Monday, October 21, 2013


This weekend I failed. Not in a big way, not anything life-changing, but it was still a fail. A parenting fail.

I woke up Saturday morning eagerly anticipating my "me time" that was happening that day. I was going to go out shopping alone, no hubby or baby in tow. I desperately needed the break. It had been a while since I had more than a few minutes to myself, and I was getting worn down. I needed to recharge.

Baby G wasn't in the best of moods. She wasn't in a bad mood necessarily, she just was kinda meh. A little on the whiny side, and for some reason it seriously grated on my nerves. I was trying to stay patient, but the patience just wasn't there. Temper was, though. And I spent all day fighting it. Taking deep breaths, reminding myself that she isn't trying to irritate me, that it is absolutely nothing personal. That she was just having a rough time, and had no other way of communicating. But that sound she was making, this "eeeeeehhhhhhhhh" sound, was just driving me up the wall, and I was having trouble coping. So I was shorter and more snippy than was necessary. I was huffy and irritable and practically growling.

And then it was her nap time.

But she refused to accept that memo.

It was a battle, and although she finally went to sleep I feel like we both lost. I know I lost my cool, in the form of too-firm words, and touches that although were not rough, were also not as gentle as normal. I was clearly showing my irritation, and it didn't help either of us. I felt bad on top of feeling stressed, and she felt stressed (she felt my stress) on top of feeling tired.

After she finally went down, I sniped at The Hubby about making sure to feed her properly and change her diapers while I was gone. I was irritated that he hadn't stepped in when I was clearly having trouble staying reasonable and patient, but at the same time I know (and knew) I might have ripped his head off if he had tried. Because clearly an offer of help is a statement of incompetence. Right? Clearly.

Then I left, and had a delightful time... mostly shopping for Baby G, but also a little for me. I got some amazing deals, and actually got to finish a meal on my own with no interruptions. It was a giant slice of pepperoni pizza from Tony's in the mall. It was huge, and greasy, and STILL WARM, and absolutely heavenly. I got to take my time, and finish it, and it didn't even get cold.

I hoped that was all I needed, that almost 5 hour break. But when I got home, I still wasn't myself. I fought it, and I played with my sweet girl, but I still went from zero to 10 on the irritation scale when it got close to bedtime. Which she fought, way harder than she fought nap time. I was even sharper with her than before. It was not good. It wasn't horrible, I  wasn't horrible, but I also wasn't good. I was too impatient, too irritable. I just wanted her to settle the hell down and go to sleep.

I failed. She went to sleep eventually, after two hours of fighting it, but I failed as a compassionate parent. And I felt like crap. It wasn't a victory, it wasn't a power or control struggle that I won, nothing was gained from it. I didn't feel righteous or justified in my behavior, and I didn't feel like "Oh well, no harm done, better luck next time." I felt like I needed to regroup for the night, and be ready to apologize to my little girl. I snuggled her extra tight the next morning, and apologized for my lack of patience the night before. Even though she had no idea what I was saying or talking about, it was important that I acknowledged that my behavior was not okay.

The next day, I was back to normal, with a much-lengthened fuse and a return of my normal level of patience and adoration regarding my little lady. But I got irritated at one of the cats, and I yelled. Baby G's immediate response was to whimper and to leap into my lap. It made me think. She does the same thing anytime a loud, unexpected noise occurs that scares her. She goes to her safe place--me. I am her safe place when she is scared or uncertain. I am the one to reassure her that she is okay and protected from harm. If I am the cause of her fear and uncertainty because I am yelling at her, or in some way I have caused her physical harm (which would *never* be intentional), I am creating a huge level of confusion and potentially affecting her trust and attachment to me.

My bad mood the day before was not her fault. It is totally okay to be in a bad mood. It is unreasonable to think that my mood will never affect my parenting in a negative way, especially as she gets older and communicates her will more. But it's still something I will constantly work at. I know I will fail again, and apologize again. And again, and again. But never will I feel that it is okay to just shrug it off as "shit happens, she'll get over it." Parent/child relationships are no different than any other kind of relationship in that they take hard work and compassion to maintain and even better, to thrive.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Next month.

