Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Breath with me? Let it go...

Let me see, I have been a parent now for almost 8 1/2 years.  More if you count pregnancy, which I do.  So...that would make it just over 9 years.  Not really a very long time if you think about it.

In that time I have had three very different baby girls with three very different personalities, needs, wants, likes, etc

My first child loves to please, likes mom and dad to be happy with her and rarely requires disciplinary action.  When she was young, a mere disapproving eye was often all she needed to nudge her into the realm of obedience.  Of course we had our battles (once when she was almost three, she was in time-out for 3 hours because all she had to do was pick up the goldfish crackers she had thrown on the ground in defiance - she refused to clean up, so she sat in time-out until she was ready to obey....three hours later.) And her emotional personality is always a challenge for me, our brains work very differently, so we clash sometimes.

2.5 year old Taylor

But generally, she works hard to be obedient - and as a toddler, she was just challenging enough to stoke my parental ego (she would learn lessons quickly, always apologized sweetly and rarely received consequences more than once for the same thing).  I often laugh and say, that if I had only had her, I truly would have considered myself a perfect parent.

I should have known my second child would not be so kind when she first came into existence despite using two forms of birth control - and then she tried to kill me a few weeks before she was born.  Ok, so technically it was was the blood clot in the brain causing a (TIA) that tried to kill me, so it is not really fair to say it was her fault... Either way, it should have been a warning sign.  
That and giving her the middle name "Grace" - should have been a sign she would need a lot of it! 

Ayla screamed for the first year of her life, sleeping in one hour increments...occasionally...for the whole first year of her life.  She didn't sleep through the night consistently until she was almost 4 years old (yes, you read that right) despite trying every "sleep method" ever invented.  So ignore me if I ever randomly burst into tears as you tell me about the sleep challenges your newborn is offering, I still suffer from a good amount of PTSD.

4 month old Ayla 

As she entered toddlerhood, my beloved second child did not care whether or not mom and dad were pleased with her.  I think she may have actually enjoyed time-outs, at the very least the punishment was well worth the crime.  As she got older and I was desperately trying to find some sort of consequences that would give even some means of motivation for obeying mom and dad next time, she would literally hand me her precious toys and stuffed animals as I threatened to take them away unless I had instant obedience and say "I want you to have them. I want them to go in time-out!" and then continue to glare at me in utter rebellion and defiance.  And just as we would get through a long and complicated battle, finally finding answers and working  towards obedience, something would set her off and we would have to start all over again. The same lessons, over and over and over again. 

The girl seemed to have no memory for how it turned out last time she made that particular choice...we are still working on this, often daily. So we get to work out the same things over and over and over.

Basically, my knees were (are) as sore as my ego as I desperately prayed for divine help in parenting this child!  (long story short - she is exactly like me.) And it was not until she started school that I started seeing some improvement in her behavior, which in and of itself was another huge hit to my ego.  Could have been coincidence - the right age.  But needless to say, I no longer thought I was a perfect parent!

I was crazy - as many moms are.  So I decided I wanted another child.  Thinking, I have had two extremes, there is no way another one could offer anything I have not dealt with yet...right?


Kaylee was an easy baby. She used to take 3 hour naps in her swing everyday as young as 2 months old and started sleeping through the night by 6 months.  I could do this! Finally, God had pity on me.  I got one of those easy babies I thought only existed in the wonderful land of mommy make-believe!

She started crawling around 6 months, and was FAST right away. After a while, I started noticing a trend in the photo's I was taking:

 And an even bigger trend in the video's:

By the end of every day I would notice that my eyes would hurt, they were hugely tired. I would realize I wasn't blinking, and no that is not an exaggeration. I could not take my eyes off the child AT ALL. The girl got into everything. Baby-proofing was a joke. She could get past even the most clever of devises. Childproof cap? A joke. Outlet plugs? Please! She was a tiny 1 year old tyrant, 16lbs of trouble, laughing at your feeble attempts to contain her.  Her favorite was getting into the frig, she liked to pour her own milk and would collect condiments and hide them around the house.  We got a frig lock, she broke it. We got another...she broke that one in less than a day since she now knew how.  We were at a loss. And as she got older, I became very familiar with the phrase "I want to do it myself!" and I mean EVERYTHING. Well, except peeing on the potty - but that is a post in and of itself!

