outlets at a baby's eye level? Thank you for making my life just that much more difficult. But then, the cold and boredom of winter started to set in and all of a sudden my babies were miserable. Without a car, leaving the house is not an option when it's only 15 degrees outside. We were all starting to go a little crazy. Luckily I have 32 years of experience channeling that crazy. Toddlers just embrace it in the purest form - it is sheer madness.

And then, we all got sick. Horrible colds for all of us that ended in double ear infections for them. I spent more time on the couch nursing and snuggling them than I ever have. It was both amazing and exhausting but we survived fine the first few days. Until the sleep regression, possible growth spurt and teething hit (oh hey 2 year molars, you're a bit early!)  All of a sudden I had these incredibly willful, but bored, sleep deprived, pained and feverish babies on my hands, all by myself, for a week. R wasn't even here as his Mom just had her baby girl. I am not even going to lie, I almost lost my bits.

That is not easy for me to admit. Most people probably wouldn't bat an eye but for 19 months I have worked so so hard to change every damn thing I know about effective parenting, all those bad habits and stupid nonsensical tips and tricks that I picked up working in daycares.  I'm trying to shed my skin as an old-school authoritarian drill sergeant who yells waaay too much and overuses time out, counting, consequences and lectures.  Basically, I want nothing to do with how most people raise their kids or how I spent years raising other people's kids.

I am changing the very foundation of how I believe children should be treated. It has been a long and arduous process of breaking habits and associations, dealing with my own triggers and experiences as a child and consuming everything I can about how to raise healthy, happy, well-adjusted and kind people.

I have been challenged and side-eyed by nearly everyone I know, including my husband. Like when Jules grabs a toy out of Viv's hands and instead of shouting "No!" and making her give it back, I simply say, "Viv had the toy and now Jules has it." and wait. Or when I didn't stop them from climbing full staircases at a year old. Or how I will flat out tell you to please refrain from telling my child that she is ok and to stop crying. It's different to many people, hell it was all new to me just a few years ago, but it has worked and it feels right and damn if I don't believe in my heart that it is the best thing I can do for my babies. That we ALL can do for ALL our babies.

(I will eventually write more about what I believe now but check out Robin Einzig at Visible Child, Janet Lansbury at Elevating Childcare, Sarah Ockwell Smith at Gentle Parenting and the team over at Respectful Parent for now.)

But in the last month, all of my hard work being so patient, engaging and gentle went up in smoke as they tested my very last nerves. I swear they cried and nursed more than they have in the prior 18 months combined. They are demanding, indecisive, frustrated and wild. They hit, me and each other and the cats and my Mom. They scream and run away and fall apart over the color of a cup or a serving of peas. They feed off each other and push every limit I set multiple times an hour. They are killing my desire to be kind to them.

This month was hard. They were hard. So fucking hard. Every single thing was a battle. From wiping noses and giving medicine to going to bed and getting a diaper change. Personal care activities were my own personal hell. They are smart and know what they want and unless I time it exactly perfectly that shit is not getting done. If you're rolling your eyes and judging me then gtfo. Or better yet, come try to work your magic one day. I dare you. Here's the catch: you can't yell at, punish or otherwise try to "train" my kids. Still think you can do it?

I don't blame you if you think I'm crazy/stupid/a bad mom. Hell if I didn't know better I'd probably be saying the same thing and calling them spoiled, bold or even bad. Three years ago I would have agreed with you, all shaking my head and giving myself a pep talk to get it together and get these little shits in line. I'm the boss here, who do they think they are, right? If I would just make them do it no matter how they feel, no matter what I have to say or do, then they would be good and I'd be a good mom. Even if it was the result of threats and humiliation and isolation and emotional manipulation. Because that's how you don't raise assholes, right?

Thankfully I do know better now. And instead of turning tail on all I have learned, instead of reverting back to punishments and losing my shit on them, I dug in deeper and recommitted to being a present, gentle and respectful mother. I worried every minute that it was going to backfire, that the naysayers were right, but I kept on the path.

And finally, when I was feeling the most discouraged after yet another hard morning and yet another lecture about how I need to be "harsh" and "tough" on them, I came across this in the Visible Child group on facebook:

It completely affirmed the choice I have made to view them as intelligent, capable people worthy of compassion and kindness, rather than the spawn I must beat into obedience.

It affirmed every battle that I diffused with empathy or avoided with gentle guidance,

every soul-torturing minute I waited for them to do it rather than rushing in and doing it myself,

every agonizing tantrum that I acknowledged with kindness while offering support for those big emotions,

every time I used real words in response to their frustrated screams when they knew exactly what they wanted but just couldn't tell me.

I just kept shining, even when I felt like I was nearing the end of my rope.

I stayed committed to showing love, patience, kindness and above all, respect.

And finally, just today actually, we reached the turning point. It actually paid off and I am so freaking glad it did.

They are feeling better and sleeping more and it was gorgeous outside and I swear the sun brought us back to life. But the best part of it all? They are talking. So so much. All of a sudden they know words and things and can talk to us! Not only that but they are actually hearing and understanding us now! I know we're a little late the party by typical standards but I have tried so hard not to force them to communicate and I'm so freaking excited I could not care less how "delayed" it may be.

We actually went for a walk  - as in they walked and held my hands when I asked them to. Granted it was only to the neighbors but if you'd told me a week ago we'd be doing that I'd have laughed in your face. They are being silly and playful again. Not only do they feel good but something has changed and they are so aware now, it's incredible. They bridged the gap and opened up a whole new wonderful world. For the first time in their lives we are finally speaking the same language.

This I can handle. Contrary to most people I actually think 2 year olds are less challenging than babies and young toddlers (dear god I pray that is the case here but I know it's not likely given our track record.)  Either way, for the first time since getting pregnant I find myself in pretty familiar territory as they've gone from babbling, erratic babies (I am so not a baby person) to talking, intelligent toddlers.

I am in my element and so ready to embrace this wonder-filled time of their lives. And the best part is that I am finally confident in my ability to parent effectively without aggression, shame, unnecessary/arbitrary consequences and punishment. Because, would you look at that, despite the hardships and the side-eyes of others, we're all thriving.

No, we're shining.  Here are some pics to prove it.


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