It's an odd time of year for me. Usually around this time of year I am wallowing in the middle of a depression, or at least fighting it valiantly. Fall has been tough for me for many years. A history of traumatic events in the fall months, the change in weather, daylight hours start to shrink, when I was younger it signaled the start of a new school year and all the stress over new schedules and teachers/professors. Last year changed things for me. I wouldn't say I was "looking forward" to the month of November for the first time in years, even though my daughter was expected to be born then. That was a whole different kind of anticipation, fraught with just as much stress as I've experienced in previous Novembers. I had worries about potential problems with birth (a sudden induction for pre-eclampsia justified that worry a bit!), worries about all the things I needed to accomplish before she was born (I got nothing done), worries about when we would be moving, when The Hubby would get to finally meet her (he came home for a couple days at Thanksgiving), and I was super anxious about whether I really wanted to stay with my family for help after the baby was born and deal with going back and forth for appointments or just figure it out on my own in the comfort of my own home. In the end I am so grateful for the help I received, but next time I will do things differently. I am determined to breastfeed, which is much more difficult when you aren't exactly comfortable trying to figure it out in front of people that aren't your husband. So last year was just as stressful as previous years had been, but I had a sweet brand new baby girl to help alleviate the stress.

This year, however, I find myself actually looking forward to November. My little sweetie will be a year old, our little family will be together to celebrate it. It may just be the three of us, and it might be a tiny "celebration," but I am still so happy we will be together. There is of course Thanksgiving to look forward to, which I may or may not have family here for. And a little before that is something pretty exciting as well...

This week I bought a dress. A beautiful, beautiful gown. I'm going to a ball, folks! It's being altered a bit, so no pictures, but I promise I look damn good in it. We're not going to our main Marine Corps birthday ball, we're attending the smaller one being held at a different date for The Hubby's unit. So, less crowded, fewer chances of celebrity sightings, but still fancy. Still a ball. Still huge for us. Now I just have to stress about someone to watch my kiddo while we socialize the night away...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Just fine."

"Just fine" seems to be the standard many parents set for themselves as the goal for their kids. It's certainly the yardstick they measure success by, if you listen closely.

"I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, and I am/my kids are just fine."

"I beat my kids' asses all the time, and they turned out just fine."

"I went out with my friends all the time. I left my kids with a babysitter/family member, and they turned out just fine. It's important that mommies and daddies get time away from their children."

"I let my 5 month old baby cry it out at bedtime, so he would learn that bedtime is bedtime and I won't be manipulated by a crying baby... besides, he sleeps sooooo much better now (and so do I ha ha ha ha). He'll be just fine. My mom did it to me, and I'm just fine."

"I had my kid forward-facing in a carseat at 6 months old. She survived. Back in the day, they didn't even use carseats at all!"

"I gave my 4 month old baby ice cream and chocolate and french fries all the time! It's just a taste, it's not going to hurt them. They'll be just fine."

Or better yet, "I gave my 4 month old grandbaby ice cream and chocolate and french fries behind their mama's back. It's just a taste, it's not going to hurt them. They'll be just fine, I did it with their mama/daddy when they were little. What are you calling that ambulance for? Allergies aren't a real thing. Kids are too weak these days. It's just a little swelling, he'll be just fine. He needs to learn how to eat real food."

Here's the thing, though: I don't want my kid to be just "fine," or to claim success as a parent if she merely "survives." Many times I hear parents claim success when I have heard them talk about their kids before, and know that things aren't all peachy. They've sobbed and stressed over their kids' asthma or chronic bronchitis or serious allergies, but if their kids "survived" then they are "just fine" and their parents' smoking habits aren't an issue. They've been astounded at their adult childrens' relationship troubles, legal troubles, substance abuse troubles, and/or issues with depression or anger, or frustrated at their laziness/weakness but they are alive, therefore "just fine" and the choices they made as parents could not possibly have contributed. Deep down, after all, they're "good kids." Then you hear "I don't understand why my son acts this way towards me. I did everything I could to raise him right, and this is how he repays me. I made my mistakes [but you will never catch me being specific about what I did wrong or what I did, if anything, to fix them--other than saying I made mistakes/am not perfect], but that was in the past! It's time to move on." In my opinion, a lot of these parents are full of shit and too stubborn or ignorant to see anything from any perspective but their own. I bet their children would tell an entirely different story of what their life was like growing up.

