Bedtime, a lesson in reframing

kelly shealer toddler betimeBedtime…ugh!

Every night, it was the same thing: My sons were 4 and 2 and seemed to be doing everything they could to keep from going to sleep. There was a sudden desire to play with all the toys that had been cleaned up, an endless stack of bedtime books, recurring requests for snacks and water, and a lot of stress on my part.

I dreaded it.

I knew that my negative attitude toward bedtime was rubbing off on my sons. They could sense it, and it made them dread bedtime, too. To them, it was the time when play stopped and when Mommy started getting frustrated.

Something had to change.

It wasn’t easy to change my attitude. I started by telling my sons how much I loved bedtime, how I loved lying in bed with my youngest son in the evening and how I loved this special time I got to spend with just them while their baby sister was asleep.

It wasn’t always how I felt, but as I started to focus on the positives, I started to feel that way for real.

I did truly enjoy this chance to lie down with my 2-year-old son. With a new baby, I had very few opportunities throughout the day to cuddle with him, and I loved that he still wanted me at bedtime.

I also reminded myself that reading a few books was part of the bedtime experience, not just something to prolong their evening. I love reading to them, but it doesn’t always happen much during the day, so I reminded myself to build in extra time for it at bedtime.

One of the most important things in changing my attitude was to stop looking at the clock. In fact, I removed the clock from the bedroom. Not stressing over how long bedtime was taking helped me enjoy it more, and soon I realized that it was taking less and less time overall.

I know that I don’t have to stay with my sons until they are asleep — or almost asleep. I know that even if they still want or need me but it really isn’t working for me, I could find a way to transition them into a different routine — just as I did when I weaned them and stopped cosleeping. But I also choose to remind myself that there will be a day that they don’t want me with them at bedtime, and I want to enjoy this moment now.

I no longer think of bedtime as a burden or as something that cuts into my time to myself each evening, and it’s made a huge change for all three of us.

He told me he was afraid of losing

kelly shealer 4Earlier this summer, I signed up my 5-year-old son for a kids’ triathlon — a bike race, running race and water obstacle course. I was sure he’d be excited. He loves to race in the yard and pretends he’s riding his bike in the Tour de France. But when I told him about it, he was adamant that he didn’t want to do it.

He told me he was afraid of losing.

I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t a timed race and that they weren’t naming a winner. Everyone was going to get a medal and a T-shirt. I talked to him about how it was for ages 3 to 6, so he would definitely be faster than a lot of the kids but that there might be some older kids who were faster than him, and I tried to help instill some confidence by telling him how he is really fast both on his bike and on his feet — which is true.

But he was still worried about not being fast enough.

I was really surprised by this, because we’d never pushed him into competition, so I wasn’t sure how to handle it. The race wasn’t something he had to do, and it would have been easy to say, “If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to.” But I didn’t know if that was the best thing to do.

I knew that he’s going to have plenty of times where he does have to do something that he doesn’t want to do or is anxious about, and this could be an opportunity for me to help him through that gently and help him learn to cope with that type of situation. That’s ultimately what we decided to do.

I considered that maybe he wasn’t just anxious about not being the winner. It could have also been uncertainty about not knowing what to do or what to expect at the race, so my husband spent time the night before practicing with him and trying to give him a sense of what it would be like. This really helped change his attitude to one of excitement.

On the morning of the race, my son was happy and excited. We had learned that parents were allowed to run alongside their children for part of the race, so my husband planned to be with my son.

Just before the race, my son was nervous about where to go, and when it started, he immediately looked around to make sure his dad was with him. It was clear that he didn’t want to go on his own, but once he started bike-riding, it seemed like all his original concerns were gone. When he ran for his medal at the end of the race, he was smiling excitedly and having a blast.

I know that if my son’s anxiety about the race was much more intense, that morning could have been a lot different, but I do feel like my husband and I did our best to support him in what he was feeling. I’m happy that, instead of forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do without considering his feelings — or avoiding the situation altogether — we were able to help him handle his fears about it.

Choose to respond with love

kelly shealer 5It was getting close to time to leave the park, so I told my 5-year-old son he could do one last loop around the trail on his bike. We’d talked before going to the park about how he was allowed to ride along one loop of the trail, where he was constantly visible to me from where I was at the playground with my two younger children, but not on the other loop that was farther away and partly out of my view.

