When I graduated from KU in the fall of 2010 I thought, “Whew, what a relief. Now I can relax. I can keep my house clean and read the books and documentaries that I check out from the library and never get to (and inevitability forget about and end up paying fines for).” I signed up for a water zumba class and took an afternoon knitting course at the local yarn store. By February of 2011 I felt myself getting antsy. Sure I was reading more and water zumba was fun but something was missing. Then one day I was talking to Wade, who was also filling antsy, and he said, “I’m a guy. Guys need projects. Why do you think men tinker in the garage and watch sports? We need something that we are working on.” I thought about Wade. The times that he is the most content in our family life are the times when he is working on something. When he built Henry’s tree house he spent days in the yard, sweating and obviously feeling very invigorated by the project at hand. When he put the screen door up he actually called me at work to tell me about it and when I walked in the door that evening he led me over to the door, waiting for praise for a job well-done. A light blub went on; I looked back over the course of our relationship….duh. He is always happier when he is working on something. My own need for projects wasn’t as clear to me at that time. I really thought that keeping up the house and socializing with friends, things that I had to let go when I was working 50 hours and week and taking 3 classes, would be fulfilling and that what I was really missing my life were those extra hours of relaxation.
Then my biggest project came. Well, my second biggest project. I was feeling sick for weeks and started to think that something was wrong with me. A thought occurred to me, wait, when was my last period? Uh-oh. Sure enough, that March we discovered that Baby #2 was on her way. Actually, I wouldn’t call being pregnant with Pippy a project. Although it was very time consuming. Being pregnant the second time around was more a lesson in survival. A 5 year old boy is a lot to deal with. They are so full of energy that heat actually radiates off of them. And being sick 24 hours a day and feeling so tired that I could actually fall asleep standing up, that made matching his energy impossible. My goal was simply to stay awake enough to make sure that he didn’t hurt himself. One day I was just sitting on the couch watching him build legos and then next thing I knew I woke up and the neighbors kids where playing in his room. How did that happen? It was not my greatest moment as a parent. I was barely keeping my head above water. By the summer I was feeling less sick and maybe slightly less tired. I still couldn’t come close to keeping up with him but at least I wasn’t sleeping through the doorbell ringing and 3 children playing right in front of me. I relied a lot on the computer during that time. I’m not proud of it. I would lie on the floor in front of the door in the computer room and he would play games. That way if he got up to leave the room it would wake me up. “I just need a 10 minute nap and then I’ll feel normal again.” I would tell myself. “Wade will be home at 6 and then I can make dinner, I’ll feel better after I get some food in my belly.” I didn’t feel better and a 10 minute nap didn’t make even the slightest difference (who am I kidding; most naps were at least 45 minutes).
Speed ahead to November 2011. Pippy is almost here. I am spending all my time setting up her room, researching natural childbirth, trying to come up with a plan for what to do with Henry if my Mom is out of town when she’s born, organizing whatever I can organize while sitting down, cleaning what I can clean that doesn’t require bending over (not much, by the way) and feeling guilty for not having a clean enough house or enough food stored up in the freezer for after she arrives. I figured that by the time I hit that third trimester I would be on a roll. Less sleepy and better able to get my life organized for her arrival. Didn’t happen. It was almost a year of my life that I spent in a fog, feeling sick and barely awake. Honestly, I’m glad we all survived. I can’t believe I didn’t give someone food poisoning or wreck the car.
Pippy arrived and I felt better about 15 minutes after that last push. It’s hard to believe but I actually had more energy after labor then I did before. I stayed up until 3 am the night she was born (she was born at 9 pm). My hips no longer hurt. My feet didn’t feel like sticks of butter anymore. The back pain was gone. I felt great. The nurses would come in over the next 2 days and try to push meds on me and I would say, “Seriously, I haven’t felt this good in months. I don’t need anything. But where were you 2 weeks ago when I had to use a hanger to put on my socks?” Henry’s birthday came a week after she was born. I was frantically trying to plan something. We ended up having a small family gathering. Henry didn’t seem to mind that we didn’t have a friend party. What a relief. I told myself I would really do it up for him next year. Next came Christmas. I clamored to find gifts for him and racked my brain for ideas of what to give my family with no money (hospital bills and no maternity pay at my work) and no time to make anything. We put the tree up one week before Christmas. I didn’t put up any other decorations. I told myself it was good enough but the guilt was building up. I know the importance of rituals for children. He is finally old enough to remember and these are the memories that I am creating for him. First the months of computer, then I slacked on his birthday and now Christmas is half-ass. What kind of a mother am I?
