Friday Five: It’s not your fault if your kid is a butthead.

We have not had an easy week. Those teeth are still coming and sleep is scarce. It makes me tense in a way that drives Quinn up the wall. You try maintaining a cheery attitude when you’ve been awake with a pissed off toddler since 4:30, you haven’t slept, and they won’t stop whining because they’re exhausted but refuse to sleep. Leaving him to cry himself back to sleep doesn’t work. He will go on for hours; I spend so much time worrying that I’m causing him permanent damage by letting him cry for so long that it causes me to lose sleep. But not to worry: today’s round up is all about the weird ways parental efforts are overestimated and how we should all really just relax about the whole effing our kids up thing. You’re (probably) fine.

Motherhood Isn’t Sacrifice, It’s Selfishness

Fathers are rarely, if ever, spoken about in the same way that mothers are. It’s culturally acceptable for men to have children and professional identities without having to choose between the two. These unspoken biases run deep.

It reminds me of a friend whose husband complained about having to “babysit” the children while she went to dinner with friends. Has a woman ever “babysat” her own children? Things are changing, but the insidious inferences persist.

Karen Rinaldi’s main point is that motherhood is still often referred to as a woman’s job — language she argues does women and mothers a disservice. Rinaldi suggests re-framing job instead as privilege but never goes into what makes  her version of motherhood selfish. The suggestion that motherhood is without sacrifice comes from a position of significant, well, privilege.

Why it’s good to have a strong-willed child, and why you should let up on them

They are more impervious to peer pressure and go after what they want with more gusto. They want to “learn things for themselves rather than accepting what others say, so they test the limits over and over,” and this relates to relationships as well. Such discernment involves not only when they cut their hair, eat vegetables, or choose to wear a coat, but also in whom they decide to trust and in whom they choose to follow or who they allow themselves to be influenced by.

The sentiment here mirrors something I repeat to myself often, just about every time I’m ready to pull my hair out because Ben is being a butthead: “Right now it frigging sucks, but the traits that drive us crazy right now are going to benefit him when he gets older if we encourage him correctly.” Mutual trust, it seems, is key to finding the sweet spot between allowing a stubborn child to flourish and maintaining safe boundaries.

What Millennials Say About Their Parents During Therapy

“We went from a parent-focused society to a child-focused society, and this generation are the products of this flux in our parenting focus… As a result, I hear consistent complaints that their parents are micromanaging their lives to the point of it being suffocating and overbearing.”

I’m a big proponent talking through personal and interpersonal issues, and this is something I think about often. What will Ben think of me when he’s older? Will he see us — or our progressive-for-the-times beliefs — as outdated products of a bygone generation? Will he even like mom, the person when he’s 30? The content here isn’t groundbreaking, but offers an interesting perspective on the shift from 1950s seen-not-heard parenting to the current climate where kids are often at the center of everything.

Most parenting advice is worthless. So here’s some parenting advice.

Like any parent, I would love to believe that my awesome kids are a result of my awesome parenting. Sadly, expert opinion indicates it ain’t so. Genes have an enormous influence. Peers and culture have an enormous influence. But parenting styles inside the home, apart from extreme cases like abuse or neglect, have very little long-term influence on a person’s personality or success in life, at least that social scientists have been able to detect.

File under This Week in My Kid Will Definitely Turn Out To Be A Serial Killer. As if the bottomless well anxiety-inducing nonsense weren’t enough to keep my doctor in business, now there’s this revelation to worry about. The days are long, but the years are short.

A new study says it doesn’t matter how much time you spend with your kids

It turns out that the most reliable parenting strategy is simply to be rich. Beyond that, it’s not clear that what parents do — at least among the range of things that more or less normal people do — is actually all that significant. Some people find that conclusion bleak and nihilistic. Hence the somewhat spurious framing around quality time.

Surprise! Your socioeconomic status has more to do with how your kid’s life turns out than how much time you spend with them. Until they’re a teenager, at least. Maybe now I’ll stop feeling guilty for taking a 20 minute nap between work and daycare pick up once a month.

