Wednesday, January 06, 2010

How Times Change

They say children crave structure. Well, when Ethan was an infant and a young toddler, he called all the shots. "Structure" was whatever he would allow us to do without throwing a red-faced, vein-throbbing, sweaty tantrum. He wanted to be held 24/7 (and would have wanted to be held 29/9 if the time/space continuum would have allowed for it), so fine. We held him 24/7. He wanted to nurse every 30 minutes for 5 minute at a time instead of the more "desirable" once every 3 hours for 25-30 minutes? Fine. The "bed and breakfast" (hell, he slept on my boobs and ate at the boobs; seems like a fair enough name for them) was open for 5 minute intervals all day long.

I guess, in a way, that became our routine, our structure. Believe me, it felt like chaos at the time--all the screaming and the frantic attempts by Husband and me to figure out "OHMYGOD, child, WHAT do you waaaaaaaaaaant?????!!!!" But I think so much of the consternation on our part (and let's face it, on the part of the baby who had a LOT of ideas and no way to express them) was that we tried so hard to fight against (emotionally, if not physically) this routine that seemed totally natural for Ethan.

Being held almost all day? That is seriously good stuff. And let's face it--what he was used to when he was all snug in the belly. Noshing all day when there is no media-driven angst about the size of your thighs or booty? That is, also, seriously good stuff. Who can blame the kid for saying, "These are my demands. You want to get along with me? You'll play by my rules." I mean, he just plopped out of the abyss into this world and for some reason we thought he'd play by our rules? Not likely.

I wish now that I'd not read so many parenting books and magazines or participated in parenting message boards where the politics were so clearly "my parenting is better than your parenting." Don't get me wrong, I threw myself right into those battles and debates about breast feeding versus formula, when a baby should "STTN", whether co-sleeping is safe or a death-trap, and when/if a child should be exposed to the "evil brain-suck" that is the television. Talk about exhausting. And the truth is, parents, especially brand new, first time parents, ego-identify so much with the parenting choices they make, that it's hard not to read pearl-clutching horror and judgment in the voices and/or words of someone who is making different choices from you.

Had I not read every book with the word "Baby" or "Parent" in the title during Ethan's first year, and had I not gone all message-board insane (but there's really little else to do when you have to sit on the couch all day long because you're the bed and breakfast and the baby is either partaking of the 'bed' or 'breakfast' part of it pretty much all. the. time.), my first year as a parent would probably have been less fraught with "Am I doing the right thing? Shouldn't he be sleeping longer, and alone, and taking a bottle, and doing long division by now???!!!" Ah well, bygones.

Next time around, if there is a next time, I hope to approach mothering with a more laid back and accepting mindset. Several years of seeing my son turn into who he is today, I'm fairly certain that all of the crap thrown into most parenting books is pure bullshit. Your kid is who your kid is. Love him, take care of him, sure. But the schedule and all that? I really think that's more for us. To make us feel a sense of normalcy in our lives. And that is FINE. But babies don't come to us knowing schedules and routines (except of course, the sleepings and wakings of you, from when they lived your schedule with you 24/7 in your belly).

I say all this not to point a finger at parents for whom schedules and routines have worked or are a necessity. Or to imply that anything they have done or are doing is wrong. And I'm also not suggesting that you should decide to rent an RV and follow the Grateful Dead around the country with a 3 week old because babies don't need routines (although, if you DO rent an RV and follow the Grateful Dead around the country w/ a 3-week old, try to keep it away from the pot. And take lots of pictures, because that would be cool).

But seriously, the stressing about making sure that by a a certain number of weeks old, baby "is" doing this, "should" be doing this, and "may" be doing this (Yeah, What To Expect, I'm talking to you) made me at least as cranky as my baby for many months. Everybody's experience and circumstance is different. THAT is the biggest lesson I've learned and why now all the books that fit babies (and their parents) into a giant mold of "SHOULD", and the message boards where random strangers judge your choices as a parent, are all just crap that make being a parent so much harder than it already is.

