Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lessons Learned

I'm going to do some chatting about family here in a second, but I thought I'd start with a few food photos.  The peach photo I put up last week was just the tip of the iceberg. I bought a half bushel of Missouri peaches and have been putting them into everything I can think of.
Here I'm peeling them and then putting them in lemon water before freezing.
DSC04748 DSC04750
It's finally sweet corn season. With butter, salt, lime, and chili powder. 
I'll have a lot more cooking to share with you soon, including a recipe for peach ice cream and some talk about making soap.  But today I wanted to share some thoughts, and ask what advice you'd share with new parents.
Parenting has taught me so many lessons, in that way that only certain experiences can. This is one of many reasons that I feel conflicted about having a second child. I wonder if the learning increases exponentially (as I hear the work does), or if it gets lost among the chaos.  With one child, there are spaces in my day, moments between events where I can process and reflect. This is the greatest gift meditation and mindful living has given me: that pause between thought and action. The ability to practice observation of my behavior and emotions, rather than simply being caught up in them. Is this the luxury of an only child? I have seen simplicity improve other areas of my life. Fewer clothes in my closet makes me feel better about what I do choose to wear, and helps me constantly reflect on whether a certain piece has earned its place or should be given away. Fewer dishes in the cabinet make it easier to find what I need and really use. Fewer products in my routine help our space feel calm and efficient.
So, would choosing to have just one child, to simplify my mental and physical space, ultimately be the best choice for my family? Or would another child help me see her and myself more clearly? The waters are murky for me here. There is no way to use logic to make the choice to have a child. It's an inherently emotional decision, and for many, the practical drawbacks that you accept when you choose to get pregnant are enormous. Your life is never more convenient and peaceful than when you don't have children. At some point, you either decide that having children is not for you, or you make the leap and go all in. I suspect it's the same with a second child. A variety of reasons dictate that having another isn't an option right now, but I can't help but wonder if it's not the right choice for us anyway.
A friend of mine just had her first baby, and thinking about the lessons I've learned made me want to write out some advice that I'd give to her. Like all big lessons, these are mostly the kind you have to learn on your own, but these are some things I wish someone had told me back when I first became a mother.

Babies cry. And that's ok. When E was first born, I couldn't stand to hear her cry. I consider all crying a form of communication, and I hated to see her frustrated and uncomfortable. I also couldn't separate her emotions from my own. I'd snap at my partner to give me something that I needed for her because I felt like she needed it RIGHT NOW WHY AREN'T YOU MOVING ANY FASTER?! I thought she was in pain and it felt urgent. But I now realize that babies just cry. They just do. And they're usually fine. Try to figure out what they need, stay with them, let them know that you're there and love them, but don't fix your hopes on trying to get them to stop crying, because they might not.

Whatever happens, it will be ok. I used to (ok, I still do) get so caught up in sleep time. I would get so upset when E obviously needed sleep but wouldn't. Sleep has always been my job, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to get her down when I was certain that she needed it. But now I realize that I should just give it my best shot and if she doesn't go to sleep, it's ok. Really. She will eventually fall asleep. She will eventually eat. She will eventually stop crying. It's going to be ok.

The baby is trying to break you up. Ok, this isn't really true, but it certainly feels true. Babies test relationships in a completely unique way, and it's helpful to say this aloud when things are getting really difficult. It's a funny and light-hearted way to recognize that you and your partner are indeed on the same team.  My friend and new mom Sarah wrote candidly on her blog about going through this as only she can. If you're not already reading her blog, please click over and enjoy.

It's just a phase. Baby not sleeping for more than 20 minutes at a time? Just a phase. Refuses to eat anything but cheese? Just a phase. Babies change so quickly, but it can be hard to see past the current trend. Take a step back and know that it will be over soon.

Development is not a straight line. I just assumed that babies just kept getting better in one straight line. I thought her newborn days were the most she'd ever nurse, the least she'd ever sleep. It works that way in a general sense, but there are a lot of hiccups ("regressions") along the way.