It’s two months later. Henry is still playing too much computer. And by too much I mean about an hour a day. I hate it. I didn’t take my own parenting advice that I give other new moms- don’t do anything that you are not prepared and willing to do 100 more times. It’s true. He expects to play the computer every day now. He prefers it to other activities. I also feel the distance between us. We did what I think a lot of people do when the new baby comes; dad fills in with the big kids while mom handles the baby. It seems good in theory but what happens to the bonds with the older kids? I missed being with Henry. Even if it was just to lie in the doorway and listen to him build a new city on Lego.com. Now when he comes to talk to me I am often half distracted with the baby. I find myself saying, “We’ll do that in a minute.” And then the minute never arrives. He doesn’t complain but I can feel the separation between us. He still asks to lay down with me and read stories at night, even though it’s only happened three times since she was born. It’s only a matter of time before he forgets that we used to do that. It’s juggling. And the thing is, it’s not that I just feel bad for him, I feel bad for myself too. When I was in school I would put him to bed and then go to the back room to study. I never let schoolwork interfere with our time. Now “our time” doesn’t even exist. I should be glad that Henry and his Papa are so close, and I am, but it feels bad to be replaced and I am not ready to be not needed by my first baby.
Henry’s behavior has changed a little bit since the baby arrived. It’s not dramatic. He hasn’t stopped using the potty and he's no yelling all the time. But I can see a difference. He’s less patient. He complains about always being bossed around. He glares when we ask him to pick up his stuff. He interrupts Wade and I constantly and if he is separated from us, even by just a few feet, he is constantly yelling, “Look at this. Check this out.” He is a fantastic kid. Funny and smart and sensitive and eager to please. I see who he is now and I don’t feel alarmed, but I worry about him slipping. I feel like the bond we have is weaker than it was a year ago. It's not broken but it is stretched. I worry that I won’t see the damage I’ve done until it’s too late.
About a month ago I started feeling antsy again. I panicked. I probably need a project, like Wade said, but I’ve got no time for projects. My house is mess. My bathroom is dirty. Laundry piles are building up and dinners are not as nutritious as they used to be. Maybe I just need to relax more. So I picked up Mindy Kalings book and started reading. I flew through it (so funny) and about half way through I realized my new project. Her book made me realize that being a better parent, figuring out what Henry needs from me right now and building that bond, is my new, very important project. It’s funny; her book is not a parenting book or a book that really has anything to do with childhood. I just read it and thought to myself, “This is a funny, well rounding, ambitious and confident woman. I wish I could interview her parents and find out how they did it.” I think that all the time about certain people that I meet. How did they get here? What did their parents do right? What I was able to pick up from her book was that her parents were strict and had high expectations. I’ve seen that before with other well-rounded children I'd met. I took note.
Then I went to the library and instead of checking out documentaries I would never have time to watch I checked out parenting books. I asked friends for their tips and for books that they liked.
This is what I learned:
-The most important thing you can do is bond with your child. A well bonded child will want to do the right thing. Bond with your child by being near him, expressing interest in what HE is interested in (not you) and find shared interests
-Let him know his significance in your life. Give excessive affection. Henry responds to physical affection. I love you might not mean as much to a little kid (but I tell him it 100 times a day anyway).
-Listen without judgment; be on his side at all times (you can teach later). Your child needs to feel your loyalty. Teaching moments come at other times. Don’t try to teach a child that is upset or angry. Just sympathize and help him find the words to communicate his feelings.
-When your child misbehaves stop to figure out why. Is he tired? Is he eating well? Is he sick? Does he need something from you that you are not giving him? -Fix the problem not the symptom. Focus on understanding what the child was trying to communicate with his behavior, and respond. Be strict about bed times and food, it’s very important.
-Give your child freedom to explore – loads of time outdoors, playing with friends, especially imaginary and creative play. Don’t tell you child how to play.
-Expectations are very important. Expect good manners and pleasant behavior. Catch your child doing the right thing and make a big stink about it. Make sure your child knows what your expectations are and warn them when they are on the wrong path. Be clear about the consequences of their actions. Make the punishment fit the crime.
-Be firm. You’re the boss. Don’t negotiate. Listen. Understand. Stick to your guns. If you’re not sure say, “I’ll think about it” and then come back to it later.
-Focus on rituals and stories.
-Give some of the power back. Let him make choices that don’t affect the big picture. Let him pick his clothes or chose the route to take to the store. Let him pick between healthy options for meals. Give him an allowance to spend how he wants and chores to complete each week.
-Nurture the relationship he has with other adults in his life. The more adults in his life the better.
-Give excessive attention to the big picture – that the child is not an adult; a five-year old is not a 10-year old; a 10 year-old is not a 13-year old; a 13-year old is not an 18-year old.
-Let your child be known. Celebrate his uniqueness and remind him of his importance in your life every chance you get.
-Avoid overly general statements. I’m proud of you doesn’t mean much to a kid. But I’m proud of you when you do ABC does.
So I broke it down in to steps. One item per week. This week it’s bonding. I have to spend time with Henry (and I want to), but it’s hard with the new baby. I will find a way to spend a half an hour with Henry every day doing something that he enjoys. If I have to put the baby in the swing and only get to do it for 10 minute segments, then so be it, but it will be three 10 minute segments everyday. Also, bed time is too important to miss. I will read with him every night and tuck him in. Wade can brush teeth and help him with his shower but I want to be there to tuck my boy in.
I’m excited about this new project. I understand that it is ongoing and that my relationship with Henry will be a life long journey. And I’m thankful for that.