Friday, 20 May 2011

*That* Kind of Mum

This post is inspired by an impromptu blog carnival which I discovered via MJ at Wander Wonder Discover. It really sums up some of the things I'm beginning to learn about parenting, especially with my sensitive little boy.

This weekend I was on baby duty again* as Father Earthly did some more boatbuilding so that one day we might actually have a home (this time it was clearing out the bow in preparation for "the big move" - more later).

And, like so many times before, I struggled. Baby Earthly no. 1 was in a highly sensitive mood and I couldn't get him interested in anything. He just whinged, moaned, screamed, pulled away, flopped down, or just sat, inert, shy, or plain uninterested (so I thought). I tried to play with him at the park. Ordinarily he loves the slide but with me he just didn't seem to know what he wanted. He sat at the top of the slide, getting in the other kids' way and refusing to budge. I cajoled, I played silly, I tried to help him down, offered to catch him, teased, diverted his attention, climbed up to be with him (bearing in mind I had baby no. 2 strapped to me this was no mean feat) but all to no avail.

It was like that the whole day. And it has been like this many times before too. Last week I was in tears because he'd successfully screamed the local library and garden centre down. Oh the shame, of looking like the worst parent in the world! Not because he was "making a scene" but because I felt so utterly disconnected from him, my little boy. He just didn't seem to be part of me any more.

I always wanted to be a "natural" parent. Unfortunately it hasn't always worked out that way. I have found myself wanting to control, to coerce, to reprimand when things aren't going how I want them to. I've struggled against the urge to snap or shout or even (gulp) be vindictive (no you can't have that toy because I've had enough and because I say so) when my nerves are frayed and I'm entering meltdown. In fact, I've learned a whole lot more about myself as a person since becoming a mum (and particularly to no. 1). And I've been surprised at what I found: the good, the bad and the ugly.

I've read a lot about sensitive kids since we realised that's what baby no. 1's "problem" was. There are so many great resources out there, not least those bloggers (and the commenters too!) who have dared to bare all and speak candidly and openly about the topic (wonderfully, there's too many to mention, but do visit the Natural Parents Network for support). Books worth mentioning are Playful Parenting (on my reading shelf currently) and The Highly Sensitive Child (which I don't have but have seen recommended a lot).

But somehow knowing and even recognising the underlying causes or issues has not helped me to deal with the resulting behaviour. Even through all the times I've been 'playing at' the good mum, the tuned-in mum, the sensitive mum, I think it's been somewhat mechanical, a means to an end and no more. Because I've felt frustrated, fed up, disappointed even. I've been grieving over a sense of severe disconnect.

Until now. I hope. The last few days I've really been trying to look beneath the tantrums and 'oddities' to discover afresh my baby boy. And the more I look, the more I see. The more I see, the more I want to delve deeper. I've realised, in fact, that the "problem" may have been mostly with me after all. I so desperately wanted to "connect" with him that I was ignoring his needs and desires, feeling them somehow inferior or just a plain nuisance. So he wants to guddle in the gravel rather than plant seeds with me; so he'll have a cuddle but only when he wants to and for as long (or as short) and as often as he wants; so he doesn't want to play in the park because actually he's really tired and feeling overwhelmed; so he will insist on watching 'Thomas' at every possible opportunity; so he will sit and move his crayons between containers rather than draw me a picture; so he will pick the banana off his sandwich and the veg off his pizza. So what? Just because those things don't tally with my desires doesn't mean they are wrong.

Before I became a parent, and indeed until my little one became a toddler, I had all sorts of ideas about how things should or could be done. Most of us do. And we are all guilty of a bit of parenting snobbery. But the biggest thing I've learnt as a mum is truly, what 'natural parenting' really means. It does not mean being the greenest or most alternative parents in the neighbourhood with your home-birthed, fully breastfed, organic-real-nappy-wearing, co-sleeping offspring (however commendable those things are in themselves). It does not mean 'permissive parenting' or 'spoiling' or simply being lax and irresponsible. It does mean dropping down to their level and learning to understand them through play. It does mean communicating effectively with your children (like ECing, it's all about cues) and parenting in a mindful or conscious manner. It does mean following your intuition and realising that actually it's so much easier to win 'good' behaviour when you're not at loggerheads, and so much more pleasant all round!

Today I feel closer to my little boy than I ever have before, simply through re-evaluating my own expectations and desires. I would like to think, now, I am that kind of mum.
* In saying this, I'm not in any way saying Father E doesn't do his share of childcare duties. He does. And way, way more than most men would/could/should. He is truly wonderful.


  1. Beautiful, thank you so much for sharing so honestly :).

  2. Thanks MJ! Your post really resonated and helped me to slot some things into place... I also loved your Harry Potter post :)


  3. So very true. I've had similar light bulb moments with Midi and everything has suddenly become so much easier somehow. As it happens we've just had a couple of lovely days after a couple of weeks of angst. I'm really happy to hear you've experienced a positive shift too. x

  4. Lovely post, and spot on! Thanks for joining the carnival.

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  6. I've said some of this to you in person, but it's worth repeating here. I think one of the things that's helped both of us come to terms with Baby Earthly no 1's sensitivity is seeing just how placid Baby Earthly no 2 is. It's by seeing another child react positively to our "alternative" parenting style, that we see that we're NOT doing EVERYTHING wrong. By suddenly not blaming ourselves for his behaviour, we can concentrate on satisfying his needs, not trying to fix his problems.

  7. Lovely post, and spot on! Thanks for joining the carnival.


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