Monday, April 8, 2013

Unconventional Children Require Unconventional Parenting

I gave birth to the sweetest most loving little blonde baby boy four years ago this April 14th.  He was a big boy with an insatiable appetite for milk and mama.  He was a great sleeper and seemed to be like his two older brothers... until he turned four months old.  He began to have trouble sleeping.  He would wake up often in the middle of the night and had extreme difficulty going back to sleep. We did everything under the sun to get him to sleep.  We tried, rocking, singing, walking, nursing, and of course the dreaded, "Ferberizing".  That is the method by which the parent puts the baby or child in his crib awake, says "night night", leaves the room, and then listens to the child make sounds like a hyena has entered the room.  You're supposed to wait a few minutes, then go back into the room, verbally reassure your child, then walk back out and wait for the hyena to reappear.  The parent lengthens the amount of wait time in between reassurances until the child tires himself out and lays down and falls asleep. It's a little brutal, but it does work.  At least it worked with my older two sons.  It only took them three nights and on the fourth night, there was no crying at all - just a "night night" and lights out and that was that!  Well, Ferberizing did not work with my beautiful sweet third baby boy.   Once, he screamed for an hour and a half and the screaming got worse - never better.  His sleep habits finally got better when I gave birth to our daughter and we had no choice but to keep him quiet.  My husband slept on a camping mat on the floor next to his bed FOR A YEAR!  Unconventional? Yes.  Guess what? It worked.  He stopped waking in the middle of the night by the end of that year.  During that time, he would wake in complete fear (like a night terror) and my husband was right there to sweetly talk to him, reassure him, and calm him down.  Eventually, he began to sleep the night.

Baby Optimus!!!

When my husband left his room, our son began to wake again in what seemed like sheer terror.  I would run into his room, console him, and he would go back to sleep ~ sometimes.  I realized he wanted to be with me.  When I put him in bed next to me after a midnight wake up call, he slept soundly.  But I wanted to fix whatever was waking him and whatever was tormenting him.  My husband and I decided to have the house blessed.  Sheesh, could only help, right? Our priest came to our house and spent the evening with us, blessing each room, praying with us, and stayed for dinner.  It was a beautiful evening.  From that night on, our son stopped waking in fear.  At times, he would still wake up, but the screaming stopped.  Curious.

Caught stealing his older brother's cheeseburger!

He will still wake from time to time, but he gets himself out of bed, quietly tip toes to our bedroom, ever so quietly opens and closes our door behind him, gets in bed next to me, and falls asleep without a peep.  He wants to be next to me.  That's all he's ever wanted.  The other day, I remembered back to the morning after I had given birth to him.  He had spent the night with the nurses as I had undergone a c-section and needed my sleep.  I heard some wild screaming from down the hospital hallway and thought - now that baby's got a set of lungs!  Suddenly, my door swung open, two nurses rushed in with a wild exasperated look in their eyes, and one said, "He wants his mama.  We've been waiting to wake you to bring him to you.  We can't console him.  We've tried everything."  EVERYTHING.  Why didn't I see the signs way back then?  As the nurses approached me with my newborn son, I was mixed with emotions like, "Oh my gosh, give him to me, give him to me, give him to me!  But also....Yeah right, sure he'll quiet down with me.  What if that doesn't work and then I'll be a big fat failure?!"  Well, the second they placed him in my arms, and I mean nano-second, he stopped his crying.  He was silent and content - sooooooo happy.

Superman belt and binoculars to watch his older brother's soccer game - of course!

Now that he is almost four, he can still be a trying child at times.  He is as sweet as sweet can be, but I know it's trouble when his beautiful little face gets near mine and says, "I'm sorry mama," when I don't even yet know where the destruction has occurred.  He gets a wild period during the day - with a wild look in his eye - and I've tried everything to correct his behavior.  I have spoken nicely to him.  I have laid out punishments for him (and he laughed at me).  I have spanked him (and he giggled).  I have put him in time out (and he promptly begins to throw toys and try to escape and giggles).  Let me tell you, he is very smart.  He knows what I'm saying to him, he knows what he's doing, he just has a hard time calming himself down when he gets in these modes.  A few months ago, I was exasperated with him after I yelled at him for kicking his sister and he looked at me with such fear in his eyes that I realized I needed to do something else with him, and had exhausted all my apparent options.  Honestly, I was at my wit's end.  I have often said, "Thank you God, for sending this boy to me because he might have been abused in another family."  I prayed about what I should do with him.  I just wanted to correct certain behaviors and didn't know what else I should try.  It seemed to me that I had already tried everything.

Can't fall asleep at home, but the car seat, ninja mask, and blankie seem to be the ticket!

When he was in a calm state, I sat down with him and said, "When you get wild, I don't know what to do with you."  I proceeded to state the litany of things I had already tried. He listened intently.  I then asked him, "What should I do when you get wild?"  He looked up at me, and sweetly said, "You're supposed to hug me."

You're supposed to hug me.  Ooooohhhhhhh of course, why didn't I think of that???!!!

Let me tell you, it was a miracle moment.  I hugged him and told him I promised that's what I would do.  Guess what?  It works!  It has been working continuously.  He still gets wild, but I can stop him now.  Would that work for all children?  Absolutely not.  Most children respond to time outs or a stern look, but not this little guy.  I guess what I'm trying to say, is that we parents often try to make our children live inside a box that society dictates what the walls looks like.  And we fall prey to continuing on with "normal parental measures" that don't seem like they work, but darnit it's a battle of wills and we parents will win!  Parenting is not a game - it is a lifelong relationship with souls God has entrusted to us.  We are supposed to tap into how to best help those little souls along their path to adulthood.  Sometimes, we are being called to think outside the box.  God doesn't send us perfect children, and they certainly don't come with a set of instructions!  If you find yourself with a child who is a little higher on the maintenance scale, you may have to just calm down, pray about that child, and ask God what is the best parenting technique for that precious boy or girl.  It may not be anything you've been thinking of or anything that's inside a parenting book or magazine.

May God bless you and your families, and may you think of your children as daughters and sons of God who have been sent to us for our protection, love, and education.  All they want is our love and affection.  Keep them safe and show them you love them by giving them tons of hugs and kisses while honoring their unique personalities and characteristics.