My daughters are like chalk and cheese. Physically they are nothing alike one blonde with brown eyes and pale skin, the other dark haired and olive skinned with blue eyes. They are also very different in personalities.
When they were both little I soon realised that I needed to parent them very differently. My oldest was a sensitive child, even as a baby she didn’t like to be put down or left alone. She followed me around everywhere I went hanging on to my leg and would scream if I left the room. She was also very stubborn. This I knew from the second she was conceived as she clung on to life despite the odds being against her. I remember the nurses in neonatal telling me how she would fight with them and she had these little fists that would grab on to you as if to never let go. Her fight and stubborn character has meant she has overcome so much, in fact everything that they said she would find an issue she overcame and despite being born early was a head of her milestones even walking at nine months.
For me though, for a while, I found parenting her difficult, she was challenging in many ways both in her need to be with me constantly which fed my own anxieties, the fact that she cried none stop for the first few months and had spectacular tantrums, lets just say she made her wants very clear. I became a ‘shouty’ mum, short tempered and frustrated with her.
One day after a very difficult morning I had locked myself in the bathroom while she cried and banged the door outside. I needed 5 minutes, to think, to be calm. You see I didn’t know then what I know now about the effects of a neonatal stay on a baby, the issues around negative touch, increased stress after discharge or that she had been affected just as I had by the experience. I also hadn’t realised the impact of the arrival of her tiny sister was having, I guess she felt like she had lost me and was desperate for me to be all hers again. Also I was struggling, struggling to be the perfect mum, perfect wife. I had expectations around myself, our home and ultimately her too. I was swayed by others and what they wanted of me and in it all I had lost sight of what she needed. She was sensitive, unsure, shy and lacking in confidence that was all, her tantrums were a plea for me to notice her and her way of trying to communicate
I felt like I was an awful mum. I looked at myself in the mirror and gave myself a good talking to. Things had to change. I went out the bathroom picked her up into my arms and we sat and cried together her arms around my neck holding on for dear life like her tiny fists had in neonatal, while her tiny sister slept soundly nearby.
The issue was me, I needed to love her for who she was, change my expectations about myself and her and give her what she needed. What she needed was me, my time, my attention. I had to let go of what others thought I should do and do what was right for her. So I changed how I was with her.
I started to ignore her difficult times and praised her for all the good, I stopped cleaning and worrying about my housework and made sure she had my attention. I made sure she was always in sight of me or could hear my voice and when she threw her tantrums I just sat and held her and told her she would be ok. I also tried to respect her choices, such as a red or blue cup, cheese or ham sandwiches, even what outfit to wear. We made things, built things and had little projects. When I sat breastfeeding her sister we read stories or sang songs. I got her involved in caring for her sister too fetching nappies and picking out clothes. The change was dramatic.
Once I responded to her needs and accepted what she needed from me things fell into place. It was hard and at times I would still struggle with a sink full of dishes and a untidy house. I also struggled with others views of how they felt I should parent her. Some felt I was too lax and not strict enough, that I was letting her ‘get away with bad behaviour’. Yet I knew her, I knew what helped her and what she needed and at times the pressure of others was a hard burden to bare. I could see that she needed security and to feel safe, that she mattered and was noticed.
Her sister was different altogether. An easy birth filled with special moments and closeness from the start. She was settled and content and hardly cried. She was easy in so many ways. She would happily play or lie in her crib and I could leave the room without a peep. In fact I would often have to keep checking she was ok because she was so happy to just be by herself. She didn’t need me like her sister did. The tantrums never arrived and she seemed to take things in her stride. I would only need to look at her and never raise my voice for her to stop something that wasn’t right. So I had to parent her differently too. I had to give her different things and meet different needs. Mostly I had to make sure that she wasn’t crowded out by her sister and that she felt loved and supported too. She had a calmer nature but strong opinions and knew early what she did and didn’t want. She has a strength that has pushed her to achieve and fear little. She had logic that was clear and yet socially she excelled too. She had confidence and laid back ways. She was individual, just as wonderful, just as special.
Parenting is hard work. We are bombarded by advice both from those around us and also from books, the media and also how we were parented.
We can try to make our children fit the book or the boxes. We can expect them to meet our expectations and be how we want them to be.
But our children are as unique as snowflakes. Some are spirited, strong willed, or gentle and timid. Some need all our attention others are more independent. Some are sensitive and emotional, others are adventurous and dare takers. Some sleep, some don’t, some want to be held, some want to lie free.
So how can we possibly navigate the way to parent?
The answer is in knowing our children. We have to know them, their personality, their needs, then we can respond and provide what they seek.
The more we can go along with them and understand how we can work along with their unique ways then the easier it is for us and as a family. If we can provide a home where our children are free to grow and be who they are then we help them to flourish and grow.
It will not be easy as you will feel pressured to make you and your child conform to others views or opinions. Be strong and believe in the ability you have to nurture the life you have created. Your instincts if you listen and follow them can guide you. Our children do not fit any one way to parent, they will follow their own needs. We may try many ways before we find what works for them, and us, but that is the glorious journey of parenting. They are little people just like us with their own needs, wants, thoughts, likes and dislikes.
My younger daughter has always hated peas from being very small, I have always encouraged her to try them to see if her tastes have changed but she still maintained she hated them. I was berated by family for allowing her to be ‘picky’ and that she should eat what she was given. Why? Why would I accept this of her when I didn’t of myself. I don’t make myself eat something that I really don’t like so why would I her? If they didn’t want a yellow cup then it was ok to have pink, if they didn’t want red leggings today that was ok too, I would offer blue instead.
The issue was me, I needed to love her for who she was.
Encouragement, acceptance, love, attention, respect and knowing that their caregiver is a source of security is the best way to nurture our children be wonderful adults.
When we respond to their needs and love them as individuals we fire the synapses in their brains that wires them for a positive future. We all make mistakes and struggle along the way but our children have so much to teach us, if we let them.
I have learnt so much from my children as I have watched them grow, things about myself, about life and about how we each have our own gifts. I have learnt that it doesn’t matter if we are sensitive or emotional, logical or needing of company. It doesn’t matter if we are confident, shy, bold or adventurous. Like us our children are all beautiful in their own way. The way we support them as they grow can enhance that beauty.
Our children are in our arms for such a short time before they make their own way in this world. With the toils of everyday life we can wish this precious time away without knowing it. We long them to move to the next stage and can forget that each stage requires adjustments in how we parent. Stopping to reflect on what we give our children is important and vital to their wellbeing.
I can honestly say that parenting is the hardest journey but also full of much joy. I hope that my daughters look back and feel I did my best, that I gave them all I could to help them feel loved and cared for. I hope they know that they while individual and unique just like a snowflake, they are loved the same and without measure. x