Still, as he came around the back part of the first loop, he decided to veer in the other direction and take the second loop. My 3-year-old son then decided he wanted to follow his brother on foot but couldn’t keep up. Neither could I, far behind my son’s head start and carrying my heavy 12-month-old daughter. My oldest son couldn’t hear me calling to him to turn around and didn’t know we were trying to catch up to him.

I was angry. He knew he wasn’t supposed to ride there. He was making things difficult for me, for all of us. It was hot, and I was already tired. My purse and wallet were in the back of the stroller all the way across the park.

The whole way around the trail. I was thinking about what I was going to say to my son when I finally caught up to him. I wanted to yell at him for not listening to me, to talk about how dangerous his actions were, to threaten that we were never going back to that park — ever!

As we neared the end of the trail, I could see my son up ahead at the playground. I had no idea how I was going to handle this. I was starting to calm down a little, but I still didn’t know what the right thing to say was.

Then my son started walking toward me, and I could see that he was crying. When he’d gotten back to the playground, he’d expected to see me there and was scared because he didn’t know where I was. Seeing those tears made my anger go away. Teaching a lesson could wait. At that moment, I just hugged him and acknowledged how scary that was for him.

Later, after everyone was calm, we were able to talk about what had happened and what should have happened. He was so upset that he said he never wanted to go back to that park. We talked about how that wasn’t necessary and that we’d just plan better in the future. I was so glad I’d calmed down before forbidding him to go back to the park, like I almost did.

My son also told me how he hadn’t understood what I’d meant when I’d told him he couldn’t ride on the back part of the trail. It was a good reminder to me to be clear in what directions I give him and not assume that he knows exactly what I mean just because it makes sense to me.

I hate that he was so scared and upset, but I also know that he learned a lot more from his experience than he would have from me trying to convey how his actions had scared me.

There was a lot that I learned from this experience also, including that:

  1. I need to calm down before responding. This situation would have played out completely differently if I hadn’t had the time walking around the trail to cool down before reacting to my son’s behavior.
  2. I don’t need to have it all figured out — whether in the moment or in the grand scheme of things. I had no idea what I was going to say or do. I had no plan, and yet it somehow all worked out.
  3. Always choose to respond with love. What my son needed in that moment when he was scared and upset was not a lecture or a lesson. It was a hug. It was love. The other stuff could wait, and even when we did talk about what had happened, it wasn’t about punishment or anger. It was with love.

Finding balance through play

1386612_mom_and_kidEditor’s note: Attachment Parenting International (API) hopes every mom enjoyed her Mother’s Day on May 10 and every dad is looking forward to Father’s Day on June 21. This week, in honor of all mothers, API gives you a special “Inspired Mothers” celebration. We hope these posts inspire you in your parenting journey.

Earlier this year, I started taking time each evening to write down in a journal what my best moments of the day were. Sometimes it was time spent playing with or cuddling with my kids. And sometimes it was time without them, when I did my self-care or finally met up with a friend.

Never was it doing housework or time spent on Facebook.

I haven’t kept it up all year, but looking at it helps me to prioritize and make time for what is important and what really matters to me. Obviously the dishes have to be done and you can’t just ignore them, but making some extra time for lying down with my 3 year old each day has been manageable. So is — at times — saying “no” to cleaning and “yes” to play. My children enjoy playing more, and so do I.

Keeping this in mind helped me rediscover how much fun it could be to play outside in winter, something I hadn’t done willingly in nearly 20 years. Together, my boys and I climbed snow mountains, and they were excited to see me join in on the fun of rolling down snow hills.

Lately my best moments generally involve time spent outside watching my 5 year old run through the grass, full of pure joy, or having my 3 year old run into my arms and spinning him around until we fall down dizzy in the grass.

I recently attended a meeting on self-care where we were asked to write down three things that made us happy. The goal was to have more of that in your life. One thing I wrote was “my kids’ laughter.” I want to be a part of that every day at least once.

