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Getting Ahead of Ourselves

Posted by on December 22, 2013

One of the advantages of waxing eloquent about your own parenting is that you can highlight the successes and gloss over the mistakes. Not that WE would ever do such a thing, of course! ;-) The truth is that there are a few things we wish we could do over. Usually they had to do with our response to the boys not reaching certain developmental milestones as soon as we had expected.

The nerve.

For example, there came a point in Gerrit’s development when we decided it was a good idea to let him cry himself to sleep. This was important! We didn’t want him developing the idea that bedtime was a game where he could get us to come running every time he cried! We also didn’t want to be the kind of parents who felt like it was their duty to be at their child’s beck and call. We had seen other parents fall into that trap and we weren’t about to let that happen to us! So one night we closed the door and let him wail. It was important for Gerrit’s character.

But Gerrit had a lot of stamina, and he could cry for a LONG time.

This was pretty miserable for us, not only because we couldn’t turn the TV up loud enough to drown him out, but because our first born child clearly wasn’t grasping the fact that this was a character issue!!!  We were flummoxed. I even set up the video camera in his room one night to record the whole process. For nearly thirty minutes after we put him down Gerrit stood up in his crib and cried and cried. Then without warning, he just plopped down and went to sleep. Unfortunately, the video didn’t really provide any useful information about what we could do to reduce the duration of his crying.

Thankfully around this time we heard about a bedtime routine that had worked for some other folks, and since we were nearly at our wits end, we decided to give it a shot. The idea was to come back in after he’d been crying for about 5 minutes and get him settled down again. Then we would leave and, if he started crying again, we’d wait 10 minutes before responding again. Then 15, then 20…

Gerrit’s response to this method was amazing!

I’m sure there are some really nifty psychological theories at work here, but my best explanation is that Gerrit just got comfortable with the idea that we weren’t abandoning him anymore. Eventually we were going to come back in and check on him, so he could relax. When he relaxed, he went to sleep. The increasing time interval between visits also gave us a sense that we were still in control, so we could finally relax. It was a win-win! He probably still didn’t get the whole character connection, but we had other opportunities to reinforce that idea.

Like when we decided it was time for him to give up his pacifiers.

No one likes to think that their child will go off to college with a pacifier clamped between his teeth. There’s a rational part of our brain that tells us this will never happen, but when culmination of your parenting prowess is still walking around at 20 months with a pacifier in each hand plus one in his mouth, you can’t help but worry a little. Especially when most of his little friends have already moved beyond the passy stage. We were pretty convinced that the whole thing probably reflected poorly on our parenting, so we needed to do something about it, and soon. The passies had to go, and Karen came up with what seemed like a brilliant way to do it.

We would give Gerrit a choice.

One of the things we wanted to instill in our children was an understanding about the power of choices and the importance of weighing the consequences before we decide. Looking back, we might have been getting just a tad ahead of ourselves expecting an 20 month old to grasp all of that, but at the time we were positively stoked about how this was all going to turn out! We knew that Gerrit would make the right choice.

We knew it because we were going to snip off the ends of all his pacifiers.

[The end of pacifiers]

All these years and two more boys later, this is all a bit embarrassing. Poor Gerrit. We just wanted the best for him but we were definitely in more of a hurry than we needed to be. Perhaps if we’d just waited a little longer he would have given up his pacifiers on his own. I suspect so.

As parents we all want our kids to develop and achieve. It’s natural to want to push them when they don’t seem to be meeting the schedule in our heads, but the truth is that there really isn’t any schedule. Each of our kids is a unique creation with his own personality and rhythms, and the fact that other kids start doing certain things before ours is natural. Tough on the ego maybe, but natural.

We used the wait-between-visits technique with all our boys and it worked beautifully. We didn’t snip the passies for either of our other two boys and somehow they all turned out alright.

In fact, I’m proud to say that at 23, 20, and 16 years old, not one of them still uses a pacifier :-)

.originally published 10/13/11| next post Time

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