I'm Not Afraid Of An Unhappy Child

When my daughter was a tiny baby and she cried, I was very attentive. When infants cry, they need something, which was usually food or just being held close (at least for my daughter.) I was not a proponent of "cry it out"--not that there is anything wrong with it, it just wasn't for me.

But those days of having an infant are gone now. My daughter is over a year old and firmly planted in the "toddler" stage. She doesn't cry because she needs something (generally speaking), she cries because she wants something. And that's a whole other can of worms because "want" and "need" are two totally different things.

If you're a regular follower of my blog, then you know that I didn't read a lot of parenting books. To be exact, I've read exactly one, Bringing Up Bebe, which I totally loved. The author talks about how always soothing a child can basically lead to them suffering later on in life. They have to learn that things aren't always going to go their way, and it starts sooner than a parent might think.

For instance, here's a list of reasons why my daughter has cried in the last week...

I closed the refrigerator
I closed the dishwasher
I put up a baby gate
We got out of the pool (after 40 minutes--the nerve!)
She was done eating and we didn't immediately process her request to get out of her seat
I refused to let her chew on any number of inedible items
I put her in a carseat

...you beginning to see what I mean? Toddler cry because they are expressing themselves. Because they are downright pissed. And it's cool. But that doesn't mean I have to feed into the meltdown of the moment.

I'm just not afraid of having an unhappy child. This doesn't mean I'm cold, or unfeeling. I often say something like, "I'm sorry that you can't have what you want." I do try to redirect. But sometimes, I just let her sit there and cry over the refrigerator door being closed and allow her to feel out her upset. It rarely lasts long, and before you know it, she's doing the next crazy toddler thing.

I find that others are quick to try and soothe my daughter when they are around...but I often discourage it. Just because I'm social doesn't mean I need other people to parent for me. If she's gonna melt down, sometimes I am going to let her because it's a part of my parenting philosophy. She has to learn that sometimes there are disappointments, and she is fully capable of getting over them. And I find she truly IS capable of getting over it most of the time. Yes, there are always exceptions, even for me. I figure, I make the rules, so if I feel the need to break them, I will.

At the end of the day, I have to take a long view. I'm aiming for a highly functional adult here, not a momentarily soothed toddler. So a few tears are shed. I think it'll ultimately make her a better person. I find that helicopter parenting and over soothing are a real problem. And children today are so freaking coddled, it makes me sick.

Yes, kids are cute, and brilliant; none more so than your very own. But do the world a favor and stop acting like they need to constantly be happy because it's not realistic. Sometimes you gotta cry. Being a parent is not about always being liked. Sometimes you gotta do the dirty work of helping your child build character. At least that's my take on it.

And it's why I'm not afraid of having an unhappy child--at least a little bit. 

Parenthood & Impermanence

I commented the other day to my mom that "impermanence was my favorite!" She sort of scoffed at me because, in general, and especially as a child, change was something that threw me for a proverbial loop. If plans changed, I freaked out. If life changed, I freaked out. This trait followed me into early adulthood.

Really all of this freaking out was about control and wanting (or needing on the emotional level) to control things so that I could feel better. The truth is that we are in control of very little, of course, and the older I got, the more I realized this.

Change being the only constant was never more apparent than 4 1/2 years ago when my family experienced two shocking losses back to back. It was a pivotal experience in many ways, and shocking to the core. It changed the way my husband and I were, really, on a deep level. We had new fears, but we also would take time to say goodbye in love and we used the moment to think deeply about the type of life we wanted to have.

Fast forward several years and a baby later.

The day my daughter was born was one of the best days ever. The hard work of labor was over, she was here safe, and a new chapter had begun. But suddenly all I could think about in the face of giving new life was death. I was someday going to die. My parents wouldn't be here someday. And the nearly unthinkable: what if my child should die before me? The thoughts ruminated.

I began pondering impermanence much more than I ever had before. Not even death itself had the impact that giving life did when it came to the thoughts of loss. Tara Brach, who is an amazing teacher and meditator, talks about how to begin to wade in the waters of your fears. If you can face them, a bit at a time, then it can actually deepen your appreciation for life and help you live with more loving presence.

But how unpleasant is it to think about death? Well, it may be unpleasant at the onset of thinking, but in reality, pondering impermanence has truly deepened my appreciation for each day, and every moment spent with family and friends. So, I found myself doing just that.