I do not expect perfection, from myself or anyone else. But I am constantly learning how to be a better parent, and not simply from "my own mistakes" or from how I was raised or how you were raised or how random Facebook friends were raised or how they are raising their kids or how 8 million assholes on the internet were raised and are raising their own kids. I learn by constantly seeking real information, finding and reading research studies on development, different parenting tools and techniques, etc., and seeing how I can make things work in my own family. And it's not easy for me since I am already a "long-term" thinker. I see how parenting styles have changed and not changed over the years, I *know* and *see* how people romanticize their own childhood as this magical period where things were done X way and that's just how it was and everyone was "just fine." (Except, of course, for those who weren't.) I know that laws and recommendations change constantly, so I focus on things that do not change. Physics, anatomy, and stages of child development.

Flying around those three things are all the research that is always being done. The more we study, the more we know. The more we know, the better we can do. I don't find it a point of parental pride (or any kind of pride, for that matter) to stick to what you know because that's what you are familiar and comfortable with, or because that's "how it's always been done" or "how it should be done," because other people did it and didn't die. I refuse to let that be the criteria I set for myself as a parent. I'm not going to let myself get lazy in things like safety issues, especially when it comes to carseats. I'm not someone who could shrug it off as god's will if my child dies in an accident because of something I could have prevented (an improperly installed carseat or forward-facing too soon--I'll keep her rearfacing as long as possible, because *physics applies to everyone*). The fact that I have heard people defend doing things that are unsafe because "If their child dies then it was God's will" makes me absolutely sick, and furious.

I'm not parenting by a minimum standard. I'm not banking on the idea that kids are resilient, so parents can be sloppy. I will make mistakes, and I will own up to them and apologize for them to my child. I have said before and will say again, she is not simply an extension of me, she is her own person and as such deserves just as much respect as anyone else. It is my job to teach her, to help her attain her goals, to meet her needs, to keep her safe, and to make sure she is prepared and confident to face the real world. It is my job to model kindness and empathy and compassion as well as strength and grace. She will learn that there are consequences for her actions without me screaming at her or insulting her or hitting her. She will be kept rearfacing in a carseat until she has reached the limits of which it is safe to do so in her seat, which can go up to 40 lbs rearfacing. Hopefully that will be close to four years of age, when her bones and spinal cord are much more able to withstand the force of impact in a collision than they are at two, let alone one. I will continue to promote a secure attachment (shown time and time again to lead to the most happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults) by babywearing as long as she wants and I am capable, by being respectful of her needs, her feelings, and her limits as well as much as possible, by listening to her, following her cues, by being there for her, and by not expecting things from her that are beyond her capabilities physically or developmentally. And trust me, all this can be done without raising an "entitled brat," which is the most frequent "warning" given to parents who choose more gentle (NOT permissive, that's a shitstorm all in itself) parenting techniques over parenting by force or fear. And studies have shown over and over that if you parent by verbal, emotional, or physical force you are indeed parenting by fear, and no matter how sweet and loving you are the rest of the time the damage is done in the other times. Fear does not equal respect, and it does not equal intrinsic motivation.

I don't want my daughter to be "just fine." I want her to be amazing.

*Edited to add: I know not everyone will "agree" with my words here. I am fine with that. I know other people make different choices in how they raise/d their children. I am not saying they are shitty parents for doing things differently, or for doing things without having researched other options. If you are not 100% confident in yourself and your choices, it is always prudent to check out other options to see if something else sounds more right to you. I am happy to point anyone with questions towards some of the information I mentioned.