He won’t call me mama, and the weight of loving

After a few nights of teething fueled, leg flailing non-sleep, Ben woke up in a surprisingly stellar mood. Most nights (get off my back already) he ends up in our bed between 3 and 4 in the morning. This doesn’t really bother us if he can HOLD STILL, WHICH HE NEVER DOES BECAUSE HE’S A TODDLER. We’re suckers for the snuggles, but we’re also freaking exhausted and aren’t capable of anything more involved than bringing him to our bed in the middle of the night. Sleeping with a flopping fish isn’t exactly easy, but it is possible. That’s what I tell myself. Fake it ’til you make it. Or something. I don’t actually believe that. But I like to pretend I do.

Instead of waking up under his usual cloud of fog, he was immediately ready to go. He flopped around for a minute, smothered me in a few very wet kisses, and crawled over to pat the dog. The he stood up, threw his arms up and cooed “Da-da!” at Quinn. Side note: Ben has yet to call me mama after doing it exactly twice several months ago. As far as his baby brain is concerned I am still merely an extension of him, not an autonomous being unto myself. Everybody else is a separate entity, but I exist to be an anchor point in the sea of childhood. Ever-present, stable, sturdy, covered in strange growths.

Wait. No.

It’s kind of a heavy burden to bear, isn’t it? Being the center of someone’s world. There’s a constant pressure of never wanting to let them down, never wanting to see them hurt or sad or in need. It’s like universe is telling us, No pressure, but the emotional well-being of this small human depends entirely on you and whatever small village you can cobble together to help you.

There’s a well-meaning saying about having to love yourself before you can love other people. This is an unfair statement. It tells us (unintentionally, but nonetheless) that we don’t deserve to love unless we first can find ourselves worth loving. This is a cruel thing to tell people. I speak from personal experience that this way of thinking is, by and large, misguided bullshit.

Here’s the thing: in allowing myself to love others, I am better able to find reasons to love myself. In allowing myself to take on the weight of caring for another human life, I have opened myself to a range of emotions I hadn’t experienced before becoming a parent. There’s a sense of being secure in my abilities that wasn’t there before. The people I love — my kid, my husband, my friends, and even my dogs — inspire me to be better, to take better care of myself. I am absolutely, 100% capable of loving others even when I don’t love myself. There’s a quote I like much better, that doesn’t tell you that you have to have reached a certain level of acceptable mental status before you’re deserving of love:

By compassion we make others’ misery our own, and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also.

– Thomas Browne

Something to think about.

The sleep thing, part 1: bedtime

[Note: I still think sleep regressions are largely bull dookie, but for those of you curious how I tackled Ben’s recent refusal to sleep, here’s a quick update to this recent post.]

Here’s the thing about sleep.

There’s no universal standard for sleep requirements. Science says, generally, that 8 hours (give or take, of course) is what you should shoot for. Science also says that we should sleep in split shifts, like our ancestors may or may not have. Science also also says that sleep is a construct and we’re all of us always asleep because we’re actually all plugged into simulations, kind of like in The Matrix.

Well.

Anecdotally, my father sleeps less than five hours a night. I am a split (read: terrible) sleeper, usually awake for an hour or more in the middle of the night. Quinn sleeps as many hours as his schedule will allow, but has trouble falling asleep when he first goes to bed. It seems perfectly logical to me that our kid would have this same struggle.

What I have tried:

  • Cry it out
  • Pat and settle
  • Ferber method
  • Gerber method
  • Method acting
  • Graduated extinction
  • Matriculated extinction
  • Whatever, none of it works

What I haven’t tried:

  • Rum, per my mother-in-law’s insistence “That’s what we always did!”

Ben will scream for HOURS if left alone. Going in to check on him just pisses him off even more. It never occurred to me that some kids have to be taught how to go to sleep. As a concept, I will tell you I am seriously struggling with that. Who needs to be taught how to sleep? Human children, apparently.

What’s working for now:

  • A solid bedtime routine
  • Melatonin at bedtime, per pediatrician’s instructions
  • Cutting out tv time before bed

But the bedtime battles. Those are, for now, almost entirely under control. A solid bedtime routine and melatonin supplements, per Ben’s pediatrician. Gummies that taste like blackberries that he is very into, and liquid for nights he’s being a butt about it. A bedtime routine isn’t something that I had given much thought to, because bedtime was always the easy part — until a couple of months ago. At that point we decided to just… let him stay up. His mood wasn’t affected by late bedtimes, so we didn’t see the harm in it.

