“Don’t worry. We’re not going to be like those uptight parents who plan everything out, fret over every little thing about their children. It wouldn’t be healthy for them or us. We’re just going to keep doing all the exciting stuff we do now, but bring them along for the ride. That’s how they’ll learn… by experiencing life with us.”
I know… yes, I really said that. I’m almost embarrassed at how naive I was and at how poorly I had judged others.
I looked at certain friends of ours who were having difficulty with their first children, and while I empathised to an extent, I also thought, get a grip!
These friends recently turned parents seemed to be always fretting over nap schedules, feedings and crying so much that visiting seemed next to impossible. Right in mid-sentence, the conversation would be cut off over some little thing the baby needed. To non-parents like Julie and me, it seemed as though they were obsessed and had lost all sense of balance.
Now I know they were actually trying to keep a very delicate balance and preserve whatever sanity they had left.
I wrote in an earlier post that going through colic and sleep problems with a baby is traumatic – so much so that it leaves scars. But nobody who hasn’t been through it gets that. Not even family and closest friends understand that if you’re holding on with a tight grip, it’s because you’re just keeping it together and that at any moment it could all fall apart.
But we were aware of how crazy we must have seemed to others. To say we were demanding would have been an understatement – still is an understatement.
Last Christmas, we insisted on having three rooms – one for Chloe, one for Emily, and one for us, when we visited family. It might seem crazy, but we would have rather turned around and driven 3, 4 or 5 hours home than do it any other way.
If Chloe and Emily are in the same room, neither of them sleeps. If Emily is in the same room with us, Julie doesn’t sleep because she’s listening for every possible noise Emily might make. And if Chloe sleeps with us she doesn’t sleep because she can only ever seem to sleep on her own, which means we don’t sleep. It’s torture and we avoid it. But you should see me trying to explain to my 3 childless siblings why we need to hog 3 rooms at Christmas.
Sibling: “Come on man. I don’t sleep well when I’m not in a bed.”
Me: “Well I don’t sleep well ever. You can handle it for one night.”
We practice a form of tyranny when we’re the parents of a fussy baby. We might as well say, “play the game my way or I’m picking up my ball and going home.”
We give strict instructions to grandparents on when and how to put baby down for a nap, and if they don’t follow those instructions exactly, we get angry. Why? Because baby didn’t nap as long as he should have and now he’s going to be up crying at night. But they don’t get that. They’re just trying to help.
We’re tyrants out of necessity, but we don’t like it anymore than we like any of the other challenges of a fussy baby. We don’t like that we seem crazy and inflexible to the people around us. It only adds to our anxiety and stress.
I’ve often wondered,
“Do they think it’s us? Do they think we’re partly to blame for our children being so fussy, temperamental, and inflexible – because we can’t chill out?”
I can’t remember how many people told us about how they used to take their babies anywhere, even to parties.
“Oh we’d just take them along to the party with us, and the youngest, well I’d just rock her to sleep under the table with my foot while we kept on visiting. She’d sleep anywhere.”
These people had lived the dream I’d intended when boasting to Julie about how we’d raise our kids. And had we wound up with accommodating babies like the ones they’d had, we’d have thought that parents of fussy babies were just uptight too.
But we’ve been there and know better.
Sean Sutton lives in Ottawa, Canada with his wife and two children, Chloe and Emily. He spent much of this year on paternity leave following Emily’s birth and started a blog to document his experience.
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