Saturday, April 27, 2013

Parenting Beyond Babyhood

Last week's sermon was on conflict resolution, on the importance of fighting through conflicts. Fighting fair and growing as a result. Fighting with loyalty and kindness. 

It's not a subject I'm usually all that interested in, and frankly it's not at the top of my priorities. Chou and I are both relatively laid back, and while we certainly have disagreements, it's rare for any rift to last longer than a day; a good night's sleep and we're back to normal. I wouldn't say that we avoid conflict (although it can happen), but it generally dissipates rather than erupts. We're a pretty even keel household. Even so, I greatly appreciated the message and it really encouraged me to fight through conflict in my marriage.

Since Sunday, however, I've been realizing that there is quite a bit of conflict in our home. It crept in slowly, but it's here to stay. Countless times every day we have expectations that are not met, and conflict arises. Our conflict is not in our marriage, though. It's in my daily interactions with my adorable 16 month old. Life with a toddler is no walk in the park. 

snuggling 2 month old E
I have always loved babies. There's something so precious, innocent, and inspiring about snuggling and soothing an infant. It melts my heart. Their tiny toes, small coos, and lopsided grins in their sleep woo me every time. Not surprisingly, I just couldn't get enough of E when she was born. She came home from the hospital at 5lbs 11oz and just craved cuddles. E was never the infant who would sit in a seat and watch the world go by. For the first few months of her life, she screamed at the top of her wee little lungs from the moment she was laid down, getting more angry and unsettled by the minute and therefore making me more upset by the minute, until the moment she was picked back up. You can imagine the car rides! We started cosleeping so that we'd all sleep, rather than all cry. E was rarely put down for the first several months of her life, which made her one happy(er) baby and me one happy mama. Baby cuddles are just good for the soul!

Fast forward a few months and we've now officially moved beyond those tender baby days and are in the throws of toddlerhood. My little girl still loves snuggles (she's sleeping with her head on my shoulder as I type). She's gotten so much more content and can entertain herself for hours (if I'm lucky) while I work from home. She loves to sneak up on me and giggles as she approaches. She likes to feed the dogs, pat their heads, and enthusiastically draws my attention to them when they're misbehaving. She loves trying new foods. She's inquisitive and brave and will do just about anything, whether I approve or not. For the first time in her life she's taking somewhat consistent naps. Praise God!!

At the same time, she's learning about free will. She's starting to decide if she'll listen to me or if she'll laugh in my face as she disobeys. She's starting to protest when she doesn't get what she wants immediately, when her eggs take too long to cook, or when she'd rather run through the store than patiently hold my hand. 

These past few months have revealed not just how amazing infancy is, but how intuitive it was for me! I went with my gut and generally didn't over analyze parenting decisions. I'm great at the mindless bouncing, snuggling, feeding, and rocking to sleep. I like working hard to get a sweet little smile. I can handle frequent night feedings. I can make my baby feel loved and secure. Infancy obviously had its challenges and was a 27/4 job that took over my entire life, but having a toddler often requires me to go against my gut, which can be so much more challenging. 

My instinctual reaction to her unwanted behavior is most often "no" or "stop" or "wait ten minutes til I have time to deal with you". I'm learning that these are so unhelpful to both of us in the long run. Obviously there's a time and a place for these, but they get me nowhere as a sole parenting philosophy. Instead, we're learning to get creative, to help shape behaviors we desire, enlisting her cooperation and helping her learn. She's started sorting laundry instead of unfolding it, feeding the dogs instead of eating their food, helping with dishes rather than standing in front of the sink crying to be held, putting her own toys away rather than hiding various household items all over the house. Well, mostly. I just pulled my credit card out of the dogs' toy bin and a fork from my peace lily. But we're working on it.

mischievous grin
I try hard to set myself up for success in parenting this tiny person, making her feel loved and valued while shaping her behavior and character. I know that conflict with a toddler is unavoidable, but we really try to minimize it as much as possible. E's so much more obedient when well rested, well fed, and well cuddled (Well cuddled? Whatever. You know what I mean.) Even so, conflict arises. Countless times throughout my day I need to stop myself from the easy "no" and search for solutions to unwanted behaviors. This means my dishes are left soapy and unrinsed while I'm working through the latest tantrum, and my makeup is still half done as I'm redirecting her busy hands to something age appropriate. Helping a little girl navigate life is time consuming and often inconvenient. Every cry, tantrum, unwanted act, and disobedient behavior requires my analysis. How do I resolve it with loyalty and kindness? Is it best to discipline, to redirect, to ignore? Is she acting this way because she's tired, hungry, ignored, doesn't know better, or is willfully disobedient? What am I going to do about it? What worked yesterday? What didn't? And afterwards, was that really the best way to handle that situation? Did E learn what she needed or did I take the easy way out that's going to cost us big time tomorrow? Am I modeling behaviors she should be learning? Did I expect too much from her? Or too little? Am I screwing her up for life? 

There's nothing mindless about parenting a toddler! We're learning on our feet and trying not to mess up too terribly as we go. But it's a fight that is so worth it! We will fight with her, for her. We will fight fair and we will all grow.

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