It all started the night I switched off the baby monitor. Oliver had been born early, and we spent eight months dealing with colic, reflux, and an underweight baby. Exhaustion did not describe it. I was the walking dead…when I could walk.
The little screamer had yet to sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. Because of his low birth weight I wanted to get every drop of milk into him that I could, ignoring the fact that he would spew it out in his version of the Exorcist. I never missed a mew or a wail that might signal his hunger. Night and day I was sitting vigil to feed him. To my new mother brain hunger equaled death.
After months and months of this I realized that MY death might be approaching faster than his.
In one moment of clarity in the mushy mess of my brain, I realized that my proactive stance towards feeding might not be serving either of us. We both needed to sleep. So I unplugged the mechanical tether of the monitor and slept for 6 hours. I told myself that if he really needed me I would hear him down our short hallway. I’m not sure how many of those six hours Oliver slept, but he was less fussy the next day and then less and less with each day that followed.
This was when I learned the power of procrastination in parenting. My vigilance was fueling excessive worry, contributing to a negative cycle of sleeplessness, and taking away my kid’s chance to self-soothe. Luckily my husband agreed to try to work together to work less.
Ten years later we have a lengthy list of concerns that cleared themselves up with our concerted lack of intervention.
Reversing b’s and d’s – Of course there are many learning differences that can benefit from early identification. In our case our son’s teacher never mentioned it, so we didn’t either. One bay he knew how to write day, and that was the end of that.
Suffering from a clogged tear duct – The pediatrician suggested we press our pointer finger against my older son’s eye multiple times a day. We did it multiple times period. I’m not sure when the clog ended, but it did. I’d say it was a relief, and maybe it was to our toddler, but it was out of sight out of eye for my husband and me.
Holding up an oversized head – It wasn’t news to me that my younger son had a huge head. Off the charts, the doc told me with a smile. My mother was there for the checkup and managed to ask about our friendly bobble head for the next few years. Those repetitive conversations were the only time his head entered mine. Now he is proportional.
Wetting the bed – This one brought on a little more angst than the others. Our boy worried about it himself, so we did think and talk about this problem more than most of the bumps of boyhood. However, we didn’t restrict his water or buy the alarming sheets. We were confident he would outgrow it. He did. And we never had to treat it like a problem viewing it instead as a natural difference in speed of maturity.
Eating selectively – The reverberations of the reflux continued into Oliver’s early years. What I learned is that a child can grow and thrive on Pirate Booty, a glass of milk and a daily vitamin. Now he eats cabbage and pulled pork, broccoli and tacos. He welcomes protein and vegetables in all textures and colors. We never made food a battle. Despite his smaller size he was following his growth curve and had energy and a healthy attitude. We let that be our guide rather than the diversity of his plate.
Having almost no friends – This was tough to ignore. Yet we did. We never forced playdates or signed him up for teams. We allowed Leo to skip birthday parties as long as he offered a polite and timely decline to the host. As it turns out he now has loads of friends and invitations, he pops by neighbor’s houses and welcomes them in when they stop by ours. Without the awkward scaffolding that inserts a parent directly into his/her child’s social life Leo found his way to friends and can support those relationships solo.
Stuttering – There are many cases of speech differences that require a proactive approach. Our older son had a recurring and remitting stutter. We did consult with some speech-language pathologists informally and followed their advice about noticing and remarking on the times that he had “smooth speech.” We also made sure to stop other conversations and give him our attention when he was struggling though sentences. It was minor and mellow and after three years of bumpy speech his stutter has been gone for the following four.
Waking at night nightly – Instead of drawing a hard line with the boys we allowed them to make “little beds” on our floor with their pillows and blankets. After just a few nights of this they realized their own beds were cozier than our hardwood floor. They began to put themselves back to bed after a quick kiss. Now we don’t see them between 9pm-7am. Unless there is a stomach bug. But that is another issue.
Never wanting to leave the house – We did worry a bit about this. Our younger son would sabotage our family outings with resistance in the form of tantrums. He was a flopping fish, a stubborn mule, a screaming hyena. Finally, we just left him behind. At first we were hesitant, we worried that we were “rewarding” his bad behavior. It didn’t take long, though. A few missed adventures while he stayed home with a sitter, and he was opting in.
Not knowing how to hug or kiss – For a few years we contemplated the possibility that our son might be on the autism spectrum. He needed to be prompted to hug and kiss. He was a limp noodle in our arms, and his kiss was a dim press of his lips soundlessly against our cheeks. After setting aside our disproportionate worry, we simply modeled the hugs and kisses that we wanted to give him. And eventually we received them in kind.
Having a floor made of dirty clothes – After a renovation I wondered why we refinished our sons’ floors. They weren’t visible anyways. I spent my childhood being nagged to pick up my room and clearly remembered pretending I couldn’t hear my mother as she called up the stairs to get my attention. It was likely I was being taken to task for skipping my tasks. Steve and I vowed not to do this with our kids. Following the Parenting On Track philosophy, we simply acted out the natural consequence of no place to step and stopped entering their rooms. No tucking in. No good night kisses. We did less, and they did more. Now it is only yesterday’s outfit on the floor.
Of course, we have had some fails….Leo limped around on a broken femur for three days while we assumed it was a self-healing sprain. Perhaps a bit of proactivity would have helped here, but in the end we suffered only from a bit of guilt not a gimpy kid.
What about you?
What don’t you do?