I hope that these posts don’t make it seem like I know what I’m doing. I don’t. Sometimes I write them just as much for myself, to help me remember and solidify a lesson I’ve learned, than for anyone else. This is one of those posts…
In a recent post, I shared a lesson I’ve learned about making offers vs. being in control. I want to dive a little deeper into this concept and how the relationship between a parent and their child is really teamwork.
I used to rock my son Ari to sleep. I used to rock and rock and rock and rock, and sing and sing and sing and sing. My husband Navin used to go up and down the stairs for hours, trying to put the baby to sleep. We went for walks. We went for drives. We bounced on a yoga ball. We wore him in carriers. When, after hours of trying, he wouldn’t sleep (or would finally fall asleep but be wide awake 5 minutes later… or worse yet woke up during the cursed transfer to the bassinet), I felt like a failure of a mother. What kind of mother can’t put her own baby to sleep?! (The answer: a very normal, capable one)
I remember one night when we were out of town, visiting family. We were out of our usual environment and it was a later night than usual. I had trouble putting Ari to sleep. I rocked and rocked and sang and sang for 3 hours trying to put him to sleep. In that time he should have fallen asleep, woken up hungry, fed, and gone back to sleep. I was exhausted. And when he finally crashed, he woke up less than 2 hours later. I was furious and frustrated and felt completely worn out. The next morning I cried because I was a failure of a mother and my baby hated me.
When we started sleep training, somewhere around the 6 month mark, we followed The Sleep Lady’s methods. In the first chapter of her book, she describes how in the game of sleep, you are simply the coach, and your baby is the player. You can give him the best advice and training, but ultimately it’s up to him to play the game. You can’t play it for him. You can only help him learn how to play the best game he can play. In other words, you are a team.
This goes way beyond sleep. As I have been struggling with recently, you can offer your baby all the best, healthiest, tastiest foods but it’s up to him to eat what he wants and take what he needs. You can practice a skill, like walking, all over the house, but it’s up to him when he’s ready to take those first steps (not that there’s any rush!) You can teach him words or baby sign language, but it’s up to him to use those skills to communicate.
I sometimes feel frustrated or even angry with him like he is evading sleep or skipping meals to spite me. He is trying his best. He always is. When he couldn’t sleep, he wasn’t trying to stay awake. He was frustrated too. I was doing my best to help him sleep, and he was doing his best to go to sleep. We were a team.
When he has a tantrum because he’s pointing at the kitchen yelling incoherently and I am getting worked up because I have no idea what he’s asking for and everything I offer just gets him more upset, he’s frustrated too. He’s communicating the best that he can, and I’m interpreting the best that I can. We’re a team.
In breastfeeding challenges too, you’re a team. Whether you have latch issues or supply issues or whatever else you’re facing, you’re facing it together, and you work on it together. Too many mothers feel that they’re failures because they take this relationship on as their own responsibility and feel that they’ve failed their babies because of anatomical or situational circumstances beyond their control. You’re a team.
As I sit here typing this, trying to collect myself after a hysterical naptime, I am reminded of an article I read a few weeks ago. From the perspective of your child, imagine trying your very best to do something and repeatedly failing, getting frustrated with the situation, and then on top of it all having the person you love most in the entire world turn and get angry with you! It’s important to remember this perspective and have empathy for your little one when you are getting frustrated.
This goes beyond just your little one actually. It goes for when your partner, or anyone else caring for your babe, doesn’t do something the way you would have. They’re doing their best. You’re a team. I remember one time when Ari was teeny tiny and I came downstairs to Navin swinging him, happily asleep, in the carseat with a huge smile reaching from ear to ear. I got so upset. “He’s not supposed to spend long periods of time in the carseat,” I yelled. (I later relaxed on many of these “rules” I was so intent on following before he was born). He was doing his best. If I knew then what I know now and went back to the same situation, I would probably give him a high five and take a nap. But as hard as it can be to give up control and share the responsibility of caring for your little one by letting others do things their own way, you’re part of a team.
Another memory of the early days was how our dog Mitzi used to bark at us whenever Ari screamed as if she was yelling at us, “fix this!” She made an already tense situation with a screaming reflux-y newborn more stressful. She also always wanted to be by his side and as soon as he’d (finally) fall asleep she’d go right beside the cradle and give a big shake before settling in, inevitably waking him. It sure felt like she had turned against us in those moments. But she was trying to help in her own way. She is part of our team too.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t get frustrated. That’s just plain unrealistic. I’m saying try to remember that relationships go both ways. Try to remember that there is another player (in fact there are several other players) on your team. Try to have empathy when your little one is upset instead of getting upset yourself and making the situation worse. I’m saying this more to myself than anything else, because this is something I struggle with regularly.
Remember, you’re a team. You’re in this together. We all are.