"I don't want to hear about it unless there's blood."
This was a common refrain in my house growing up, and not one my mother denies 25 years later. My brother and I would argue and fight and come a certain age we were expected to resolve the situation ourselves. We didn't, of course, but we knew that whining to mom for every injury (emotional or otherwise) wasn't an option. While she was an involved, caring and compassionate parent she also believed in the value of teaching children to handle themselves, even from a very young age.
My brother has taken this theory to the extreme, allowing his children freedoms that are shocking to me. I question his decisions (although not usually to his face) and what they have meant for his growing and developing boys. His kids have no bedtime, no naptime, no routine at all. At 3 years old my nephew can regularly be found up and about at midnight (or later). He doesn't eat anything that's green (including all vegetables, unless you count macaroni and cheese as a vegetable, which I don't). I wish he lived a more structured life and as an outsider I think they needs less independence, but "unless there's blood" has stuck with my brother like dirty gum in hair.
With these models in mind I expected to be quite a laid back parent, one who sees the worth in crying it out and yet a mother who knows the importance of routine and boundaries. Perhaps I'm cruel but I've always found my eyes independantly roll when people say they can't bear to hear their babies cry, that moving them from their room into the nursery was almost too much to handle. I never said never when looking at parenting philosophies, but I was quite certain that I wouldn't allow my baby to decide my parenting style for me - that my lifelong beliefs would win out over a stubborn child's unwillingness to nap.
And then I had MY baby.
I won't lie - the night I moved him to his own room I slept like a baby. And so did he. I refused to put a monitor in the room, knowing that his noisy sleeping, grunts, moans and kicking legs would crackle through the speaker at me as though he were in bed with me. And not in a good way. No, I put him in his crib, the nursery right next to our room, and closed the door. And I only heard him when he cried. Silence, glorious silence and the first decent hours sleep in 5 weeks. (Not nights' sleep, mind you. No, not yet.)
So my parenting beliefs stand strong. Meanwhile my parenting techniques have evolved into something the pre-parent me wouldn't recognize.
I gave birth to a spirited baby. A baby with desires and the voice to get them met. A no doubt gifted child, but one who shares those gifts by screaming. I call him "high needs" sometimes, following the label Dr. Sears (inventor of the dreaded "attachment parent" banner) coined, but I don't believe it. Because to be "high needs" implies that somehow, some way those needs may be met, and try as I might my baby is un-meetable, unless the need he's expressing is for a stiff brandy. (I haven't yet tried to meet that need, although some night I might see how such a drink manages my own deeply unfufilled needs.)
We've tried to manage any physical discomfort he may have. Prevacid was step one, a drug which made him more miserable if anything. Cutting out dairy and caffeine made me depressed and didn't seem to help him either. The chiropractor didn't hurt (although our bank account hasn't recovered) but found our darling child well-aligned yet still maligned. Probiotics have helped - they helped him poop. He no longer screams as he gears up for a "movement", but he hasn't stopped screaming once he's done. Some days I'm certain his issue is a physical one, but there are times when I think he's just a scared little boy, hesitant to accept my constant reassurance. I tell him in the quiet of his overnight feedings that I love him, will always love him and will never abandon him (unless he becomes a republican), but he doesn't seem to believe me.
I spent the first 10 weeks of his life fighting him, confused and angry that he wasn't who I thought he'd be. He doesn't respond to the things babies are supposed to respond to. He doesn't warn me with fussing - he's either (occassionally) happy or explicitly not. He is a baby of extremes, not inbetweens. I tried to make him fit my mold, adapt to my parenting style to no avail. After being told that crying wouldn't kill him I decided to finally put him down to take a shower, and when I returned to him (still screaming) I found that his soft-spot had caved in from the hysteria that 15 minutes on his own had brought about.
When faced with a dented head (which apparently can happen, but jesus christ - could there be a more blatant way to show me I've failed as a parent?) I had no choice but to face reality. This little blob was not one to be controlled. He wasn't going to be molded. I wasn't going to wait until there was blood to hear about it, I was going to hear about everything, all the time, whether I wanted to or not. I wasn't going to shape him into the baby I thought I'd have. He was going to shape me into the mother he needed to have. And he has.
I sit now with my baby on my chest. He's napping contentedly, not waking as I continually bend to kiss his head. But he's napping only because he's in a wrap, strapped to my body. He's napping only because I gave him the 20 minute wind-down of bouncing, walking, patting, shushing that he requires. He's napping because I have decided to follow his cues, even if that means that I don't use his naptime for a shower and chores - like I would if he would nap, even for a moment, in his bed. I have realized (after he told me...repeatedly) that getting him to nap in any way I can is more important than how he naps or where.
He will have moments in a swing or on a playmat when he seems content. Moments. And those are good moments, but they are so so quick and he is so so vocal when the moment has passed. If he spends 3 minutes quiet and happy while doing an activity I deem said activity a full-on success, even if that success is never to be repeated. He will have moments in our arms or our laps when he seems content. Moments. And again, those are good moments, but they are so so quick and he is so so vocal when the moment has passed. If one position keeps him quiet and happy for 5 minutes it is deemed a winning position - even if it is likely never to do the trick again. But I have learned to seek those moments, not hope they will happen on their own. Because he has told me and I have (finally) listened that his happiness won't come easily. But that it will be worth it.
I have finally accepted that I must parent the child I have, not the one I expected to have. And my child will not accept the hands-off, independent parent I wanted to give him. He needs more. And he deserves it.
I still believe that telling a kid "I don't want to hear about it unless there's blood" is ok. I know that I was in no way damaged or distant because of it. I still think I will cry it out if needed, but I also know that it might not work for my child. That he might not have enough tears to cry out his fears. I am not an attachment parent because I think it's better or right or more. I am an attachment parent because it's the only option my son has given me.
I thought I would teach my baby about the world he lives in and the people he meets. I thought I would set the course of our lives. But now I know that he's the one calling the shots - not because he's manipulative or bad, but because he knows what he needs more than I do. So I will keep giving (but no doubt keep trying to drive the bus occassionally) and keep listening while he teaches. I just hope that I can see for myself when he's telling me what he wants, rather than what he needs. And I hope I will have kept enough of myself to tell him to relax, calm down, and only tell me about it when there's blood.