Sunday, July 6, 2014

"This isn't my first child."

I've found myself saying that a lot lately. Mostly when I use my mouth to clean a dropped binkie, rather than rushing to sterilize it with boiling water. Or, when I'm letting Lady Bug chew on something that, while unusual, is perfectly safe, but is making other people look at me, scandalized. Or when she's scooted more than five feet away from me in church, and I continue to talk to a friend, instead of rushing to get her.

The other day, I had Lady Bug in my lap (10 months old) not holding on to her, just letting her sit, balanced. Another mother came over and sat next to me and commented on how "relaxed" I was, and wasn't I worried she would fall off? Not really; I can feel the shift in weight and balance before it happens and grab her before she falls all the way. Plus, we were on grass, so if she did fall, it would be a soft gravity lesson.

I wasn't like this with my first baby. With him, I tried so hard never to make any mistakes. I followed all the advice, and was excruciatingly careful. I put him in a crib right from the beginning, to spare him the "trauma" of having to transition to it later. I kept to the food introduction ages right on target; no exceptions. I made sure I won every tantrum that I (mistakenly, I know now), saw as a power struggle. I left the house during the "cry it out" training (with my husband in charge) so I couldn't hear it. I was determined he was going to be raised the "right" way. By the book.

My second child was a 32 week, 3lb 1 oz preemie. When he finally came home, I was more concerned with helping him to thrive than being strict. Since he spent his first two months of his life in the lit, beeping NICU, sleeping at our house the first few months was a challenge. I ended up co-sleeping on the couch for a few months, and I carried his tiny little body everywhere with me, whatever I was doing. I was gentler; more relaxed. And happier.

Lady Bug was a 36 weeker (4lb 10 oz) and we've either co-slept or had her in a Rock 'n Play Sleeper right next to my side of the bed until this past week. I've either worn her in a baby wrap, or carried her everywhere. There was a concern about her not being able to swallow off a spoon and the threat of texture aversion, so she was exposed to regular table food much earlier than a year old. When she cries, when she hasn't been held in a while, (because I do put her down some times) I don't interpret that as her throwing a tantrum. I no longer punish my babies for being babies. There are no power struggle issues; just love. The result? I am so much happier as a parent. Yes, we're having to transition Lady Bug to a crib. I'm climbing in with her to help her sleep and then ninja-sneaking out without waking her. It is so worth it, for those months we slept close together. Since I'm more confident in my instincts now, I know that now is the right time. Not because a book told me it was the 'right age', but because of the signs my baby gave me. I've learned that my baby is the expert on her, something no book could ever possibly hope to be.

If I could go back to when I had my first baby, I'd tell my younger, inexperienced self that every parent makes mistakes; even 3rd time parents. That it's more important to relax, enjoy, and to be loving than to be "right" all the time. Babies don't think they have to dominate you; they just want to feel safe with you. I'm not the same person, the same parent that I was when I had my first. I needed to learn and grow as a person, a mother, to evolve into the mother I am today. It takes time and experience to become mostly comfortable for being completely responsible for these little people. So for you 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. parents out there: if you aren't already, cut yourself and your baby some slack. If in doubt, err on the side of gentleness, of loving them. It won't ruin them. Promise.

For the record, I am not completely against the Cry-It-Out Sleep Training option. I just have more patience this time around to try absolutely everything else first, and to give it enough time for those other options to hopefully work.

I originally thought that this evolution of parenting style was a natural and common result of parenting more than one kid, and developing confidence in one's parenting abilities. But I talked about this with a friend who knows my background, and she thinks that it is more than that, and that parents who have more than one kids do not all change and relax their techniques. I would love to hear from other parents of more than one kid to see if you have changed or stayed the same. Please leave a comment, if you'd like.

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