Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Adolescent Parent

This post has nothing to with teenage parents, or the parents of teenagers, so sorry if you've stopped by hoping for advice on what to do with a long-haired, spotty monster who lives in the room your baby used to occupy; or if you've found yourself in the terrifying position of becoming a parent before you've quite finished being a child. I'm afraid in the case of the former, you're several years ahead of me and I'll probably be asking you for tips one day. If the latter, then I hope you have support (real, pro-your-choice, helpful support). If not, send me a message or something and I can ask my friend Google for impartial advice or just be a sounding board. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone who's objective.
Anyway. I digress. The adolescence I'm referring to is a state of mind I've come across in myself where I started out with the kinds of lofty and inflexible ideals usually found in teenagers, only to find that in the real world, they don't quite work. (I don't mean to be patronising to teenagers there, I'm drawing solely on my own experience of being a bit of an insufferable know-it-all between the ages of 12 and about....well, it started when I was a teenager or as good as, so let's blame that. When it stops, I'll let you know). You might be familiar with the type - from speaking to and observing others I find that I was by no means as unique as I thought I was during those years. You know - "I'll never work for a big corporation/all possession is theft/meat is murder" etc etc. I know there are many admirable people who do define their principles as teenagers and manage to unswervingly stick to them throughout life, and I have respect for their tenacity (though I do think that sometimes a bit of flexibility shows a commitment to personal growth and adapting to your environment isn't necessarily a bad thing, but again, I digress. Please bear with me, this is going somewhere - it's just that it's 4:16 am and I'm not really sure where. How did I get here, again?)
Ah yes - adolescent parenting. Even before I was pregnant or planning to be (to be honest, I never planned to be, but there's a story for another day), I held very firm beliefs on how I would raise my child(ren). These beliefs were as set in stone as some of the beliefs I held as a teenager, and, I now know, just as incompatible with my own life and character.
An example. When I was about 22, I worked in a restaurant. There was a family who used to come in every Sunday lunchtime at 1 o'clock - mum, dad and The World's Best-Behaved Baby. I swear, they would walk through the door, TWBBB would smilingly greet his adoring public (mainly consisting of me and my boss), they would be seated, order some wine, wave a magic wand and the baby would fall asleep for two hours. EVERY WEEK FOR 6 MONTHS. At first, I thought it was a coincidence, but it went on and on happening. After ascertaining that they weren't drugging him, I enquired as to what witchcraft was this that they were so casually employing in public. Their reply? "Gina Ford."
I was fascinated, and swore to myself that, were I ever to reproduce, I would buy that book and do whatever that woman said. I was sold before they started in on the "he sleeps from 6pm - 8am every night, has 3 naps a day, is a developmental genius and his dirty nappies contain golden eggs" speech. My children were going to be Gina Ford-ed to within an inch of their lives.
Fast forward 6 or 7 years. I'm in the slightly surprising situation of being pregnant and happy about it. I duly get myself onto Amazon, order the baby bible, and wait with bated breath for it to arrive. When it does, I dive into it and emerge some time later, fearful and shaken. I don't like it. I don't think it will work for me. I find myself focusing on the reviews that bemoan the rigidity and lack of freedom for both mother and child, rather than the "laying golden eggs" ones. But I'm far from home, living in a different country to my family, and unsure how to be a mum without the book to tell me what to do. I resolve to see what happens when the baby is born.
The baby is duly born, as they tend to be. I haven't looked at Gina since.
I realise that I'm leaning a bit more towards attachment parenting. We don't co-sleep (Daddy Cool still smokes and is too much of a deep yet fidgety sleeper to risk it), though the Littlest Cat is still in our room. We don't use a sling, purely because the Littlest Cat very vocally eschews any form of carrying that doesn't require both hands and a genuine effort to be made on the part of his willing servants. But I'm breastfeeding, I'm reading up on baby-led weaning, I'm telling myself that Cry It Out and Controlled Crying is torture, I'm generally into the whole idea.
My return to work date looms. My angel baby suddenly stops sleeping through the night and starts refusing to go to bed after his bath. His long-established bedtime ritual of bath at 7:30, feed, cuddle, chat until sleep takes him, usually between 9pm and half past, stops working. One night, Daddy Cool is working a rare weeknight late shift, and LC just will not lie down without screaming. He falls asleep in my arms countless times, only to wake in full voice every time I lay him on the bed of nails that his bed has become. This goes on for four hours.
In desperation, I put him down and leave him in the Moses basket while I eat some chocolate and despair of ever sleeping again. I post a status on Facebook about wishing I still smoked, just to calm my shredded nerves. A couple of people comment, telling me to do the controlled crying method of waiting 5 minutes, soothing, waiting 10, soothing, etc. I argue. 5 minute pass while I disagree and explain my views on CIO.  I go back in, soothe my baby and realise I'm still not calm.  I quiet him and leave again to try to gather my thoughts. A minute after leaving for the second time, he is asleep.
Now I'm in a quandary. I don't like controlled crying!  Is that what I just did? But all of these people, people that I respect as parents and as human beings, are telling me to give it a go. What to do?
That's when it hits me. There is no right or wrong answer. Do what works - for me, for him, for us as a family. So I tried it again tonight. It worked.  There was no full voice screaming, because I wouldn't have been able to handle that.  It was more "Grumble and Whinge For A Few Minutes" than anything so dramatic as "Cry It Out", really.  It appears that my son actually prefers to be put down while drowsy and left to drift off to sleep on his own, rather than sung and swung and shushed to sleep.  How can he be growing up already?!
It may be coincidence. It may be a one off. Tomorrow, all the rules may change again, as they have constantly throughout this terrifying, exhilarating journey of parenthood. And that's OK. I'm learning that that's OK. As a person with very strong opinions, it is difficult for me to realise that a) I don't know everything and b) Adapting and being flexible is not failure - it's survival. It's evolution. It's OK.
I don't need to be ashamed of changing my mind.
What a revelation.

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