I spent some time with a newborn today. A sweet-smelling, tiny, tiny little newborn. He's four weeks old and his mum is utterly exhausted.
The newborn 'woke up' about a week ago and his mum hasn't slept since. That bubba won't sleep anywhere except on his mummy and no one gets any sleep when a newborn is grunting and wheezing and fidgeting around on you. So, she's had about 4 hours sleep since Sunday. Yep, I know that feeling.
I waltzed in there ready to save the day with all my (hard earned!) knowledge about settling, pausing, listening and wrapping. I wrapped that little tyke up in my special take-no-prisoners wrap ("this wrap is tiny," I screeched. "Get me flannette cot sheet, stat!"). I cuddled and smooched that little bubba ("give him some loving") and then I lay him in his bed and I said, "Off to sleep you go, little fella." ("And we walk away, alert, but not alarmed.")
He grizzed up, of course. I fully expected him to hit the roof in seconds like ol' Maxi-Taxi used to do, but this young fella had nothing on him. A bit of random wailing and protesting, but nothing that escalated. He was bringing himself back down within 10 seconds of crying up.
"See, he's totally fixable," I said firmly. "He's already self-settling himself and he'll be off to sleep in minutes."
"Oh my sweet god, listen to him!" My friend wailed. "Oh that poor little boy!"
It's easy when the baby isn't yours, I thought. Nothing affects you like your own baby's cries.
I needed to investigate this a little bit further.
"Why do you think he's a poor little boy?" I asked her. "He's doing beautifully and he's already showing us that he can self-soothe and find his way to sleep. I'm dead impressed."
"But he's all alone in the cot!" She sobbed. "All alone!"
All alone in the cot.
Tells you loads, doesn't it? It certainly told me loads about why I seem to have endless patience when it comes to my own children and sleep. Why I know so very, very much about babies and children and sleep and what works and what might and mostly what doesn't. Why I managed to sit with one or the other of them for, oh, about seven years.
As soon as my friend said "he's all alone in the cot" I had a memory spring into my mind as fresh as if it had happened yesterday. My sister and I sharing a room, me scared at night and her, though younger, soothing me through many nights. She must have been about five and I six or seven. One night I confessed that I was scared to go to sleep alone and she said to me, "I will stay awake until you go to sleep. Then you won't be alone." And that was all I needed.
I think we carry our own childhood fears right into our parenting style. I think the thing that worried us the most when we were little (and maybe still worries us now) is the thing we imagine concerns our own babies and children. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. It is as we imagine it to be.
Another friend has a daughter that throws the most amazing tantrums. They are spectacular. She is endlessly patient with her screaming, pounding daughter in a way that I can hardly fathom. My children threw about three tantrums each and every single time I just completely ignored them (going so far as to actually step over Cappers in the supermarket bread asile at one point). I heard the cries and angst and fretting as much as any parent, but it didn't affect me in the slightest.
But then, I was scared of the dark as a child, not scared of no one listening to me. Not scared of being left out. I think if I'd have had those fears, I might have had more patience with attention-seeking tantrums too. I might have been less inclined to ignore them if I was worried my child would feel left behind.
The poor eater, the clingy child, the tantrum-chucker, the abysmal sleeper. Every child an individual, every parent an individual too. An individual with plenty of baggage to unpack into the relationship and a seemingly fathomless ability to empathise on some things but absolutely not on others... makes you wonder...
Do you think our own fears affect the way we perceive our children?
[Image by Aaron Gilson]