I have two very young younglings; they’re currently being referred to as Baby and Toddler, but that will change. (How quickly, how quickly these things change!)
A little about my parenting style: I’m a big fan of attachment, not due to my hippie beliefs (tho I’ve got them) but to my degree in anthropology. Baby-wearing, co-sleeping, continuous breastfeeding -these are things that demonstrably benefit the human infant, especially during the delicate fourth trimester, and that make parenting much, much easier for me.
(“Your baby is such a good baby! She sleeps through the night!” Yeah, ’cause I’m sleeping right next to her and dream-feeding. I have no idea how much she feeds in the night; if I were getting up to make a bottle every time, I’d certainly know, and I tell ya I’d be resenting it.)
I wear or carry Baby most of the day (she’s five months as of this writing). I do not consider her in any way to be a high-needs baby – I consider her a tiny alien, completely new to this world, who needs certain kinds of stimulation and certain kinds of comfort and to whom I can’t deny those things. I don’t think that putting her down in another room for a nap and walking away is something I can expect to work consistently before her first birthday. I’m fine with that because I can see how Toddler’s independence and autonomy has grown with this same attachment style.
When it comes to Toddler, I’m trying to focus on consent. This does not mean “she gets an equal say“, nor does it mean “we never tell her no” — although learning to talk around “no” is absolutely imperative for training her through her emotional storms — because getting her consent isn’t the same thing as asking for her permission. I’m my kid’s keeper, her mentor, ultimately her teacher at How To Be A Person, and in order to teach her that she needs to ask, for example, before touching someone, I need to do the same.
No, it doesn’t always happen like that; I ruffle her hair or massage her shoulders when she sits with me, since she also needs to learn that people who are close to each other groom one another, and that she’s safe with my touch. Physical affection and grooming happen organically. Yet she also gets to tell me when she’s ready for me to wipe her ass, and if she wants to practice doing it herself that day, it’s my job to help her practice. She gets to learn, too, that Mama will pick her up when she’s in a tantrum and say, “You’re too upset to listen or walk, so I’m going to hold you. We are leaving.”
The other hugely important Toddler Tactic in my toolbox, one I’m still working through every day, is using forced-choice questions to help her feel like she has a choice — while never, never asking for her permission. It’s hard, but once you pay attention, it becomes more natural to refrain from those open-ended, begging-for-a-NO questions like “Do you want to go to the playground now?” (“Are you ready?” is better, because I can come back with “Let’s get you ready”.) “We’re going to leave in five minutes, is that okay?” (No! Bad mama!) It’s all about “Playground time is over in ten minutes. I’ll remind you when it’s five minutes, and then we’ll get in the stroller. You can sit in the front or the back, whatever you like.”
And then. Following. Through. Which is, of course, the fuck of it.
More importantly, I’m trying my damned best to be patient, and rarely to show my kids that they’re getting under my skin. Reacting gets no results. Having a reactive parent does result in something: lots of pain. A parent who constantly grumbles or verbalizes their frustration and annoyance — all that irritation you’re causing them — instills anxiety and self-loathing in a child. I’m convinced that my irritations are my own to deal with and have more to do with my own Sims levels and self-care than with these little gremlins who haven’t developed empathy yet. Bottom line: the more patient my children see me being, the more patient they become.