Growing With Them
When I was pregnant with my first child, so many people made comments to me about how much my life would change and how hard it would be to raise a baby. Then, 10 months later we were expecting our second child and the comments went from polite warnings to full blown red flags. Babies are hard, but two toddlers will be impossible, they said. I believe these people were well intentioned and warm hearted, simply offering up a little bit of their own experience to drape a veil of caution over my rose-colored new-mother outlook.
While I am proud to say that I am now expecting my fifth child and I remain fully decked out in rose-colored parenthood goggles, there aren’t any heavy drapes of expectation preventing me from the sheer reality that parenthood is certainly difficult. I struggled though postpartum depression after Jack was born; I wasn’t sleeping and breastfeeding was sucking the life and soul out of me. The first few months with two babies will certainly go down in the books as some of my most challenging moments ever. Now that I have a little bit of hindsight and experience raising children for nearly 10 years, I am keenly aware of the different challenges that present themselves with all ages and stages. For me personally, these last couple of years with my oldest two have caught me in a place that I really didn’t have answers for. I could make my way through my own struggles of making sure the babies were fed, changed, rested and happy, but now that I’m not the one in control of their emotional and mental well-being, I am having a hard time.
Babies are challenging, but the layers that keep piling on as my children get older and more responsible for themselves socially, academically and emotionally has left me wringing my hands often as of late. My daughter Zoe, who is nearly eight years old, is outgoing, strong-willed, confident and generally a very happy kid. She is effortlessly thoughtful, cognizant and deliberate about caring for her peers and their emotions, as well as her relationships with children on the playground who aren’t necessarily a part of her friends group (much of this I know because the information has been relayed to me through classroom teachers and volunteers). I can talk to her after school-or at any point in time-about these things and she is happy as can be to share with me. All children and people of all ages have their personality differences and things that make them special and unique, and sometimes those differences are never more stark than amongst siblings. Each of our children are completely the opposite from each other in so many ways, and it’s presented such diversity and eclecticism to our family and our experience as parents, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
We’ve learned in the last few years especially how critical communication is and how each child responds differently. It’s become more and more crucial for us to build safe spaces within our relationships with our kids so that they know they can talk to us. Frankly this has been my biggest parenting challenge thus far, and I’ve learned to lean heavily on my parent peers and resources liketo help guide me through the big conversations, but also to give me ideas on how to prepare each child’s different safe place within our relationship. Where it’s easy for me to approach one child, it’s exceedingly difficult to get to the same place with another. I have found that each one of my children appreciates alone time with us, so much so that I can almost watch our relationship and trust blossom in real time. We carve out a couple of hours each week devoted to only one-on-one time, like a yogurt or library date just the two of us. In the past, I’ve tried being chatty with them because I am so eager to know every little thing in their world, but I’ve learned that the more I listen, the more they open up. No agenda, just special time together because we’re worth it.
I’m certain that our challenges will have their peaks and valleys as the kids get older and their lives & personal relationships get more complicated, so it’s so incredibly important that they know that they can come talk with me. I’m not a wizard by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t believe that it’s impossible to have a beautiful, trustworthy relationship with my children as they get older. It is my top priority, and I certainly depend on helpful organizations likeand their Talk Early program to guide me through knowing what to talk about, and how to approach some of the more difficult topics. My gut instincts around more than a few of these topics have been misguided, and I’m grateful to have a place that I can go as a parent to research the best approaches.