So - is anyone interested in what this post is actually about yet? If I have done my job right you have not even considered thinking that far ahead, you were so sucked in by my brilliant skills as a writer.  Right? 

Err...I mean...Ahem!  Anyway...go back and look at the title. I'll wait............

See? There is a point to all this!

I have been a mom now for 9 years to three very different baby girls.  This means that in the last 9 years I have learned a lot, I have made lots of mistakes. And in 9 years, there are some things that I have learned; some things that I need to let go.  I have to work on these constantly, letting go can be really hard, especially for those of us with control issues. Three very different babies, one lesson that is very much the same. 

Let it go.

No - not the frozen thing. Though you can let that go too....please?

I mean letting go of some of the things we like to hold onto as parents.  To make it simple - I'll count down my "my top 5 things I should just let-go already."  

Disclaimer:   I am not in any way an expert, just a mom that has made way to many mistakes. Obviously these subjects have loads of variations, so bear with me. I am touching briefly on subjects that in my experience, I need to learn to let go a little better. I am not condemning, just speaking from my own life experience. There are lots of "what-ifs" to all these examples. I am going basic here people. Don't get your panties in a bunch.

5. Getting shoes on the right feet, and choosing the perfectly matching clothes - or the weather appropriate clothes, or some days the clean ones! This seems simple, but it is amazing the morning battles I left behind when I just let them decide the basics of their wardrobe and what foot goes into what shoe. (You would really think that last one would be a 50/50 chance thing. But no, I would say approximately 96.4% of the time, my three year old still has her shoes on the wrong feet.) I have learned that the cape at the grocery store wont kill me. The jacket left behind when it is freezing outside will only happen that one time (And they wont die - assuming it is a quick trip). I have learned that wearing the same shirt 3 days in a row, or changing clothes 14-73 times a day simply means less laundry for me (it all just stays in the basket). And I have learned that shoes will never, ever be where they belong. I smile, take a deep breath, and let it go.

4. Mom guilt for not enjoying playing with my kids. I don't play with my kids, I don't feel guilty for it (ok, I work hard not to feel guilty about it, sometimes I succeed). I read to them, LOTS.  I dance to music with them.  I will occasionally build blocks or color with them, we go on walks, do science experiments - and we have lots and lots of good conversations.  But I don't play. No hide and seek, no tag, no imagination games. I don't do candyland, planes, trains, auto-mobiles or babydolls. My hands don't touch toys unless I am putting them away. They have one another for that.  They have friends for that. That is not my job as a parent. We do life together, folding laundry, cooking and cleaning, fixing broken things, walking to and from school, doing homework. That is how we spend time together. I don't play. I used to be plagued with guilt over this.  I am learning to let it go.

3. Doom and Gloom parenting. This is my special name for warning other parents about whatever stage is coming next.  As an example - I have three girls.  So that means at least 12 times a day (I wish I was exaggerating) someone says "3 girls huh?  I feel sorry for you when they are all teenagers!"  And what does every mom of a baby say to the first time pregnant mom?  "You think it is hard now? Just wait until that baby is born!" And what does every mom of a crawling baby say to a mom of a newborn? "You think it is hard now? Just wait until they are crawling!" And every mom of a toddler to a mom of a crawler: "You think it is hard now? Just wait until they are two!"

