I was a little worried when my son wasn’t walking by the time he was one. When a few more months came and went and still no walking, I grew increasingly concerned.
And the sleeping. That was the biggest worry of all. My son would only nap if I held him or nursed him. He had to fall asleep while being pressed up against me or his father, and if he woke up in the middle of the night, he’d cry (and cry and cry) until I came to get him. My pediatrician told me that I needed to “wean him” off of me because I was making him too dependent on me to fall asleep. I was not allowing him to learn to self-soothe.
I immediately went into a panic and questioned everything I was doing as far as his sleeping schedule was concerned. I felt horrible if I let him cry it out and horrible if I gave in.
As my son grew all he wanted to eat was sugary foods. I tried to shove locally grown organic produce down his throat as he gagged. I didn’t allow him to have soda or too much junk at birthday parties and he hated me for it and started sneaking sugary deliciousness whenever he could.
As first-time moms we do our best but we are hyper-focused on using best “parenting practices” to raise our children. Back then I thought that I could protect them by feeding them kale chips and being ultra-strict about their bedtime. We think that we need to stick with rigid sleep schedules, careful diet control, twice a week bathing and strict “clean up after yourselves” rules.
So, that’s what we do for years–it arduous and we exhaust ourselves.
Then they sprout into teens and walk into the room with a bag of Frito’s, wearing the same outfit for the third day in a row and we have no idea how many hours of sleep they got. We just know it’s around eleven in the morning and they are making their first appearance of the day.
And you know what? They are fine. They are happy. They are capable and smart.
All of their Fruit Loop eating, not bathing, video game watching and not getting enough sleep doesn’t seem to be undoing all of the hard work I did when they were younger.
If I could go back I would have relaxed more about schedules and eating, sure. But the biggest change I’d make is I wouldn’t be so damn hard on myself because my child couldn’t fall asleep without me.
I wouldn’t second guess myself because my kids weren’t walking when the neighbor’s kids were walking.
I wouldn’t obsess about when they were going to reach certain milestones.
I would tell myself I was a damn good mother and that at that moment I was doing the best that I could and I’d keep getting better and learning along the way.
The thing is, teens do what they want when it comes to eating and sleeping and how they spend their time when they aren’t under your supervision. So, no matter how much sweat and tears you put into them, they are, in the end, their own people. They aren’t an extension of us–they are individuals. I know that now.
And I know that no matter how hard I tried, eventually they will down gallons of chocolate milk, drink out of the faucet, and there may be long intervals between showers.
As a young mother I followed certain rules to the letter. Now I look back and laugh at myself because my teenage son will tell me one of his worst memories was when I made him eat an organic sweet potato I’d broiled in coconut oil. He has also mentioned how he used to love to snuggle with me and he remembers when he was three and I told him he wasn’t allowed to crawl into bed with me anymore because I was worried I’d damage his ability to self-soothe.
So now when I see something my three teens do involving their sleep, or diet, or hygiene and I want to try to control them, I take a step back. I try to think to myself, “Okay, you’ve done almost everything you can do at this point and you know damn well Ramen noodles taste better than the zucchini noodles you are about to suggest, so shut it.”
When I’m able to relax–they are more relaxed, which feels much better than all of us being so tightly wound all the time.
Besides, I’m sure they will get it together in their 20s. But if they don’t, by then I will have made peace with the fact I literally left no impression on them at all.