Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Parenting: Newborn to 12 months

There is an axiom which states, "Children spell love T-I-M-E." This is true throughout childhood, but it is especially true for the baby.

Today, I'm writing about my experiences parenting 5 babies. I've moved from rigid scheduling to attachment parenting in the last decade.

As stated previously, when my oldest was born, I used Gary Ezzo's Babywise. Therefore, we had a very strict schedule of eating, sleeping, and play time. If my baby was hungry during play time, I waited until feeding time to nurse her. If my baby was sleepy during feeding time, I tried to force her to finish a nursing session. And if she wanted to play when it wasn't play time, I would respond with a firm, "NO." and try to force her to follow the schedule.

As a result of trying to get a baby to conform to my needs and routine instead of being flexible, I had a lot of anger and frustration toward my baby. Since Ezzo repeatedly warns the parents are teaching their child to be selfish if they bend even the slightest to the baby's will, I viewed my newborn as manipulative and strong willed.

I used prefold cloth diapers with pins, and I would instruct my baby to be still so I wouldn't poke her. If she squirmed, I would allow her to be poked, instead of placing my hand between her and the pin to keep her safe. I look back now, and I am so ashamed of myself and somewhat shocked that I thought a baby could understand and comply with an instruction like that. However, when I remember that I had the toxic mindset that babies are manipulative, selfish sinners and that Ezzo implies babies understand more than we think, my actions are understandable. Unforgivable and ridiculous, true, but understandable.

My second child was born 16 1/2 months after my first. He had some life-threatening health issues and was transported by ambulance to a hospital with a NICU hours after birth while I remained behind in the hospital where I delivered.

As a result of this traumatic event, I threw out almost everything that I'd done with my first baby and spent a lot of time playing with and holding both of my littles. I still responded punitively (smacking hands or diapered bottoms) to unwanted behaviors, BUT... my new little guy was obviously very sensitive, physically and emotionally. I could see shock and pain in his eyes when I smacked his hand or even when I firmly and loudly told him, "NO," for things like hair pulling or squirming during diaper changes. My oldest had responded with loud, angry cries, which I read as confirmation of her "rebellious spirit." (Extreme fundamentalist brainwashing will completely twist how you view normal behaviors.)

But the pain my little guy responded with...it broke my heart and made it obvious I'd have to be more gentle with him. Besides, with two kids in less than a year and a half, I was too exhausted to stick to a schedule. I was in survival mode.

I did still do my best to keep a fairly consistent sleep schedule for the littles, and honestly, I was very fortunate that they both slept well (and long) from very early on. My oldest began regularly sleeping 6 hours through the night at two weeks and my second did the same around four weeks. I later found out, this is not typical!

By the time baby 3 was born, I was learning about both gentle parenting and attachment parenting. I was also shedding a lot of my fundamentalist mindset, so the methods I'd used before were no longer appealing to me.

I was also aware that the methods I'd sworn by previously only worked because my kids were afraid. Afraid of being hurt, afraid...of me. Their mother. The one person in the world who is supposed to unconditionally love, nurture, and protect them.

The time I spent with them, just loving on them, reinforced to me that everything I'd done previously was counter-productive to building our relationship. Proverbs 14:1 says "The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down." It was with great grief and moral conviction that I realized my own actions, however well-intentioned, had created a rift in my relationship with my children.

My third baby really drove this point home to me. With two other small children to care for, I chose to wear the new one in a wrap carrier. She spent much of her time snuggled in close to me while I fixed meals, folded laundry, pushed other children on swings, and went for walks. Nursing and naptime could also be accomplished in the wrap!

Honestly, she is a pretty high-maintenance gal, but she was so easy to care for at this time because her needs were met. And because her needs were met, there was a trust between us I'd not experienced with my older children. Because we were always in close proximity, I learned to trust her cues for feeding, sleeping, and playing. She trusted that I would meet her needs.

I've heard over and again how true love cannot exist without trust. How then, can we expect our tiniest children to understand love when we consistently and repeatedly break their trust by physically harming them when they do not comply with our wishes? 

Minor infractions at this age are just that: minor. A "nip it in the bud" mentality will only serve to create disunity in your relationship.

For this age, the best discipline is teaching your child unconditional love. Respond to her needs. Snuggle with him. Play. Laugh. Take the time to enjoy each other's company. 

You won't regret it.

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