I could go on. But I wont. You don't want me to do you. Because no one - NO ONE likes to hear the doom and gloom. It brings no encouragement, it doesn't serve any purpose at all aside from making ourselves feel clever, like we know some deep, dark secret and we can only give smug hints of the torture to come.  So stop it already people. Let it go.
I am working really hard at this one - and please, to anyone on whom I have brought the doom and gloom, please forgive me. And for moms that hear it and feel themselves curl up a little inside, I have a secret for you. Us experienced parents touting the doom and gloom? We are wrong. You know how you feel entirely exhausted right now? How your one child is taking 100% of your energy? Well, the mom with the toddler and newborn, her kids take 100% of her energy too. One baby takes 100% of your energy. 5 babies take 100% of your energy, the only thing different is your own personal 100%.  But guess what, your 100% grows with your child, it grows as your family grows. It is only ever easier in hindsight. Truly. Will the next stage be hard? Yes. But that in no way lessons how tired you are right now.  And your 100% will grow. You will be ok, I promise. And you want to know what else?  There are great joys ahead of you, I can't wait for you to get there.

And for the record? I am going to enjoy my 3 teenage daughters.  I am determined!

2. Fear of super-kids "Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!"  Errr---you get my point.  This could also be titled "let your kid be the superman they already know they are." 

We have a 'no help from mom and dad' rule when it comes to being active.  The idea being, if you cannot do it yourself, your body is not ready.  This rule comes into play at the playground, climbing trees, jumping on rocks, etc. It has done wonders for my kids self-esteem. 

Basically, if something is physically hard, I don't physically help.  I will offer advice, suggestions, or when they are in a sticky situation I will verbally coach them out of it. But if you can't do it, it means your body is not ready.  I will however, stand ready to catch them if they actually fall - If I feel I need to, but that is becoming more and more rare.  

I had a friend over a few years ago. She had a small child, her only. I would say the child was about 5.  Remember my elephant? (if you never saw it, think jungle gym of steal bars in the shape of a 6 foot tall elephant) The elephant is actually the reason the "no help" rule was created.  I remember watching as this mom helped her child to climb just one rail of the elephant. Mom gasping every time the child wavered. The moment the kid was 3 feet off the ground he started crying. He knew mom was scared, therefore there must have been something scary right?  She took him down and for the rest of the playdate he looked longingly at the kids scaling the elephant, obviously wanting to join, but not understanding why mom got so scared.  He would stand at the foot of it, holding onto the bars and lifting his feet 4 inches off the ground, not willing to go any higher. 

But you know what? Kids know when it is something they can do, it is just hard. But if given the opportunity, they will keep trying.  And when they do it all by themselves? Wow, the celebrating is truly contagious!  They are so proud of themselves, and I am so proud of them - and I really am proud, it is genuine and deep and explosive (we jump up and down a lot) because they tried, and it was hard, and they did it themselves, even when they thought they couldn't.  They worked hard and because of the aching muscles and scrapped knees, they mastered a new skill - all by themselves! And I can trust their ability, because I know the skill and the strength is there.  And so do they, they have learned what their own bodies are capable of, and perhaps more importantly, they have learned what they are not yet ready for. They have learned to read their bodies, stop when the limit is reached, work harder when they are almost there. And as for my own mom-fear when they run fast, when they get dirty, when they climb high?  

I am learning (slowly!) to let it go. 

1. Food.  This is one of the biggest ones. This one was (and is) very hard for me to let go.  But I think I mostly have, and wow it has made a huge difference! In this case I will go so far as to offer some blatant advice. Ready?

Don't battle over food. Ever. Zip, Nilch, None, Nada, Never. At All. Ever. The only exception I can think of is if your child has true medical challenges related (allergies, swallowing or gastric distress) to eating. But as long as there is no medical reason for you to make a big deal? LET IT GO.

"But - you don't understand how picky my daughter is!" you say?  Well - My first child went through a picky "stage" the first three years of her life.  She was in the 5th percentile for body weight (when she was even on the chart), she didn't gain any weight for over a year. She refused to eat anything but milk, sometimes for days or even weeks on end.  I agonized. I begged, I threatened, I offered bribes, I offered consequences.  

I was wrong.  

If your child wont eat the "three more bites" you requested? Let it go. They are done. Let them be the boss of their bodies. Let them learn to self regulate when it comes to food. Let it go. Choose not to battle over this. 

