It’s funny how, as new parents, we learn as we go. Even when we read the books and listen to the podcasts (by the way, thank you, endlessly, Janet Lansbury for all of the new perspectives you’ve opened me up to). Just like what our little ones experience, once we think we have something figured out, it changes. Once a routine or a phase seems like it’s working, our children grow, learn a new way to explore or express, and we all have to learn how to navigate the next stage together.
Even though I nannied and babysat for 20 years before I had my son, there was so much I wasn’t prepared for. I wasn’t prepared for the unrelenting moments of frustration. I wasn’t prepared for my lack of freedom. I wasn’t prepared for the tears (mine, not his). Everyone told me that being a parent was the hardest job in the world. Now, I realize it’s just one of those things you need to experience for yourself to really understand.
As my preschooler recently turned three and reached a few major milestones (potty-training, letting go of his paci, etc.), he also learned a few new things about his independence and ability to express himself. The routines and consistency that I had worked so hard to create for us in the last two or so years suddenly was no longer of interest to him. My brief, predictable hours of freedom (during nap and after bedtime) had become a battle, along with meals, baths, cleaning up, getting in the car, getting out of the car, getting dressed, and getting undressed.
Being someone who actively promotes self-care to my friends, family, and clients, I know how important it is to prioritize my own meals, my showers, my alone time, my quiet time, and it took a while to figure all of that out. If I can’t have these things, how can I be the best me? I couldn’t, and his new demeanor was throwing all of this off track. I didn’t like it.
I found myself struggling with his behavior and my own reactions to it. This wasn’t what I expected. This wasn’t our routine. This wasn’t fair.
I started feeling something I remember vividly from his infancy. It was a “disappointed for feeling disappointed and guilty for my immature selfishness” that made me want to crawl out of my own skin. I was obsessed and in love with my son. I always had wanted to be a mom. I read all the books, I ate all the organic foods, I breast-fed, I gave up all of my time and my work and my body and my social life for him.
At that time, I thought, “Why doesn’t he see that? Why was he still crying? Why am I not happier?” I couldn’t believe more women weren’t shouting this from their Twitter feeds and at our park playdates. Most of them seemed elated every time I saw them (they weren’t.)
Two-and-a-half years later, I found myself on his bedroom floor, leaned against his crib, crying almost as loudly as he was while he refused his nap, my hugs, unable to express how confused and frustrated he was with his tiredness, lack of pacifier and new schedule. I’m sure he desperately wanted to convey his wants and needs. He was probably thinking something like, “Why are you doing this to me?” (My thoughts exactly.)
Well, I am sure most of this is all too familiar to some of you. That’s what I hear. (My mom also said it was Karma. Thanks, Mom.) As said in our new favorite book, “Going on a Bear Hunt,” you can’t go over it or under it. We’ve got to go through it. We’ve been reading this book nightly as of late and it started making me giggle when I considered its symbolism. My child, who, 5 minutes prior was screaming while refusing his evening bath (like, I feel I should email my neighbors asking them not to call CPS type of screaming), was now snuggling with me in the rocking chair, our cheeks touching, singing along to the book, and making eye contact as though I was the only human in the world.
It’s a phase, it’s a process, it’ll pass, it’ll get easier, and it’ll get harder. We’ve got to go through it (and learn from it.)
What I’ve been learning is that, we can’t have expectations. I’ve learned to be grateful for my flexible work and lifestyle, my ability to mindfully change my thoughts and reactions, and for resources like friends and Janet Lansbury’s podcast and books to shift my understanding around my child’s totally normal brain. The frustration and hurt may return from time to time (ok, let’s be honest they will), and we will get through it. And then I’ll blink.