Of course, not every moment or every day is happy. Plenty are full of frustration or exhaustion, or both. But taking time to play, to enjoy my children and to just be happy helps me find balance and helps me to better enjoy being a mother.

I took back control of my Cesarean

Editor’s note: April is Cesarean Awareness Month, an international observance designed to reduce unnecessary Cesareans, advocate for Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) and help women heal from the sometimes-difficult emotions surrounding a Cesarean birth. Attachment Parenting International‘s First Principle of Parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting advocates for parents to research their options regarding childbirth choices. While API promotes choices with the least interventions possible, Cesareans are necessary in some situations. But a Cesarean does not need to prevent a gentle delivery:

When I was 7 months pregnant with my third baby, we learned that the baby was in breech position.

That had been my concern all along. My second baby had been breech as well, only we hadn’t found out until I was at the hospital in labor. Since I’d already had a vaginal delivery the first time around and now had a midwife and a doula, I felt confident about my ability to have a VBAC if my baby was in the right position. Apparently my baby had plans of her own.

My midwife gave me a list of 17 things to try over the next several weeks that might encourage the baby to flip. Searching the internet, I found half a dozen more, plus variations of several of them. I was incredibly overwhelmed. I felt like I had to try everything. What if I didn’t do one thing and that was the one that would have made the baby turn? What if I only did something twice a day when I should be doing it three or four or 10 times? What if I was doing it wrong altogether?

The idea of a second Cesarean had me overly stressed and anxious. I was so preoccupied with doing things that might help me avoid it that I felt like I was taking time away from my sons, and I wasn’t enjoying my pregnancy.

Finally my doula helped me realize that I couldn’t do everything. I had to pick the few things that felt right to me. I was still giving my baby plenty of opportunities to turn. My doula helped me remember that some babies simply don’t want to flip, or can’t for some reason.

For the rest of the pregnancy, I was able to focus on doing what felt right for my body and my baby. Hypnobabies helped me relax. I reminded myself that even if a chiropractic adjustment didn’t give the result I wanted, it was still good for my body. Instead of worrying about the things I tried not producing automatic results, I turned my attention to making the impending Cesarean a positive experience.

I took back control of my birth.

I researched gentle Cesareans, where the baby is walked out slowly, and created a Cesarean birth plan. I spoke with an obstetrician about my desire for immediate skin-to-skin contact and having the baby with me in the recovery room. He took the time to go through my birth plan with me and addressed his concerns in a fair, respectful way.

Going into the Cesarean, I was able to feel at peace, to feel prepared. Unlike with my previous Cesarean, which I didn’t know would happen in advance, this time I was lucky to be able to process the emotions surrounding it beforehand.

kelly shealer C sectMy baby girl was born on April 30, 2014, eight days after my oldest son turned 4 and 18 days after my second son turned 2. After the doctor told me my baby was a girl, everything became a blur. I do know that once they gave her to me, she never left my side. She rode with me to the recovery room and stayed there the whole time, nursing. All that night she wanted to stay cuddled up against me, and that was fine with me.

I took back control of my birth.

Nurturing touch beyond babywearing

kelly shealer 4Use Nurturing Touch is one of Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting. With a baby, there are so many ways to put this into practice: babywearing, breastfeeding, the fact that babies want to be held most of the time anyway. But as my son has grown older, he’s become less and less interested in hugs, kisses, back rubs and other types of nurturing touch that naturally follow in the toddler years.

He’s almost 5 now, and it’s a challenge for me to still remember his need for physical touch and to find creative ways to meet that need.

I try to make a point to do small physical gestures — a high-five or a silly, exaggerated handshake — and to engage in more physical play with him or just be close to him during playtime. Sometimes, I pretend that he — not his sister — is the baby, and I playfully pick him up, rock him or carry him on my hip. That usually gets a giggle from him.

Most importantly for us, though, I’ve found that a big part of nurturing touch means also respecting my son’s desire not to be touched. If he doesn’t want to hug me or if he pushes my hand away when I go to rub his head at bedtime, I listen to him and I don’t take it personally. I understand that it’s not what he needs at that moment and that it’s important for me not to force it. I know that he, like me, is very sensitive to touch and only wants to be touched on his own terms.