Remember this is my own very humble opinion based on my experiences and research - others may differ. But this is actually a subject I am very passionate about.  Why? Because childhood obesity is such an epidemic, because we all have screwed up views of food and eating. Because even as adults, there is too much emotion connected to how little or how much we eat. Because most of us have somehow lost the ability to listen to our bodies correctly. Why?  I personally think it starts in toddler-hood. When moms demand "3 more bites."  Now, I am not saying that struggling with food with your toddler will lead to an eating disorder. Come on peoples. We are smarter than that. But I don't think it helps anything. You can lead a horse to water right? 

When I was in the thick of stressing over my child eating I read a random parenting article that changed how I parented when it came to food. Simply put, they took a bunch of kids who were parent-proclaimed "picky eaters"  and split them into two groups. In the first group, they told the parents to do everything they could to get the kids to eat. Beg, bribe, etc. The second group, they told the parents to simply let the kids eat or not. No "three more bites!" no begging (but no random snacking either). The parents didn't say a word. They let it go. At the end of the 6 month study, the kids in the second group had gained more weight than the kids in the first.  I was shocked.

So, figuring it can't hurt. I stopped asking her to eat more. The only time I ever said "three more bites" is on the rare occasions where dessert is about to be served. And then, the reasoning is simply "if you are too full for lunch, you are too full for dessert. Fill up on lunch first."  

Now, I cringe a bit inside every time I hear the question asked "is she a good eater?" or even worse, when parents go on about how terrible an eater their child is...right there in front of the kid! (Toddlers are sponges, remember? They hear everything.) I hear moms trying to force three more bites out of their child and I always want to ask them: Why? Children, unlike us, are programmed to know when they are full. If a parent is worried the kid will be hungry 30 minutes later - It is easy to have lots of fruits and veggies available.  My kids know they are offered food at mealtimes and an official snack mid-morning and after school - and they can eat apples, carrots, sweet peppers or any other veggies we have on hand any time they want. They don't even have to ask.  

And you know what? As soon as I stopped making a big deal out of it and simply worked hard to be a good example? My "picky eater" became a "good eater." I was floored. 

Let kids be the boss of their bodies. Don't disrupt natural signals. And please, let discipline happen far away from food - you know how experts say you will never potty train a child by disciplining them for having accidents? I would add on to that, you will never teach good eating habits by punishing because a child did not eat three more bites. Don't do it. In fact, consider this a free pass. You never again have to argue with your kids over food! If the dessert thing is an issue, stop eating dessert (or eat it in secret after they go to bed. It tastes better that way anyhow). 

Let it go. 

Now, my kids do have to sit at the table and be a part of the family meal, but if they are not hungry - they are completely welcome to not touch a thing. Perhaps they honestly are not hungry, and they are listening to their bodies, knowing that they don't need anything to eat at the moment. I don't want to teach them to ignore those signals just because my schedule says food goes into bodies at 6pm sharp every night. I also don't feel sorry for them if they go to bed hungry. I am fairly certain they will survive. Of course that could just be me and my utter lack of pity for my overly dramatic kids...it is possible I need to work on letting that go too.  A little empathy occasionally never hurt anyone right? 

Say it with me: Let it go. 

So I know I said 5 - but I am going to throw one more in there for all us tired moms (and dads).  

It is time for us to let go of the 'we can do it all' mentality.  It is time to let go of the guilt of rest - why do we feel so guilty when we do nothing? We all need to do nothing occasionally. Why is it so hard?

My challenge for you tonight? Let the dishes sit til morning, shove the cars and blocks and thousands of shoes (why are there so many shoes!?!) aside with your foot so there is a safe path to the door and to the bathroom.  And rest. Drink a cup of tea or pour yourself a glass of wine.  Take a deep breath, grab onto the stresses of the day, mingle them into that breath, and in one great exhale that throws away the weight of the day....

Let it go. 

(admit it, you are all singing the song now huh)