Over the last year, when I think about the fact that we may not all be together in the future, I am so grateful at my core for the moments I am having. I come back to the moment I am in, and find myself changed within it. I know that this is a gift that, however indirectly, my child has given me. I wasn't open to life in the way I am now before I had her. (Not that you have to have a child to experience life in this way, this was just my personal experience.)

I know that lots of parents probably experience this profound fear of loss when it comes to their children. Especially as we journey through life with the realization that some parents do lose their children, and as a children, we will also lose our parents, which is also difficult. If we are lucky, life is long. But no matter what life hold for us, if we function in the reality that things aren't permanent, that they can change unexpectedly, then we can also cherish the moment before us. Even as I was taking care of a newborn--arguably one of the biggest challenges I've faced--I would tell myself that some day, there would be nothing I wouldn't give to go back and do it all again. And it helped me appreciate even the toughest times with a new baby.

The inertia of life had a tendency to carry me away sometimes, and so I am grateful to come back to these concepts. I was reminded of this yet again, as I was pulling away from my mom's house the other day. My daughter was already in her carseat and I was anxious to get on the road. I said goodbye in a hurry, but as I drove off, I said to myself, "Next time, I won't rush that goodbye."

I use a mantra of "no time to rush" that I heard in a meditative talk, and I really find it helps me slow down and be present day to day. I want to take these moments with my family and friends and open to them as much as possible. I hope that you find the oasis of beauty in your everyday life as well. If you are scared by impermanence, I urge you to explore it in a way that allows you to feel safe.

Are there ways that you explore these concepts already? How do you feel about impermanence and the concept of presence? Please discuss in the comments section below! 

Family Dinner is Sacred

Eating dinner together is something that my husband and I have always done. We ate dinner together long before we were married, and even, I'm sorry to say, long before I was a good cook. Even when the food was bad, or wasn't homemade, we would carve out time to sit down, check in, and share a meal.

Back then, we did it without thinking about what it meant. It was something we did because it was something our families did--a tradition we wanted to carry out for the formation of our lives. As I got older, though, the meaning of family dinners became about so much more than just carrying on tradition, and I was reminded of this while watching Michael Pollan, author of Cooked (and lots of other awesome books) on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday.

Pollan talked about eating and how it's a sacred act. I truly believe in this. When you think about nourishing your body, and all the work it took to get those foods to your table, it really is an amazing journey. It's the reason so many people say "grace" before dinner (to give thanks), and generally people are thanking God for the food they are receiving. Why? Because it's a sacred act in many ways.

I believe this is one of the reasons that we have to be mindful of the ways our food is grown, the way animals are treated and how we are preparing the food. I see all of these things as part of my responsibility as a parent, but also as the person who shops for our home and prepares the food for everyone. I believe that way the food is grown is important. I want to feel thankful for the meat I am eating, and I don't want to feel that the animal's life was miserable or that the workers who were farming the vegetables were mistreated or taken advantage of.

I was reminded of this, responsibility and it was reinforced. I was also happy to be reminded about the power of the shared experience, in particular, when Pollan talked about sitting down for a meal with the people we love. That experience of being together is one that is so important.

Sometimes, especially being home with my child so much, I wonder what the heck I've done all day. But when we all sit down together and share a meal I've spent time preparing, and we all enjoy the meal, I feel so good deep down. I feel accomplished (not only that I survived the day with a toddler) but that I made something that nourished my family, and we spent time enjoying it together.

When I think of all these concepts in unison, pulling together a dinner is really a symphony. There are so many different elements at play from the way the food was grown, to where it was purchased, to how it's prepared and finally the way in which we eat it together. All of these things collide at the dinner table, and so I really do see it as one of the most important things we do together each day.

Family dinner is sacred. It's part of the way we are bringing up our daughter, and it's not just about the sitting down, but everything that happens in the world to get us to the table with nourishing, healthy and ethical food.

I wanted to take a moment to appreciate all of this, but also to urge others to take part in sharing a family meal at least once a day if you don't already. But I would also like to hear about how my readers are being responsible consumers. What's one (or two or more) things that you do to be a responsible eater?

For us, probably one of the largest that we participate in is being responsible carnivores. We eat a lot of venison, and only antibiotic, hormone free chicken that has been raised responsibly. (That's pretty much the only meat we're currently eating, aside from the occasional fish, which is usually salmon.) What about you? Let's discuss and share in the comments section below!