What kind of parent do you consider yourself to be? Kind-hearted? Positive reinforcer? A stickler? A helicopter mom? Strict? An “anything goes” type? Normal? Drill Sergeant?
This is my raw confession of the type of parent that I never thought I would be.
When I had my first child in 2010, I didn’t know that the things I did or didn’t do with her would directly affect our relationship later. I was nineteen years old when I had her. She wasn’t a surprise. I had been married for almost a year, and I knew everything, period. Don’t most nineteen year old’s know everything? Well I knew I wanted a baby.
It’s funny how babies come with like…their own personalities and demands. They’re a lot more fun before they become reality. Not that babies aren’t sweet, lovable, and precious, because they absolutely ARE! But they are also eating, crying, pooping machines that you can’t turn off or give back for just 2 hours of sleep.
I was adamant about nursing her. I refused to give her formula if I could help it. The few times that I did finally give in and try formula, she took it and went right to sleep, as if she had not gotten anything from me nursing her for 23 hours that day. I was so frustrated! Why couldn’t I feed her? What was wrong with me? My husband didn’t understand. All he could see was a baby who was finally content after a bottle. I still remember him saying, “Why are you crying? Why don’t you just give her a bottle?” And I died a little more inside. I was already wrestling with feeling like a failure, and then to hear that was the cherry on top of the crap cake. Like I said though, he didn’t understand.
For ten months I nursed her. Ten months that I didn’t sleep in the same bed as my husband. (Oh side bar – if you want problems in your marriage, just sleep in a different bed. Recipe for disaster. But that’s a blog post for another time.) I was in a different room tossing and turning all night long, trying to keep this baby asleep so that I could get some sleep too. She nursed ALL. NIGHT. LONG. It was never ending! I have friends who can testify to this! Every time they saw me, she was either crying or I was nursing her. She wasn’t happy like EVER.
I’m telling you all of this about our early days together because I think it REALLY affected our relationship. I cringed every time she cried, because I knew that nothing else would make her happy. I did NOT enjoy her as a baby at all. I loved her of course, but I didn’t LIKE her. I definitely bonded with her in the beginning weeks, but as time went on, I think we lost that bond, because I started to resent her. I was hard on her. Not abusive by any means, but I wanted her to learn at a young age that she was going to have to do stuff by herself. She knew by two years old how to clean her room.
I put her in gymnastics when she was three or four, and when she refused to do some kind of roll or tuck, I would take her in the bathroom and tell her we weren’t coming back if she wasn’t going to get out there and do it. When we came out of the bathroom, she was crying, and I could tell the instructor felt bad for her. I didn’t feel bad for her at the time. I was just trying to be hard on her to build her character, but I think the only thing it did was inhibit it. I think of that exact situation often. I feel awful for it and I wish I could take it back. Sadly there are many more instances like that where I realize I should have been more loving and less harsh.
When I had my second child, it was a totally different experience. I had a happy baby boy. I only nursed him for about two weeks before I started supplementing with formula. He was so happy and content all the time. And he SLEPT. I bonded with him right away. He was enjoyable. At that time, my daughter took a back seat. I didn’t do that intentionally, but now that years have gone by, I realize what I did to her when he came along. It’s so hard being a parent! As i’m writing this, I just can’t help but ugly cry. I wish I could go back knowing what I know now. I would have done things a lot differently.
Eventually my husband let me know that I was being too hard on her. She was about five when he told me that. She’s eight now. Of course I disagreed and argued that I wasn’t. I was just hard on her because that’s how kids turn out to be decent adults. But as the days went by, I realized I treated her more like an incompetent adult than the five year old kid that she was. We didn’t get along very well from the time she was very young. It was easy for me to be hard on her and not realize it. Once I began to reflect on what he said and wonder if it was actually true, I started to see my ugly pattern. I sobbed in bed quietly one night just thinking about how mean I had been over the years. My husband hesitantly asked why I was crying and I told him I felt bad about how mean I was.
It’s amazing what happened when I took a look at myself from another’s perspective. I was able to make a conscious effort to change the pattern of behavior that I had been exhibiting. The whole time that my daughter and I had a strained relationship, I would feed myself lies and excuses. For example, “It’s okay. you’re hard on her now, but she’ll grow up and see that you were coming from a good place.” “You are just a lot alike and you butt heads. It’ll be different when she gets older.” “You just don’t understand each other.” “she’s difficult.” I actually did believe those things. But they also gave me permission to not have to change anything I was doing. It was lazy to do that. I would see other mother’s and they were so sweet and loving towards their daughters. I felt sad because we never had a relationship like that. Then I would see the opposite end of the spectrum where a mother would be yelling at her little two year old for dropping food on the floor, and I would think, “Well i’m definitely nothing like that.” And thankfully that’s the truth, but it still gave me the excuse to not change anything, and that wasn’t right. Just because you aren’t “as horrible as this and that” doesn’t make your behavior okay.
My point in writing this is not just to tell you about my life. Sometimes I read articles and i’m like, “OMG I could’ve written this myself! This is my life!” and then in that same article, the person offers up and answer to those things. That’s my goal here. If you can relate to any of this, I want you to know what I’ve learned.
- Being hard on them won’t build character. Showing them character yourself will build character. Watch other parents that have great relationships with their kids and mimic what they do. I have a friend who was basically best friends with her daughter from the time she was an infant. As I watched her grow, she became to be a bit bratty and misbehaved at times. Her mom enjoyed her and didn’t make a huge deal about her being that way, but understood that sometimes kids just act out. At the same time, she still let her know that she shouldn’t act like that. I still look at them and their fun-loving relationship today and wish I would have adopted those same habits when my daughter was younger.
- Let them be little. A five-year-old is not a fifteen year old. They WILL forget things. They WILL spill milk, and cereal, and many other things on the floor. They are human just like you and me, and they make mistakes. Have grace and help them clean up their messes, and tell them accidents happen. There’s nothing wrong with having your young ones pick up or help with chores, but for goodness sake, give them grace when they don’t do a perfect job.
- If they don’t want to do it, don’t make them. They’ll come around in their own time. If your daughter doesn’t want to do a roll and tuck at gymnastics, don’t make her. Encourage her. Encouragement goes a lot farther than criticism does. This is true for adults too! Put yourself in your child’s shoes.
- Be aware of not acknowledging them. Lots of times we’re on our phones and kind of tune out the noise around us. It’s easy to ignore your child when you’re tuning out the noise. But we have to make a REAL effort to take a break from our phones and actually engage with our children. If your kid shows you a rock, you better act like that’s the coolest freakin rock you’ve ever seen! Kids are so simple, it’s actually refreshing. I’m the worst at this tip, still to this day. But it IS important!
- A fed baby is a happy baby. A happy baby means a happy momma! Formula is not the cure all to fussiness in babies. But I formula fed with my last three babies and they were all much more enjoyable than my first. I feel like this tip needs to be included in the top five because I know several people who feel obligated to breast feed even though it makes them miserable. Guess what? No one is going to care when that child is grown up whether he had breast milk or formula. The world will still go ’round. You might as well be smiling while it is!