The days when Jake and Teddy were tiny (well, they were never exactly tiny!) are blurred in my mind, probably because it was so hard. They were just over twelve months apart–Jake only learned to walk two weeks before the new baby arrived. The poor little thing–he spent the last month of my pregnancy crawling up the steep stairs to our second-floor apartment with me following because my sciatica prevented me from carrying him while also hauling myself up the stairs.
Jake didn’t like being displaced. He stopped talking and became extremely needy. In the six weeks following Teddy’s birth he had the flu (every picture taken of him at this time shows a perpetually running nose), cut six teeth, and had a violent and revolting case of rotavirus (sheets from this period were stored on the balcony until they could be washed.).
It was exhausting nursing two babies, and yet I was not going to displace Jake from the breast earlier than I would have if his brother had not arrived on the scene. And then there were twice the cloth diapers to change and wash! And as they grew, they got into way more than twice as much trouble as one toddler, Teddy following Jake’s naughty lead in climbing fences, running across roads, driving my car into the side of the garage, throwing mud balls at passing cars, and stealing the neighbor’s kittens.
And yet there are days when I would give anything to go back to that time, even though I have much more freedom these days. Life was simpler, somehow, when there were fewer choices, when all my time was fully occupied with the care and feeding and supervision of little people. Their needs were many, but quickly met. Their hurts were easily soothed. Everything that went wrong could be fixed, and they thought I knew everything.
John and I were both raised by what Barbara Coloroso (in my favorite parenting book of all time) calls brickwall parents. Go read the book if you want to know a whole lot more about it, because it’s a great book, but essentially what that means is that rules are rigid and expectations are high. Children are expected to mind and there is a “because I said so” attitude with a shot of “that’s not the way we do things.” Neither of us wanted our kids to fear us. Both of us wanted our kids to feel free to speak their minds, to have the freedom to question us.
Coloroso’s ideal is backbone parenting, which provides structure with flexibility (get it?). But the reality is that people with a brickwall upbringing far more often turn into jellyfish parents, and then when things get out of control, they make a quick trip back to being brick walls because that’s what they know. It’s all well and good to say that you don’t want your kids to be afraid of you, until they won’t do what you say. It’s easy to criticize your brickwall upbringing, until you remember how well-behaved and compliant YOU were, while your own kids are . . . not.
Attachment parenting provided the structure and flexibility I needed to be a good parent to babies and toddlers. Parenting teenagers is a lot harder and it seems like the stakes are higher as you are running out of time to get them ready to face the world and mistakes at this stage tend to be more costly. I won’t invade my boys’ privacy and publicly embarrass them by citing the areas in which I feel our parenting methods have not produced (yet) the results we hoped for. There are many things I am pretty sure we did right. And we are still learning, right now trying to walk the line of advising without pushing, backing off instead of crowding, knowing what to hold them accountable for and what to just let go, making the most of the little time we have left before they won’t be our responsibility any longer.
March 7, 2011