Take the other day at the park, for example. We got ready to leave and said “we’re leaving” about 5 times. Then, I walked away saying “mama’s leaving. Time to go! Let’s go!” And M stood nearby and followed up with “mama’s leaving! Let’s go!” about 5 more times until our kid decided he was ready to leave and followed after us.
During this exchange, I suddenly saw myself through my own pre-mother eyes.
Two years ago, I would have silently, if not snarkily (and probably very judgmentally), willed myself to “pick that kid up and tell him you are leaving. Be the boss! Make him go!”
Now, as a parent, I am walking the fine line of choosing my battles. Sometimes, like when leaving the park, it’s just easier to let him come to his own decision to leave rather than have a Battle Royale over it and drag him kicking and screaming from the sand. Other times, like meal times or bed times, it’s better to have it out and that way at-least-he-knows-I’m-serious. But even during those times, I see myself from outside of myself and the awful thought sneaks in “is this fight really worth it? What am I trying to accomplish here?”
Here’s a for instance. Last night during bed time, C was having a hard time settling. I told him to lay down about eleventy times. Finally, I told him that if he didn’t lay down on mama’s bed, he was going to have to go lay in C’s bed. Up he popped again. So, over to C’s bed he went, and I sat like a sentinel to lay him down again and again and again, while he writhed and fought and cried “way down in mama’s bed!”. I explained that I had told him he had to lay down and that if he didn’t he would have to lay down in his own bed.
Repeat battle scene.
At this point, I am doubting myself like crazy.
“Is this worth it?”
“What am I trying to accomplish here?”
“Just let him lay down in your bed. What’s the harm?”
“Is he even learning anything from all this (besides how to hate his bed)?”
Then, with him sitting up (again) and crying (still), I remembered a battle tactic that works wonders at bedtime. I told him to sing me a song. He looked at me and cried “Bus!” and I told him he needed to lay down. So, he laid down, I held his hand and sang our extended version of The Wheels on the Bus to him. He calmed down, stayed laying down, and then transferred to mama’s bed to snuggle against me until he fell asleep.
[Now, I know (I KNOW!) this kind of bedtime routine is not for everyone. I know that there will come a day when he will need to have his own bed in his own room. I know some people find our 20-40 minute bedtime routine indulgent and slightly loony. (I would have when I wore my pre-mother eyes.) I know he should not still be waking during the night for milk. But he does. And we do. And that’s the way it is. And every time I start to think about trying to change everything, I lay next to him at night, my nose buried in his hair as he goes to sleep, and I think about future days when he won’t want me to snuggle him to sleep, when he will reject my kisses on his head and cheeks, when he’ll want to be left to fall asleep on his own. So, for now, it’s what we do. End of sidebar.]
It is a careful line to walk, this raising a toddler business. One day – like when they’re 18 to 20 months – you’ll finally feel like you’ve got it down. Then 20 months hits, 22 months hits, and little tantrums spark up, and sitting in a highchair (or anywhere) to eat goes out the window, and nap times and bedtimes get harder, and he’s a pseudo-terror some evenings at the witching hour of 6:00.
But you know what? Mostly, he listens. Mostly, he does what he’s asked. Mostly, he’s calm. Mostly, he’s a good little boy.
And his mother?
Well, I'm still having a Battle Royale with myself and am still learning about which battles I want to pick.
But you know what? Tonight when he was starting to pop his head up off the pillows on mama's bed, I reminded him about last night. I told him "remember the rule? you have to lay down on mama's bed." And you know what else? It worked.