Archive for Older Children

Feeding the Kids with My Eyes Closed (and Other Reasons to Love Co-Sleeping)

cosleepingNot long after my first child was born, I found myself in a discussion with another new mom about how (not so) well our babies were sleeping. Really, what else do new mothers talk about? It was inevitable that the topic would come up. What wasn’t so obvious to me – though perhaps it should have been – was the discouragement I’d be met with when I confided that my six month-old son slept in bed with my husband and me.

Other moms at the play-date soon dropped their conversations and joined ours. I was grateful for the increase in numbers. Surely, one of them would defend the choice my husband and I had made, offering further assurance that yes, it was possible to sleep peacefully with a baby at your side, and no, we didn’t stay awake all night, petrified we’d roll over on our children.

But, it seemed – at that particular play-date, anyway – that I was alone. The other moms were sincere in their disbelief and peppered me with questions. Back then, I lacked confidence in my answers. After all, I hadn’t intended to co-sleep. I didn’t even know there was a word for it. I just knew that although I’d intended for my son to sleep in his crib as my pediatrician advised, I found it didn’t work. My son hardly slept, but I got even less shut-eye than him. When I wasn’t tending to my crying infant, I lay in my own bed, down the hall, watching my son on the video monitor. I listened to his breathing patterns and watched his chest rise and fall as I attempted to will myself to take my eyes off the screen.

After a few nights of this nightmarish pattern, I flicked off the monitor, grabbed my son, and lay him beside me. The next day, I bought Dr. Sears’ The Baby Sleep Book and read up on how to sleep with your baby safely. I bought a guardrail for my bed, and placed my son between the rail and me at night (since my husband is an incredibly heavy sleeper and actually did worry me that he might roll over on our child). And, then, only a couple nights into this new way of doing things, both my baby and I got a good night’s sleep.

Those sleep-filled nights continued (barring a middle-of-the-night illness  or teething episode), and many years and another co-sleeping child later, my family was well-rested.

It’s been six years since we first let a child into our bed, and now, as I lay next to my snoozing twenty-month old, I think of all the benefits of co-sleeping I wish I could go back and share with those innocently incredulous women. I can’t repeat history, but I can share with a different audience some joys my husband and I have found in co-sleeping.

1) Emotional closeness. When my son was an infant, I joked that he was a heat-seeking missile. In his sleep, he would inch closer, eventually nestled right up against me. As he grew, he searched out my arm and used it as his pillow. Now, at six years old, he sleeps in his own room (what six year old wouldn’t prefer Star Wars bedding to a rose covered quilt?), but occasionally enjoys climbing into my husband’s and my bed when I’m putting his little sister to sleep. He rests his head on my shoulder, sweetly rubs his sister’s arm, and falls asleep right along with her.

2) Setting a precedent for our relationship. The door to the room my husband and I share is an open one for our children, just like our relationship with them. Co-sleeping has taught them that we are always accessible rather than “off limits”. It’s a lesson that translates into other aspects of their lives and that will continue to do so. Because we’ve listened and responded to their needs by allowing them to sleep beside us, our children understand that we are always approachable and available, that they can come to us, and that we will not turn them away.

3) Happy bedtimes. Because bedtime is a chance for us to settle down, cuddle and feel that awesome feeling you get when you’re snuggled up close to those you love, bedtime in our home is rarely a fight. I’ve been in homes where parents (and their kids) dread bedtime. Where kids cry and resist going to their rooms to sleep. Once, when I witnessed a particularly bad tantrum, it hit me that our children love bedtime (unless we’re having a sleepover at their grandparents’ home, where the love to stay up late). My one year-old usually goes to the steps by 7 p.m., and requests sweetly, “bed”. My 6 year-old son often bounds up the stairs to his room, then snuggles up close in his bed, where we read his chosen bedtime book.

4) Nearness in the not-so-healthy times. Co-sleeping offers the ability to read your child’s body language and respond accordingly. Many nights, because of my nearness, I discovered a fever early, before it had a chance to rise uncomfortably high. I could tell when a stomach bug was about to strike or when my son needed to use the bathroom, and in both instances, my closeness often helped my kids to avoid accidents. I soothed them through teething pain without them waking up. And on more than one occasion, I nudged my children back into a regular breathing pattern when, as infants, they had elongated (though usually normal) gaps in their breathing.

5) Less interrupted sleep. I’ll never forget the first time I woke and found my infant son had helped himself to nursing. I was initially confused. Had I fallen asleep nursing him? Obviously, I had. Had he never stopped? Being that it was hours later, obviously, he had. Had he really rolled back over and latched himself back on without me knowing? Yes to that, too. And then, once my perplexity faded, I felt relief that I hadn’t needed to get out of bed to feed or coddle him. As I drifted back to sleep, I wondered why I had ever attempted to put him in a crib in the first place.

