As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hardest Number

I did a post a few days ago about how six is my magic number, and well worth every bit of work it takes raising them.  So often people say things like, "I don't know how you do it", and "I only have two kids and I'm swamped!"  But I'll let you in on a secret.  For me, two was definitely harder than six.  In fact, of all my children I found two to be the hardest of all.

I've been burned many times for uttering that sentence non-chalantly.  A few weeks ago at ballet two moms were getting their kids ready to leave and a Mom of two said she didn't know how I did it.  When I responded that I found two the hardest, the other Mom (who had three children ages newborn-three) piped in, "I beg to differ!"  Another time I reassuringly tried to console an expectant Mom with two children that she had already done the hard part of going from one child to more-than-one child, and that everything everyone says about number three being the hardest because they outnumber you was wrong, only to read on her facebook status many months later, "whoever told me that having three kids was easier than having two was dead wrong - this is the hardest thing I've ever done!"  I've since discovered that the difficult number is as different for each woman as the magic number, and depends on a lot of things including who your difficult children are (some are harder than others, it's true!), birth order and gender (people generally tend to find boys harder than girls, and often having a little boy after one or more girls it throws a bit of spice into the mix!) and other things that are going on in your life.  And for me, that was my dear second born.

For starters, my firstborn was a dream baby. He was carefree and easygoing, slept a lot and very content.  I didn't pay any attention to schedule and simply responded to his whims, which probably contributed to his general happiness.  He began sleeping for six-hour stretches at six weeks old, and was sleeping through the night by a couple of months.  I met a Mom of a two-month-old at an obedience class we were taking our puppy to when Joseph was nine months old who told me that she put her baby down awake to bed every night, and that she was sleeping through the night - at two months old!  My baby was sleeping through the night, but his bedtime was ridiculously late and unregulated.  He went to bed anywhere from about 10:00 to midnight each night, and I would often be interrupted on my way to bed by my boy.  I'd watch my husband go off to bed while I grudgingly stayed up with my little one, who also slept until about 9 or 10 each morning.  After talking with this Mom, I vowed to come home and be a little more stern about naps and bedtime.  It took two days - one with a 9:00 bedtime and one at 7:00, and we never looked back.  Routine was introduced, and it was the best thing that ever happened to this baby.I thought then and there that as soon as I have another baby, I'm going to establish a routine straight away.

That was the worst thing that happened to my second boy. He ended up being much more sensitive than my oldest, which is a trait that rings true to this day.  And he nursed a lot - for an hour and a half every two hours.  He would only sleep if he fell asleep nursing, and he would wake as soon as I tried to put him down.  I spent a lot of time just sitting with him, which wouldn't have been so bad if I had the luxury of only tending to his every whim like I did with my first boy.  But I didn't, because I also had a two-year-old.  I let a grand total of two months go by, and then I started trying to get him into a reasonable routine - regular naps and a reasonable bedtime, going down awake if possible.  Worst. Decision. Ever.  It made my life miserable, and worse, it made his miserable.  He cried and I cried, and after one particularly trying day I had the unfortunate and life-altering low moment of laying my infant son on my bed and shouting, "DO YOU EVER STOP CRYING???" His face stood still for a moment before he started wailing, and I realized that I just yelled at an infant.  I just yelled at my baby son.  What was wrong me with me?  It remains an all-time low for me even to this day, and I can barely type it without feeling the guilt as if it was just yesterday.

The good news is that kids are resilient.  Despite his mother's foolish attempts to make her child into someone he was not (namely, the child of another mother who blissfully slid into a nice, neat schedule at two-months old - a mother who, likely, as a new mother, was also unaware that this was likely more to do with her baby's temperment than with her diligent and thoughtful choices as a mother).  Today he is a sweet, calm, happy, little boy.  He survived my feeble attempts at early-schedules, my testing of the "cry-it-out" method to unreasonable extents (I'm not against letting an older baby cry for a bit if it's evident that the crying will eventually lead to sleep - that whiny, intermittent cry that is mixed with periods of silence, and is a sure indication of a child who is fighting sleep, not a child who needs his mother and is working himself into a worried frenzy of constant crying because nobody is coming), my mistakenly labelling him a "gassy" baby when hindsight (and further experience with subsequent children) would prove that it was a fault in the way I was feeding him (offering both breasts at each feeding without making sure the first was completely emptied, meaning he only got the gassy foremilk and not the fatty and satisfying hindmilk).  I had none of this knowledge when I was a young Mom of two children under two.  And I was spent.

He was my most trying baby, for reasons that were most certainly not his fault.  But he's also the one who made me an infinitely better mother.  For starters, never again will I ever try to impose a schedule on a baby any less than six months old (I find really until they are on solid food, you can't settle into anything anyway because their little bodies are always changing).  I also re-visited my thoughts on "crying-it-out" - namely that I would only use it on an older child whom I could be certain was just testing the limits of his parents, not an infant who couldn't communicate any other way.  I would differentiate between a sleepy, whiny, protesting and intermittent cry, and a strong, steady, "something is wrong" cry.  And I would never again let it go longer than twenty minutes.  We spent many, many nights listening to upwards of a half hour of steady crying repeatedly throughout the night, and it is on the top of my list of regrets as a parent.  Never again.

But perhaps the biggest lesson I learned was to not have any expectations.  We are not the same mother as we were when we have a new baby.  Each baby brings its own unique challenges and its own irreplaceable joy.  Which I guess is the point of this post.  Every Mom has her hard baby.  Every Mom who has had a baby after the hard one will likely tell you she sees it differently now.  If your current baby is your hard one and you find yourself saying, "I could never have any more!" I encourage you not to make your decision based on fear.  There are of course many good and holy reasons to not have another child, but I don't believe this is a decision that should be rooted in fear.  It should be rooted in the firm confidence that this is where the Lord is or is not leading us.  If you feel in your heart that now is not the time for another baby, the Lord will bless you in your situation.  But if you feel He just might be calling you to be open to another baby but are afraid about whether you can handle it, we've all been there.  The world is filled with Moms who took a brave step into the unknown and lived to tell joyous things about it, none so great as our Blessed Mother.

Take heart, dear mothers - especially mothers of littles, especially mothers of trying littles.  It's hard to see past the chaos of the moment, but I promise you that things will get better, and that your challenging little one will teach you more about life and who you are than anything else ever will. One day you will look back on this time and be grateful for this experience.  Like me, I pray you will see how it made you a better mother.  Be encouraged in the beautiful vocation you are living.  The world is a better place for the sacrifices you are making.

Proof that any relationship can survive a rocky start

1 comment :

  1. Natasha, I'm always reading your blog but I particularly enjoyed this post. My first and second sound the exact same as yours. And everything about your experience sounds the same as well; and when I say everything I mean everything. Everyone said 'oh your first is your hardest you will be fine with two' but before it even happened I knew number two would be hard! The dynamics of everything change! I hope number two will be my hard number as well and it only gets easier as we have more children. Anyway thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed it!