Except to, you know, our sex life and general non-parenting hours in the evening.

Anyway, bedtime is simple: TV off at 7:15. Melatonin. Bath. Jammies. Snack. Play or read. Cuddle. Bed. By night five, he was falling asleep mid-story. I plan on weaning him off the melatonin gradually starting in the next week or two, as the idea of long-term use if not strictly necessary makes me uneasy. So bedtime is a breeze now, but he’s waking up in the middle of the night again. Mornings are groggy, angry messes. Daycare drop off is one big meltdown.

I feel like I’m running hurdles but the hurdles are too closely together. When I’ve just barely cleared the first one, my feet are already bumping up against the second. The first hurdle gets knocked over when I attempt to clear the second hurdle too quickly. This is an uneven metaphor, but it’s close. I can only overcome one hurdle successfully at a time. This is a pain in the ass for me; I like to get everything done all at once, or I’m afraid it will never get done.

Ben’s bedtime was the first hurdle. Mornings are next, then daycare drop offs. The biggest hurdle, night wakings, is the final hurdle — for now. Wish me luck. Send coffee.

 

Even my doctor doesn’t want to see me

“Pregnancy made me stupid,” I lamented to my friend.

“Oh, no it hasn’t,” she replied. She had that stop feeling sorry for yourself tone in her voice. You know, the one where you’re trying to placate somebody when they’re being dramatic and hard on themselves but you love them and want them to be happy.

“No, it has. It’s a thing. I swear pregnancy, like, permanently changed my brain.”

(It does, you know. This isn’t me saying all moms are mentally inefficient in the same way I am. That’s me calling bullshit on the “Get your pre-baby self back” crowd. If you’ve gone through the physical experience of carrying a pregnancy,  you are literally not the same person you were before. It’s more than that transcendental love at first sight, the center of my universe re-positioned itself thing the mommy blogs talk about. It’s an actually physical and mental change. In other words: fuck evolution*.)

But back to my lamentation: when I say pregnancy made me stupid, what I’m really saying is that I can no longer communicate the way I used to. Speaking and writing — previously a huge part of my identity — now present major obstacles. Speaking out loud has become a challenge. I stumble over my words, lose my train of thought, and forget what I said 60 seconds prior during any conversation with another adult human. Writing is no longer the cathartic practice it once was. Writing is difficult and requires outlines and notes and typically results in embarrassment over the lack of quality.

I used to be so good at these things. What happened? Can I fix it?

Exhaustion is undoubtedly part of the problem but the only solution anybody can seem to offer me is sleep more, as if the idea of sleeping is novel and somehow utterly attainable for parents of young children.

Yes, I’m tired. I’m always tired. I’m 18 months of insufficient sleep tired. You know what else I am? Anxious, and a little bit traumatized. See, my kid will not sleep through the night. It’s my fault, of course, because I handle the overnight things. Any sleep issues he has can be blamed squarely on good ol’ mom. We’ve had a dozen or so nights without wake ups since he was born. That’s roughly 12 full nights out of over 550. It’s gotten to the point that

I’ve tried night weaning (still wakes up). I’ve tried letting him cry it out (he screams for hours). We’ve tried melatonin at bedtime (falls asleep easier, doesn’t stay asleep). Earplugs. Begging. Sobbing. Cuddling. Co-sleeping. He’s not in pain. There’s nothing physically wrong with him. He hasn’t flagged for ASD. He just wakes up and won’t sleep until he has me there, cuddling with him. If Quinn goes in — and this really pisses me off — he cries MORE until Quinn brings him to me.

What. the. fuck.

18 months of this has left me… well, traumatized for lack of a more appropriate word. Every night when I go to bed, I think to myself there’s no point, he’ll be awake again soon. And when that little voice cries out, I wake up anxious, angry, tearful. I recently had Q try to do bedtime (don’t ask why he doesn’t do it. I don’t have the strength to go into it right now) after an hour of Ben fighting me, and the tantrum was so bad I found myself in the middle of the first panic attack I’ve had in ages.