Don't take it personally. I know it sounds ridiculous, but for some reason it's easy to take your baby's behavior personally.  As if they're somehow doing this to you. This doesn't make any sense, but it's easy to forget because we're all naturally self-centered. It always makes me think of this section of the DFW speech I mentioned in Recommended Reading:
"My natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is."  

Do less.  It is natural for new parents to want to do everything for their child, to show them how loved and special they are. In my experience, the best way to do this is to be quietly present. Be attentive, but not in their face. Let them know that you're there and interested, but let them be alone. Children can develop the capacity to be alone if they're given the chance. They can develop their own sense of what's good and bad, what's interesting and what's boring, if they're given the opportunity to make their own judgments and choices. I have learned much about this from the work of Magda Gerber, founder of RIE.

You're doing GREAT.  Really. You are doing very important work and you're doing great.

Would you consider sharing some of those big lessons you learned early on in your parenting journey? I'd love to benefit from your wisdom.


Karrey said...

I should write my own post about this, but here are a couple of things that I've learned:

1. This one goes along with what you said about not taking it personally, but the old saying is right: They're not giving you a hard time, they're having a hard time. Just be there for them and do what you need to do for yourself to get through it.

2. Regressions aren't really regressions, it's your baby doing what it needs to do to get through whatever stage they're in, usually a developmental leap. When your baby's sleep turns to crap at, say, 9 months, think of it like you're putting a down-payment on the coolness that's to come when they learn to crawl or walk.

Shannon said...

Oh, thank you for this. I'm working on not taking the crying personally. That is hard. It just hurts to see that little face so scrunched up and upset. And I'm also working on not getting upset when hubby tries to soothe and can't quite calm her. Who knows if I would even be able to at that moment, right? He does a wonderful job and I must remember that. Thanks for the words. They really help.

Alicia said...

Karrey, I would LOVE to read a post about what you've learned. I often think of how much I've learned from you and would enjoy to see it all written out. I started this as a hand-written list that I added to whenever I thought of something. I feel like there are about a million pages missing, but you know how that goes. :)
I'd appreciate your perspective on supplementing as a means to EBF. That is a rarely told story.
And you are so right about giving vs. having. Words mean things and it's important for parents to have the right vocabulary, for their children and themselves.

Shannon, we are thinking of you three so much. Crying is going to be a big part of your life and I promise that you're doing a great job of being E's mother. Get your husband as involved as you can as often as you can, even though I know it's tough. It's best for all three of you. The bonding that they do after the first year is incredible, though, so don't worry too much if she's a mama's girl for a while.

Susi Korinek said...

Motherhood sure teaches you many things. You are doing a great job, Alicia!
I believe the second-child dilemma comes up for many families. It's a list of pro's and con's, like most things. Yes, it means your first child will have a live-in playmate which eventually means more time for you to do whatever it is you want to do at the house. But it also means one more mouth to feed, one more body to dress, another tuition to pay, one more little person dependent on you.
I think its a personal choice and should never be dictated by pressure from family or friends. YOU and your spouse are raising your child(ren). Do what feels right and you can never go wrong.

Good advice for mothers in your post. If I have to say anything about babies crying, I wholeheartedly agree it can really wreak havoc on your nerves and heart strings when your infant is crying. BUT, my mother emphasized a valuable lesson to me when Maggie was little. LET THEM CRY. Of course, that's only after you've checked the obvious like clean diaper, fed, etc. Babies cry, just like you said. As hard as it was at first, I used to have to leave the room completely and go to a part of the house where I couldn't hear her crying, sometimes going outside. Because if I heard her, I would feel bad. But after letting her cry and soothe herself, she'd fall asleep in no time or simply be awake but not crying. The more often we did this, the less and less she needed any "calming" before nap time or whatever.
Same thing goes for older kids who can use crying as a form of manipulation. As often as we'd like to ignore the fact that OUR kids are capable of this, it happens. If your child is not hurt then don't worry about them crying. You are making them a better, more resilient child if you let them cry it out. I feel like many parents these days coddle their kids way too much and you know what? A good portion of those kids I'm sure grow older to always needing their parents around and not being able to walk into a classroom without screaming bloody murder and holding onto their parents for dear life. Let's toughen up our kids the way our parents did and we'll be good to go. :)

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