Thursday, June 24, 2010

Better or different?

Every child is different. And every parent realizes this shortly after the second child is born.

For us, the births were entirely different.
The sleeping patterns were different.
The ages they accomplished things were different.
I could go on and on.

Somehow the differences stand out. We had to make up our mind - do we judge one as better than the other, or just different?

We worried that our son couldn't compete with his sister academically, socially, athletically. She shone in all the easy and obvious ways. So, one day I sat down and made a list of his strengths.

He's energetic. Creative. Affectionate. Strong-minded. Confident. Imaginative. Funny. Focussed. He can draw. He can sing. He's a leader.

Once we knew his strengths, we could help him see himself in a whole new light.

It wasn't about who he was compared to his sister. It was about - who he was. Unique. Wonderful in his own way.

And with this we fostered tolerance and love of diversity. And a self-esteem that couldn't be shaken.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wrestling with the No-sleep Monster

We had trouble getting our first child to sleep almost from the get-go.

She was a nursing baby, but she rarely nursed to sleep. Oh no - life was too interesting. She'd finish nursing and then blink up at me as if to say, "Okay, Mom, what next?"

Then it was Dad's turn. He had the "magic shoulder". He would walk with her... and walk with her... and walk with her... When it looked like she was asleep, he'd stop walking and look down, holding his breath and hoping. But she would lift her head and look at him as if to say, "Okay Daddy, what next?" Eventually, she really would fall asleep and we would both breathe a sigh of relief. And if we were very, very lucky, she would stay asleep when we laid her down in her crib.

She was very good at sleeping, once asleep. At 3 months old, she would sleep 11 hours at a stretch. This routine lasted until she was 6 months old. Suddenly, it got harder and harder to get her to fall asleep at night. Her bedtime slipped from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., then midnight, then 2 a.m. Soon she was falling asleep at 5:30 in the morning and sleeping until 4:30 in the afternoon. She'd watch TV with me all night and wake up in time to see Dad walk in the door from work.

This was not ideal for us. We picked up books on how to get a baby to sleep and tried the "crying it out" routine. The first night, she cried for 3 hours (and so did I) before finally falling asleep. The second night, it took 45 minutes. After that, only 10.

We thought we had fixed the problem, until we visited my parents' house or the baby got a cold. Any change in routine and we had to start all over again. It was painful for all of us.

It wasn't until our daughter was 2 that we finally found a solution. By this time, she was sleeping in a grown-up-sized bed with a wall on one side and a protective railing on the other. We had our little bedtime routine - reading a book together, singing a song - then lights out. I would cuddle with her under the covers and then I would say good-night. Then, no matter what she said or did, I didn't respond. I was pretending to be asleep. (Of course I would respond if she became truly agitated for some reason, but that never happened).

She would babble for a few minutes, then play with my face, then lay quietly,and finally, after about 10 minutes and 2 distinct yawns, she would fall asleep. When I was sure she was sleeping soundly, I would slip out from under the covers and go spend the rest of the evening with my husband.

I loved having this special time with my child, just the two of us. It left us both with a feeling of security and love. There is nothing like a peaceful bedtime routine for living happily ever after.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Time with our children

When I was little, there were only two things I wanted to be when I grew up – an actress and a mom. I spent my childhood taking drama classes, going to drama camp and majoring in theater in college. But, when it was time to choose a career for myself, I realized that having a family and being a mom was more important to me.

Some people would frown on that choice, I suppose. Everyone knows that a woman can do everything today, right? Well, I’m not so sure.

One of my mother’s closest friends once exclaimed to me that she didn’t understand why women didn’t stay home with their children. After all, it was such a short time in a woman’s life, and it goes by so quickly. She can work before and after, right? But, the time with one’s children is so precious.

This made an impression on me. So, after my husband earned his graduate degree and landed a full-time job in his field, we decided to see if we could live on his salary (my earnings would be “extra”) so I would have the option of staying home with the children. That’s precisely what I did and I don’t regret it for a moment.

How do women do it? Work full or part-time and still raise a family? I know they manage somehow and I imagine it is a constant juggling act.

For me, I had no choice. I couldn’t leave my children. I needed to be there with them every day, to witness every delightful expression that pops out of their mouths or shows on their faces… to discover finger painting and chalk mazes on the driveway… play playdoh with them and bake cookies… sing Sesame Street songs and plan birthday parties. I didn’t want to miss a moment.

Sometimes if I planned too many activities, I could see the stress in my children’s behavior and realized it was time to have a quiet afternoon at home. It made all the difference. Quiet time. Time to read. Time to be.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Heading off sibling rivalry

Between our two children, we never had much sibling rivalry, and as I look back, I realize we took steps pretty early to prepare our elder child for the arrival of her brother. This was important to me, because I believe my own older sibling had a difficult time adjusting to my birth.

Our efforts began with simply talking to our almost two-year-old about “our baby”, including her in the ownership of him. Months before the birth, we borrowed books from the library about a baby in the house and being an older sister and read them to her frequently.

We planned a special welcome event. We bought a gift that the baby could “give” our daughter and a gift that our daughter chose to give the baby. We exchanged these gifts at the hospital when the children met for the first time. This promoted such good feelings right from the start. I believe she could still tell you today what that gift was. It meant something to her.

Once home, we showed her how to touch the baby, always gently, and where she could touch him – his hand, his back. We encouraged her to talk to him, and sing to him.

Most importantly, we made sure that mom and daughter still had some one-on-one time together. When nursing the baby, I would often read to her. At bedtime, my husband would take over with the baby for a while so I could do the bedtime routine with our daughter, just the two of us.

I’ll never forget one night, when tucking her in. She said, “Mama?”

“Hm?” I replied.

“What happened to us?”

I stared at her and my heart leapt up into my throat. Did she mean what I thought she meant? Was my daughter, just a few months past two, asking me to explain why things had changed?

“Well,” I began. “We have a baby in the family now,” the words stumbled out.

Yes, something had changed and she certainly noticed. Was the new baby a blessing or a curse? It would be another two years before he would be old enough to really play with her. But, then, ah… the magic would begin. A companion. A playmate. A source of inspiration and entertainment. And, a partial substitute for mom. Because when all is said and done, I can never really give her my undivided attention again.