Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Keep "Em Close -- by Laura

The advice one receives as a new mother is inexhaustible, and I received my fair share the first six months. But I have a hard and fast rule about taking advice – I only take it from the people who make me ask for it, and I only ask for it from the people I respect. David and I spent five years trying to get pregnant so during that time we watched our friends and their kits. If the children were happy, engaging and well behaved, we asked them for their parenting philosophies, their approach, the books they read and the challenges they faced.

One of our favorite kids was Ani. His parents came from India, and he was a brilliant child – reading at age three, knowledgeable about his favorite subject (trains), polite, funny and more fun to talk to than his parents. So we asked: “What did you do?” They did not answer at first. They muttered something about Dr. Sears, but we persisted and they finally confessed that Ani slept with them in their bed every night for the first 18 months. They tried everything: cribs in their room, vibrators, noise machines, cry-it-out, the Ferber Method, but nothing worked. He insisted upon sharing their bed and only their bed. So they gave in.

Once they gave in, Ani established himself as a happy baby. He slept better, cried less, woke up happy, and settled right into his joyful, curious nature. It gave us cause to think. We heard from so many people that a baby in the bed is havoc on the marriage. But at the same time, didn’t it seem natural to sleep with your child if that’s what the child wanted in order to feel secure?

The second person we took advice from was our neighbor Candace. She has three children all of them teenagers, and they’re all very likeable at an age where most kids are distant and awkward. This struck my husband and I both as a testament to her parenting. Their family is a tightly knit group that spends a lot of fun time together, and when we watch them interact, we can tell the kids genuinely love their parents, and respect them as well. So we asked again: How did you do it?

And this is where I received the best parenting advice of my motherhood. Candace said: “Keep ‘em close. Throw out those books and all the nonsense they tell you and listen to your gut. And just keep ‘em close.”

So we do. We sleep with the babies. We travel with them. We take them out to restaurants, parades, art galleries, museums. Where we go, they go. It’s not always easy. We are not always pleased that they sleep with us in our bed. Although we love falling asleep to their soft breath and their hands against our cheek, and we sleep better because we are not up and down five or six times a night soothing them, we also long for the night where we can once again settle into our big bed with a book and just the two of us. People scold us for sleeping with them, saying it’s dangerous, bad for them, setting a precedent. Sometimes we find ourselves feeling a little embarrassed by it because it’s obvious this situation can impeded a couple’s sex life. And we do, indeed, have to try harder in that area to make sure things happen. But then we watch our babies as they grow into little human beings, and we see confident, happy, secure babies who communicate with us. We have strong bonds with our children. And we’ve learned to tune out the opinions and advice that don’t matter. We keep looking at the results and trust our instincts.

The other night we were coming home on the bus, and the woman next to us was managing three young children by herself, and we were surprised she could do it so well. They sat down when she asked them to, stopped bickering when she scolded, and the oldest daughter engaged in a conversation with me about my twins and how old they were. When I struggled to get a bottle out of the backpack, she offered to help. As we were getting off the bus I complimented the mother and asked how she raised such polite, helpful children. She said, “I keep them close. Watch them all the time. Let them know I love them and what my expectations are.” I asked her if she slept with them when they were babies. “Still do sometimes if they’re having a hard time with something,” she said. “It’s only a short time in life you get to have children. So just keep ‘em close and enjoy it. They’ll always love you for it.”

Best advice I ever received.

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Blogger Cara Meyers said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Laura. Since our dogs slept with us, my husband and I used to take turns sleeping with our son the first 3 years...and even sometimes today. We bought a full-size bed for him to accommodate each of us and a slew of stuffed animals!

And always go with your gut! I have, and it has never failed me. It may have cost me my marriage, but it had proved right every time. And now people come to ME for advice! I tell them to to go with their gut!

9:14 PM  
Blogger Jackie Shannon Hollis said...

I have several friends who have raised children I admire -- the consistent thing with these parents is the way they included their children in their lives -- out to dinner, time with friends, travel. I don't know if the kids shared the bed, but the parents shared their lives with their kids and the kids watched and learned how to BE out there in the world.

12:33 PM  
Blogger none said...

Beautiful - thank you. It's so hard going with your gut, especially when so many people offer advice. Our daughter goes everywhere we go, and if she can't go, we usually don't go either. The nice thing is that no matter where we go, she always gets complimented on how "good" she is being. She is only 3!

8:45 AM  

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