I wish I could go back to Ethan in his little baby self and apologize for all the times I was frustrated at him for not sleeping 12 hours when he was 5 months old, or for refusing to eat on a nice, neat time schedule that would have allowed me a little more freedom. His schedule, his structure, made perfect sense to him. We were the ones who had to learn.

You know, this post went in an entirely different direction than I'd intended. It was supposed to be about about how much Ethan has changed and how much he now loves the structure and routine of his daily life--going back to preschool has made a HUGE difference in his mood and demeanor in the past few days. Sorry I got so off-track, but eh, it happens. The demanding, cranky punk of winter break has been magically transformed back into our happy little man, smiling and playing with nary a thrown punch or tantrum. All is right with the world.

Ethan moved up to the big kid's class and is so excited by this, he does not even bother to say "goodbye" at drop off anymore. He is a blurry dash into the class room and as I hem and haw at the door, wondering if I can sneak in and give him a smooch goodbye while he plays with his friends, his new teacher gives me the "you can go now" look. Sigh. Makes me long for those days when I sat on the couch, wondering when this screaming little ball of baby anger was going to get a little independence and give Mama a break. I guess I have my answer now. How I long for a few more hours of snuggling on the couch.


Becca said...

If you plan on ever renting a van and following the Dead all over the country, 3 weeks is the time to do it, man. There are just things you can't do with a perceptive three-year-old who needs a potty every forty-five minutes.

I raise my glass to preschool teachers everywhere!

lonek8 said...

wonderful post. with Isabelle, I pretty much let her dictate teh schedule at first, and then when I could figure out a pattern, I tried ot maintain it, and maybe tweak here and there, pushing the times back so feedings were further apart, naps were longer etc until it fit everyone. I was lucky that she was pretty routine from the beginning. where the importance of the routine came in was with the second, and especially the third, kids. With them, they got less personal attention and slavery - they were unfortunately manipulateed and molded more so that they could fit into the already established order. because catering to every whim of three separate children is just not possible. And honestly, for us it works. The stricter I keep the schedule, the less acting up and tantrums I get. you can tell when naptime/mealtime has been pushed too far in the their behavior and moods. And so because of that I try and stick very carefully to our established routine - probably too strictly, but then I am a creature of habit.

i completley agree with your assessment of the parenting books and making other parents feel guilty for not parenting "the right way" ie the way you do. We have a routine. it works for us. But we came about it organically - not through reading the books and thinking it was the "right" thing to do. Cause the only right thing to do for your child, is what you fell is the right thing. hop on the bus with the Dead, schedule every minute, or find a balance in between. whatever works to keep your kids happy and healthy, and you sane!

Mel said...


J Kelly said...

Sarah, you have eloquently expressed the sentiment of nearly every parent as our children move on to the next stage. I hope that you are blessed with baby # 2 so that you can truly enjoy him/her without the guilt provided by the lovely baby books. You have the confidence and wisdom of an experienced parent and it shows.

Sarah said...

What I still don't understand is why STTN is such a badge of honor for people? Babies, as you so eloquently stated, have their own darn schedules-- parents aren't "better" because their kids STTN, you know? Ugh-- I just never got that one at all.

Fantastic post!!

AJU5's Mom said...

I was lucky in that my friend passed on her wisdom to me. With her first, she went crazy reading the books like you and got really confused because they contradict each other. It turns out that two books she was using mainly fit two different kids. Luckily for her, her first two kids were opposites, each one "needing" the parenting style in a different book. So, knowing that I just let AJU5 take the lead and then see where that took us. I tired little bits from different books as she got older, but I found that common sense is all you need most of the time to keep you and your kid happy.

MamaBear said...

I've made very similar posts on my own blog before and since Ellie was born, and I'd like to say that I always stand by those sane, rational thoughts...but I will warn you that WHEN (yes, WHEN) your next little one comes along and you're 9 months out from your last good night's sleep, the insanity will try to seep back in. Be prepared to fight it! ;)