Monday, June 30, 2014

My second child; some thoughts on expectations and gentler parenting.

Zeke turned two on Saturday. Two years of mischievous smiles, two years of his sweet cuddles, and, to be honest, two years of parenting frustration.

Everything about what I expected from my second baby was, well, not what happened. I expected a shorter, easier labor, maybe a girl, if a boy, then a boy just like Gideon. Another good sleeper, another easy baby, another obedient, articulate, trophy toddler. None of that happened. Thinking about it now I don't know whether to laugh hysterically or kick my stupid first-time mom self in the butt.

Zeke's labor was long. I pushed for 6 hours. He only slept on me and never for longer than an hour or maybe two at night. He would scream and scream for no apparent reason. We eventually ended up with blood in his diapers - he could not tolerate any dairy. The screaming stopped but the sleeping never started.

About six months in, after not sleeping for longer than two hours at a stretch for, well, six months, cutting all diary from our diet, and trying to constantly control this baby who got into everything and threw the biggest tantrums I had ever witnessed, I started to realize that I was in way, way over my head. And that this little baby had something I hadn't really expected, a strong will and a big personality.

Gideon had hardly needed any discipline. He was happy to do whatever we asked and when he didn't respond the first time, a little slap on his thigh got him moving in the right direction. By the age of two he had thrown maybe 3 short lived tantrums? We laid him in his crib at 8 months and told him to go to sleep and guess what? He rolled over and went to sleep.

And this six month old? He refused to sleep unless being held, rocked even. He had thrown so many tantrums I had lost count. He always did the opposite of what you requested of him. And no little tap on the leg was going to motivate him to see me as boss. And that didn't change as he got older. As he approached a year he only became more like himself. More head strong. More disobedient. More and more frustrated by his lack of control of his life. Not unlike what I was experiencing myself.

I was so self-centered. I was upset that he wasn't making MY life easier. Upset he was making ME look bad. I was embarrassed by my not-perfect child. He was a baby and I was an adult and I still could not control him! He lost his temper at his brother and hit him. I picked him up and angrily exclaimed WE DO NOT HIT! And I hit him on his butt with my hand.

And it hit me. The ridiculousness of what I was doing. Telling him one thing and modeling another. That night I went back and read all of the posts on my favorite attachment parenting blogs about spanking. I homebirthed, breastfed on demand, wore my babies, co-slept, left our sons intact, at the time I also cloth diapered, but I held on to spanking because I thought it gave me control. But it didn't. The only thing it offered was the illusion of control and something to do when I was frustrated about not being in control.

The next six months were a journey. I had been building our relationship on control and force instead of on our bond of love and trust. There was no easy path. It took a long time, lots of work, and a lot of creative problem solving to make progress. But we made progress! In the beginning I would have to calmly wait out his tantrums, now I can usually end one by letting him know I'd like to help him solve his problem. In the beginning he would refuse to apologize for hitting or stealing toys. Now he usually apologizes quickly and amends his behavior.

Zeke has a lot more needs that need to be met than Gideon at this age; attention, assurance of my presence and availably to him, and an unhurried environment. He is also very sensitive to having low blood sugar. Making sure I am meeting his needs most of the time and telling him I am doing so helps him to know that I am doing my best to take care of him and makes it easier for him to be calm and patient in situations that are hard for him to handle.

The difference it has made in our relationship is huge. I used to feel like Zeke was always against me. But now I know, and he knows, that we are on the same team. We are learning to control ourselves together, to be patient together, to find solutions together. He still has rules, limits, clear guidelines for acceptable behavior, and consequences for destructive behavior. But we are working through it together with love and respect.

Note: This is my parenting journey. I'm not condemning anyone or telling anyone else how to parent and I hope you won't do that to me! I am simply sharing my experiences and what I have learned so far.

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