When you read books about babies, or talk to most any set of parents, you’ll discover that babies are purported to be these docile, malleable, sleepy, eating on a 3-4 hour schedule and sleeping 16-20 hours a day type creatures. I can assure you that my oldest was not your average baby.
Grace was what one would call a high need baby. She was very sensitive to sound and texture and bright lights. She would take 45 minutes at a time to eat, and would have to work really hard to find a latch she liked and to stick with it. She would sleep an hour and a half between feedings. She never in her tiny life slept more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period. She was fussy and gassy and needed to be held constantly. She choked on even a preemie-sized pacifier, and was really only happy when she was being fed. I used to joke that for the first nine months of her life, all you really saw of her was the back of her head, because she was latched on almost all the time!
It took her until 15 months to take her first steps, and she had a host of delays that were gross and fine motor-related. I had no idea that she was behind or exceptional in any way until I had my second child to compare her to. Toilet training took quite a long time, and she wasn’t able to use the bathroom completely independently until she was almost 6. She had great difficulty putting on socks; it was imperative that tags be cut out of her shirts because they scratched her and left marks on her skin; she had a tendency to walk on her toes, and she sat in a W-position on the ground, because sitting cross-legged was unbearably uncomfortable to her legs.
She was high strung, very sensitive to criticism and tone of voice, and took nearly everything I said literally. I didn’t realize it at the time, but her delays in motor skills combined with her extreme sensitivities would lead to a diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder at age 6, followed by a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome at age 9.
I never knew any different, she was my oldest child, and this is the way I thought parenting was always going to be.
By the time my second daughter came along, I was well-trained to pay attention to her needs and to allow her to be her own little person, not expecting her to fit the mold of any description in any book. I was pleasantly surprised that she slept more than her older sister had, and ate on a very regular schedule. She turned out to be that “typical baby who sleeps and eats on a schedule.” I anticipated being needed far more than I had to be, and expected her to be as particular as her older sister had been, but she was a very agreeable little thing. She loved solid food, she walked at 11 months, and potty trained herself at 2 1/2. She was totally independent in the bathroom by age 3, and had excellent gross and fine motor skills. She could do cartwheels by age 3, and began to show remarkable skill as an artist at age 5.
By the time my next two children came along, I had a great understanding that each child is unique and each child is born with a particular personality. Children meet developmental milestones at different times, and each child needs differing levels of parental support. No child is really a “by the book baby”, and the more you accept your baby and are able to follow their cues, the less frustrated you’re both going to be.
As my children have grown, I’ve been able to understand their unique developments and parent each of them slightly differently. There are hard and fast rules that are implemented, of course… but knowing and understanding their unique personalities helps me respond to them each in the way each child best understands. When my oldest daughter is having a meltdown, she needs assistance to stop the spiraling emotions. She needs verbal reassurance, and often, some help in mapping out just what caused her to melt down. My second oldest is a child who can be sent to her own room to calm her own self down. And the more you speak to her in an authoritarian way, the more she will dig her heels in. It does no good to command her to do anything.
It takes a softer hand, and usually a choice to do things one way or another, rather than there being only one correct way and forcing her to submit to it. Those technicalities and flexibility help us both get what we want, without me being a pushover or them being a “brat”.
From the beginning of my journey as a parent, I have had an open mind and a willingness to pick up on cues and quirks of my own particular child to lead me in the way to be the best parent for them. They each have their own learning style, their own love language, and their own sense of personal style. I have a respect for them as individuals, and encourage their unique expressions of personality. I am fond of saying,
“I don’t have a favorite child. I love all of you the same and you all drive me equally crazy.”
What have you learned from your children about being a parent?
Photo credit to http://www.flickr.com/photos/76686190@N00/1175257930/ It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.