A panic attack. Full-blown. Numb, tingling hands. Heart racing. Shaking. Nauseated. I had to leave. I couldn’t be around it. I felt like I had failed my son.

(Side note: bedtime is now tantrum-free and at a normal hour again, which is a nice hurdle to have jumped.)

So I’m back on the self-care, me-first-just-for-a-while bandwagon. I have calls in to several offices — GPs as well as therapists — but I can’t seem to find a doctor’s office in this entire damn city to return my request for an appointment. I am loosing my god damned mind trying to navigate the Forest of Toddler Parenting. The trees are thick, and the path is dark.

I’m desperate for a sense of normalcy. Ease. I feel a little like Link in the Legend of Zelda game we were playing last week. I need tools, a sword, a map, maybe a little fairy to boost me up when I collapse. A wise old wizard to tell me stories and inspire me along the way.


*I’m putting this on a coffee mug

Go the F to sleep

Ben has discovered that he can not only play peekaboo, but that he can magically vanish from adult sight when he covers his eyes. The shrieks that roll out of him — along with the way he throws his arms wide to announce his sudden reappearance in the world — are by FAR the most incredible, “It’s worth it” thing I’ve experienced in his short life. Not just that these little laughs are his, but that he has learned how to make himself laugh in such a way. It’s a gift, being able to find such humor in the world. Sure it’s pretty easy when your life is eat nap poop play repeat, but still. It is glorious and adorable and ALMOST makes up for the new 10:00 bedtime he’s been given to the last week or so.

[Note: I know, I KNOW, I can hear you admonishing me now: children that age NEED 27 HOURS OF SLEEP A NIGHT and if they don’t you MUST absolutely TRAIN them to sleep. I have my own opinions of sleep training (specifically that my kid is too stubborn and dramatic for it to work), but if it works for you and nobody has gone blind from the stress, well la dee dah.]

Oh, wait, did you think this was going to be a #humblebrag #mykidisawesome post? Oh, you.

Ben is 18 months old. He has never been a terrific sleeper, but hey, neither am I. For the past week or two, bedtime has turned into an absolute meltdown of hell raising proportions. I’m of a mind that, if Ben staying up is going to happen: fine, I can roll with it. The worst part is that on the nights he stays up late he’s not even in a crabby mood. No tantrums (unless, you know, I lay him down in his crib), no whining, no utter and complete destruction of my already poorly kept home. He just wants to hang out on the couch and maybe read and play a bit.

AND GET THIS.

He’s not even pissy the next day. I swear. He wakes up at 7:00 sharp, ready for a few minutes of cuddling before he wants to go straight to the back yard with our two dogs. (We have a long, straight, open yard with just enough trees and sticks to make it interesting.) Eats well. Naps well. Our pediatrician doesn’t seem overly concerned. Considering the sleep strike has (so far, thankfully) had virtually no negative impact on his development, attitude, or appetite, “some people just need less sleep,” she told me.

We’ve tried sleep training in the past, but it’s always failed for one reason or another. Turning bedtime into a nightly battle sounds to me like a surefire way to ensure even more nightly battles. At least when you’ve got a kid as headstrong as Ben. As me. As his daddy. It was the same way with transitioning to table foods. We didn’t push, didn’t fight. We kept it conflict free. Now he eats like dream and is open to trying just about anything we hand him.

It’s funny how the things we find most annoying in kids become traits we admire or aspire to as adults. Stubbornness. Persistence. Independence. The drive to explore, to scream with joy, to love and hug and cuddle freely. The need to take things apart and figure out how they work. Sure, he’s a pain in the ass NOW and I sometimes can’t handle the kicking, flailing tantrums because No, you can’t play with scissors, but in five years? Ten? Twenty? If I play my cards juuuust right, those things annoy the shit out of me now are going to make for a pretty awesome adult.

Cross your fingers for me.

P.S. Sleep regressions are bullshit code for “most kids take years to learn how to consistently sleep through the night because of all the the growth and development they are undergoing. Stock up on coffee and xanax.”

P.P.S. Shit. Sorry. #mykidisawesome