Thursday, August 20, 2009

Clay in my hands, or not

I wonder sometimes who decided that I was responsible enough to have children. I am awed by the task of keeping these two little lives on track, and at times (honestly, many times) terrified by the prospect of screwing something up. As long as the little one is clean, dry, fed, and has some playtime, I am feeling accomplished. Babies are easy (to me), it's the toddlers that are tough. I've always joked that I worked with kids from birth to 3 years old because once they start talking, they can reason and talk back and I lose too much control. Hmmmm, ever feel like you've been bitten in the butt?

I always wanted to have kids, and I've been working with babies and toddlers for the past 17 (Oh dear, that is a nice way to feel old) years, so I think before I had any of my own, I thought "piece of cake". Having spent a very long time telling parents how best to foster development, it seems to me that I should feel really confident in my parenting choices. With a two year old dealing with the independence/attachment struggle she is going through, it is all blurry and I am so unsure. Should we ignore her 8:30pm pleas to "poop" because she is using them to extend bedtime? Will ignoring them mess up potty training? Am I setting her up for serious couch time later? Do you make a battle out of not jumping on the bed/couch/chair or do you wait until she falls and use it as an example? When you can plainly see terror in her eyes as really big kids play and block her way from coming down the play structure, do you help or let her work it out? It's all a decision making process and when it is your child, logical and rational thoughts can be hard to see through the emotional haze of keeping her sheltered and safe, and being so tired you can see straight anyway.

I've read all the books and theories, and been exposed to almost every situation under the sun. At work, I like to think that I helped parents find ways to help their kids develop and learn. There are lots of ways to get your kids to do what you want/need/wish they would do, and I tried to help people look at the options and choose the one that made sense for their child and personality. I do think I did/do a good job of that, but I now realize that the long way, the gentler way, may be the better way most of the time, at least for our family so far. I find myself now looking to ideas and theories that frankly, I had dismissed as a therapist and educator. I am in uncharted territory.

I find myself frustrated with inane things and I have to remind myself that kids need repetition in order to learn. Reading the same book or story, asking the same question; all of those things that could get under your skin are just their way of organizing the world so they can better navigate. The testing of rules and limits is the same - they test and test and then test again to see if your response will always be the same, to see if you still love and care for them no matter what they do, to see your reactions when they find them to be amusing. It is predictable when you are not "in it".

When Peanut was born, I made a rule that when she was awake, I was a mom and only a mom. I got some push back from folks who felt that was totally unrealistic, but I forged on ahead. My head was in mommying and I wasn't distracted by work, email, the phone or anything else. I always found that when I slipped, she became very "difficult". When I stuck with it, parenting was really fun and laid back and truly enjoyable. I had a terrific reminder of this the past two days. I subscribe to a daily parenting email called the Daily Groove, and yesterday and today the blurb was about separation anxiety and truly being "present" with your kids. You can read it here. It struck a note with me, and reminded me of where my head needs to be when they are awake and what happens when I am not "fully present".

Really, as a parent, there is so much I can do to foster development and learning and esteem, just by being there and really listening and seeing and responding to their needs. How did we get off track from doing this? We got busy, and moved far from our family support networks, and listened to theorists without children. We forgot that after you are pregnant, you will have kids and be a parent. ( I really do have a friend who didn't consider the parent part of her pregnancy...she was quite shocked) We dismiss our own experiences as kids and by default, repeat the same things our parents did that we said we'd never do. I am a responsible parent, and yet I don't always feel that way. Maybe I just think too much. Or too little. It's scary to me how much of an impact we have on and in their lives. And how little we can truly control.

I see this video and how much love and fun is here, and I think "we are doing OK"!

Everyone is fed and happy! I know we've got that down at least!


A said...

You are not doing just OK, you are do an AMAZING job! I love the bit about being just a mom when the kids are awake...I wish you would've shared that with me sooner! :)

Laurie said...

Thanks! It's hard to do, and I have to keep reminding myself that all of the "to do" list will be there later when I can focus on it.