6) Peace. It’s what all these other benefits lead to. The peace in knowing your children are safe, healthy, and nearby. The peace of feeling their bodies rise and fall with each breath they take. But, most important, it’s about the peace co-sleeping brings them. The comfort and security they gain from having their parents so close at hand. And, really, that’s the best benefit of all.

Image credit: kdshutterman (freedigitalphotos.com)

Nursing a Two-Year-Old: It’s Normal for Us

I could see the idea forming in her mind by the way she looked at me. She fidgeted. She fussed. She wriggled her entire 31 pounds of two-year-old chub around in my lap until she had assumed the familiar position, head in the crook of my arm and eyes looking up at me longingly. Not ready to give in quite yet, I attempted to distract her. Cheese crackers–refused with disdain. Water bottle–given “the hand”. Fuzzy bunny book–an audible “Uh-uh!” and a decisive head shake. I had to act fast, before the situation (and her vocalizing) escalated. I had choices, and it was time to choose. So right there in the pew, somewhere between the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel, I lifted my shirt.

I’ve implemented the concept of child-led weaning with every one of my five children. This means that I follow their lead in the weaning process. I allow them to help me determine when we are both ready to stop nursing. I’ve only had one particularly independent child self-wean before the age of two (he’s still a big-time Daddy’s boy), and my longest nurser required some gentle convincing from his weary mommy at the age of four.

madonna nursingI’ve nursed through four healthy pregnancies. My children’s identities have been nurtured by the intimacy and security of an extended nursing relationship. And I’ve become quite adept at nursing discreetly in public. So I never minded when people caught me feeding my baby in a grocery store or restaurant. Nursing an infant in public never seems too surprising to the average observer. I’ve often received looks of affirmation and smiles of awe as I sat feeding my adorably dependent infant.

But those looks change when I suddenly find myself nursing a two-year-old. Fortunately, I haven’t been faced with very much blatant animosity toward my parenting choices, but I do see looks of surprise, doubt, and questioning. Nursing no longer feels like the “normal” thing to be doing.

But it’s normal for me and my child. This is where she finds comfort, stress relief, and nourishment. This is what makes her body strong and her mind sharp. This is a huge yes that I can still give her in a world filled with so many no’s.

The frequency of nursing does lessen as a child grows in size and independence. Most of the time, I am able to nurse my older baby in the privacy of our own home. But there are still times when that same child poses the question and insists on an answer, regardless of where we are.

And there’s really only one answer I can give when she takes my hand and pulls me toward a chair saying “Mama, Mama.” There’s only one answer I can give when a scraped knee or complete exhaustion leaves her in a puddle of inconsolable tears. And there’s only one answer I can give when my child needs me under the shadow of the crucifix during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That answer is myself, freely and completely, until we are both ready to move forward into a new phase of independence.

Tweens and Decision-Making

I recently read an interesting article by Jennifer Powell-Lunder over at Psychology Today about tweens (kids aged about ten to twelve) and motivation.  Her big point is that sometimes we have more influence over the views and decision-making of tweens than we may realize.

Tweens are at the funny age of push and pull. They often shirk at your simple suggestions yet seek out your input and advice when you leave them to make their own decisions. One minute they don’t need or want your help, the next they are hunting you down to show them the way.

She goes on to say that tweens can seem irritable or angry when a parent tries to offer guidance to a problem.  She encourages parents by pointing out that these kids are still internalizing a lot of our advice and viewpoints.  Sometimes they will make the choice we recommended without realizing they are acting on our advice, because they aren’t conscious of this internalization:

It is not uncommon to hear a tween own an answer that clearly came previously from their parent. Quite often the response is information that the tween seemed to reject or ignore when their parent initially offered the proposal.

If confronted a tween will often deny that their thought or action came from a previous conversation with a parent. It is not because they are lying, trying to take credit for something that came from their parent. More often instead, they really don’t recognize that they have internalized their parent’s recommendation. This is in fact quite common.

I do wonder, though, why a child would be upset or angry at the mere thought of finding meaning in a parent’s tween and momwords of wisdom and then following that advice.  I guess it is good news that they internalize our voice even when they feel hostile toward us but why would they feel hostile?

Powell-Lunder seems to suggest that this rejection of parental input is somewhat natural as they turn “to their peers for direction and approval.”  I disagree with this position wholeheartedly.  No child — no matter their age — should be turning to their peers for direction and approval to such a degree that they would reject or resent a parent’s input.  I think this may be the NORM in our culture, but it is not healthy or optimal.  Until quite recently in history, children primarily found meaning, direction, and inspiration from their parents and older family members  While they had friends, the friends were peripheral to the child’s life and sense of purpose. This is the thesis of Gordon Neufeld’s book “Hold on to Your Kids”.  From the press release for the book:

Children today [look] to their peers for direction—their values, identity, and codes of behavior. This “peer orientation” undermines family cohesion, interferes with healthy development, and fosters a hostile and sexualized youth culture. Children end up becoming overly conformist, desensitized, and alienated, and being “cool” matters more to them than anything else.

