Sometimes creating a self-imposed rule is a good thing. For example, I will only eat one cookie or I will drink at least 70 ounces of water a day. Sometimes though, I think that we get ideas that certain self-imposed rules are expected. I find this happens to me most often in parenting.
Instead of trusting my instincts and using moderation, I find myself wondering what other parents like me are doing about a particular issue. How are they handling screen time? Bedtime? Toys with batteries? Plastic toys? Sweets? The list can go on and on and on and on!
About a week and a half ago, I was part of a discussion with a friend where she said, “Letting go of self-imposed constraints is so freeing!” in the context of parenting. I had never thought of it, but I think that parenting Jonas as an infant is the first time I was really able to let go of many of *my* self-imposed rules. Kael was born 4 weeks early, so doing everything right seemed even more important to me after he experienced difficulties nursing and jaundice right off the bat. I remember setting him down for a nap one day because it was “time.” He laid in his crib and babbled and talked for about an hour without falling asleep. By the time Jason got home for lunch, I was near tears! I didn’t know what to do. He was supposed to nap so he could wake up and eat. If he didn’t eat, he wouldn’t gain weight. He was already early and small. What was I going to do?!?!? Looking back, I think there were probably two options in this situation. One, he was perfectly content, so I could have left him. Two, he was awake and not seeming sleepy at all. I could have picked him up and brought him back into the other room with me. It seems so simple now, but it was very stressful at the time.
When Asa was born, I knew what to expect (Ha!). He was the second child, so I knew that he would be easy going, a good eater, and a good sleeper. He was going to spend lots of contented time in the swing or playing on the floor. He would be able to sleep anywhere and through anything. It turns out that Asa was a wonderfully perfect addition to our family, but he was also none of those things I described. He had separation anxiety from the time he was born. He had reflux, was sensitive to dairy, wanted to be held all the time, and did not sleep well or for long ever. I spent a lot of time in his early months trying to figure out how to change my parenting to get the results I expected I should be getting if I had been doing things right.
When I was pregnant with Jonas, I ran into Jason’s boss and his wife at a restaurant one evening. They were both really excited for us to be having another baby. (They are wonderful by the way!) They both assured me that even though I was going to have 3 children and only two hands, it would be alright. They also said I would enjoy the infancy of the third baby more than I had with the other two, because I would finally be able to sit back and enjoy. It sounded good, and it definitely gave me hope. It turns out they were right.
Having a new baby is wonderful, and it is also stressful. Even in the midst of the adjustment to a family of 5, I felt as content and relaxed with how things were going as I can remember feeling about a new baby. When Jonas used to wake up and just hang out for 45 minutes or an hour in the middle of the night, I was able to remind myself that it wouldn’t last forever and soon that time would be a memory. When he went through the phase of the 40 minute nap, I reassured myself that at some point he would sleep longer than that if he truly needed it. He did.
Now, as I think about my friend’s wise words and those examples in my life, I wonder what else am I holding on to as an unnecessary self-imposed rule. This week, my goal is to know my children, see their needs, and respond to them without worrying what other parents “like me” might do in a smilar situation.