I think it’s important for me to at least offer a hug. There are times when he will accept the hug, and even if he doesn’t, I feel that it lets him know that I’m willing to connect with him that way.

I’m sure that as he gets older it will get even harder to connect with him through nurturing touch, but I hope that I can continue to show my love in the ways that he needs.

Someday you will miss this

kelly shealer 2It’s 4 a.m. My baby is awake again. She has nursed and fallen asleep…and then woke up again the second I tried to move her. Now she is wide awake, eyes open and smiling at me. I am exhausted — beyond exhausted. And I have to be up in a few hours to take my son to school.

I really feel like I can’t handle this much longer. I just want to sleep.

Then suddenly a thought pops into my mind: Someday you will miss this.

I know that it’s true. Someday I will sleep again — full nights without interruption — and in a strange way, I will miss this moment.

I won’t miss this feeling of being so, so tired, but I will miss the feeling of my baby’s small body snuggling up against my chest and how soft and chubby and warm she is. I will miss how, once she finally falls asleep on my chest, it feels so comfortable and perfect.

Someday I will no longer nurse her and cosleep with her, she will be too big to lay down my body, and she will not need me to put her to sleep at all. And I will miss having this sweet, warm baby who loves me more than anything.

I try to remember that, in the middle of the night when I feel like I simply do not want to be doing this anymore. I try to use it as an opportunity to enjoy her and to let her know how much I love her by hugging her, covering her fat cheeks with kisses and meeting her needs.

It’s easier said than done, especially when I’m half-asleep, but it definitely helps to change my attitude: Instead of thinking about how much I hate being awake, I make an effort to focus on how much I love this time with just my daughter and me.

Adding another child…it will get easier, it will get better

kelly shealer 3The biggest struggles I see from mothers in my API Support Group have to do with the addition of a second or third child.

Whether it’s an older child having difficulty adjusting to the new baby, or the mom herself struggling to meet everyone’s needs, our API group meetings frequently come back to this topic and to the guilt surrounding it.

This certainly has been the biggest issue for me. I have three children, all born two years apart, and I’ve learned that meeting the needs of multiple children at the same time is often impossible. Because of that, it can be hard to feel like I’m staying attached enough to each of them.

Some of it is simply trying to figure out how do multiple things at the same time. Like when I’m cooking pasta for my 4-year-old but my baby wants to nurse, and I can’t ignore the boiling water or the hungry baby. Or when my 2-year-old is having a tantrum and needs me to sit with him while he works through his big emotions, but my tired baby needs me to walk with her to help her fall asleep. Or when I’ve finally gotten my baby to sleep and I want to lie down as well, but one of my boys wants me to read to him and the other wants me to play with him.

And with all of that, there are feelings of guilt. To have to prioritize your children’s needs is beyond difficult. Someone is not going to be able to come first. Someone is going to have to wait. Someone is going to have to cry sometimes.

With my first son, I was able to meet all his needs quickly and without any distractions. If he cried, I could pick him up immediately. Now, with my third baby, there are times when she has to wait. Generally her needs are the most important, but sometimes, like when her brothers have collided and one has a bloody mouth, I can’t respond to her first. To have to put your baby’s needs to the side when you believe so strongly in picking up a crying baby is so hard.

After my second son was born, my older son had a hard adjustment and would hit his baby brother. So often I felt guilty for taking time away from him to attend to his brother, especially because I could see how the addition of a new baby was affecting him.

I made an effort to have as much one-on-one time with him as possible, especially by using my baby’s naptime as a special time for my older son and me. I also had to acknowledge that it was no longer going to be the way it once was, but that wasn’t a bad thing.

Around that time, I read about how we often feel like we’re taking something away from our oldest child by adding another child, but in reality, we’re giving them something: a sibling. We’re giving them someone with whom they’ll have a relationship like no other.

And it’s true.

My son who started out hating his little brother is now his best friend, and it’s amazing to watch. Sure, they still fight sometimes and they always will. They are brothers, after all! But they also play together, take care of each other and clearly love each other.

It took at least the first year for things to get easier for us. I try to remind myself of that now that I’m in the same situation with another new baby. I have to keep telling myself: It will get easier. It will get better. Your children know you love them. You are doing great.

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