I highly recommend Neufeld’s book; it’s powerful and persuasive.

I am not naïve.  I have an 11 year-old daughter (Claire) who teaches me every day to be humble, to examine again everything I thought I knew about older kids and teens. I see that kids this age can be grumpy as they navigate through the strange and turbulent waters of early adolescence.  Claire sometimes huffs off to her room and slams the door; she becomes angry with her younger siblings when they make mistakes that are normal for their development.  I have to dig down deep to understand my own feelings about her in these moments.  More likely than not, before I can figure out a solution to Claire’s problem, the cloud over her passes as quickly as it formed and I find her singing through the house or painting with her little sister by her side.

Despite this, Claire is very different from the kind of tween described in the article.  Claire has friends and she enjoys them, but she continues to come to us for advice and direction. I think she still finds her sense of safety and well-being in her relationship with Philip and me.  She does not seem to possess the deep resentment toward her parents that some people think is normal and I hope I can maintain my rapport with her so that never happens. I am working with her on managing her frustration and communicating her feelings respectfully, but she cares about my opinions and seems to seek my guidance quite naturally.

Is it possible that Claire will become nasty, rude, rejecting?  Of course.  She has her own will and we live in a fallen world.  I am glad I don’t have to have all the answers.  I don’t have to understand Claire completely.  I know God not only loves Claire, but he is actively working in her life and her heart, working through the people in her life, through her gifts and talents.

However, I do choose to reject the cultural view that teens will by nature look to their peers for answers about the world and about their own value; I expect more from my relationship with my children. While I cannot predict Claire’s choices and attitudes with precision, I can cooperate with God in his action in her life by respecting Claire and by taking the time to nourish a warm and open mom-daughter relationship with her.   Ultimately I want Claire’s motivations and decision making to be rooted in her right relationship to God.  Ultimately I want her to internalize the Christian virtues and God’s love for her, because I know this is the true path to joy.

For great advice and guidance about raising tweens and teens, I recommend:

Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld

Positive Discipline for Teenagers by Jane Nelson

Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel Siegel

Mothering and Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong through the Teen Years by Eliza and Sil Reynolds

Ten Years

Picture1Ten years. I’ve been a mom for ten years. I keep repeating that fact to myself, as if I’ve reached some magical milestone filled with wisdom and maturity.

But instead of wisdom bursting forth in triumphant glory like so many flowers in spring, I feel a bit of all of the seasons vying for space in my heart.

The revelation that loving my children is easy–that I simply have to follow their lead, take an interest in what they enjoy, and have fun just playing with them has brought the carefree days of summer home to my soul.

The fire of faith and the urgency to teach them all that I know before I run out of time hovers about like brilliant fall leaves giving all their glory to God before being blanketed by the snows of winter.

Vulnerability, dark cloudy days, fear, and weakness are all characteristics of the season of winter that allow for the most drastic and hopeful transformation to occur.

And, yes, there is a little of the season of spring in my heart as well. A sense of hope, a peaceful joy, a growing up, a gaining of wisdom.

As a parent, you quickly realize that the seasons of life change rapidly for young children. No wonder so many emotions can crowd a mother’s heart at once! How many times has a distraught, tantrum throwing child filled me with both a longing to run away and a longing to do whatever it takes to soothe her torrid soul. How many times have I hoped my toddler would finally go to sleep so I could lay him down while at the same time soaking in the wonderful feeling of a soft, cuddly body in my arms.

My heart is constantly laughing, crying, rejoicing, hurting, and feeling with them.

But that’s the way God made us. To be in tune with one another. To be sympathetic. To be empathetic. To be in relationship. And so even when it’s hard, even when it’s exhausting, even when it hurts, it hurts so good.

My parenting journey has seen a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of pots of coffee, and a lot of sacrifice. Most of my time has been spent with my children instead of eating out in nice restaurants, taking fancy vacations, or even having many nights out with my husband or friends.

But after ten years of this, I see a ten-year-old who is secure and confident. I see a ten-year-old who isn’t afraid to admit that thunderstorms still scare him while at the same time exhibiting a sense of independence that often surprises me. I see a ten-year-old who I am proud and happy to call my son–who fills my heart with an indescribable sense of having fulfilled my vocation well.

Just the other day, I was on a nature hike with my son and a group of his friends. As they ran up the trail past me, he stopped long enough to give me a quick hug and an affectionate smile. Then he was off with his friends, and I watched as they disappeared among the trees, laughing and being boys. Yes, it hurts so good to encourage attachment and then learn to let go.

Happy Birthday, dear son. I treasure your hugs and I honor your independence. May I always be a stop on the path that God has laid before you.

 Photos of the birthday boy!

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