The Parenting Continuum
Harwich MA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 1, January-February 2000, pg. 26
I have four children who are 14, 11, 8, and 2. My youngest, William, has all too quickly become a typical toddler. Once a snuggly little bundle, he is now a determined adventurer—energetic, curious, spirited, contradictory. I enjoy him, and taking care of him comes naturally to me.
I can tell when he needs to eat, to sleep, or to nurse. I can sense whether he needs a little more time to figure something out or needs a helping hand. As he begins to test his boundaries, I know when to scoop him up and when to let him go.
I know it's partly because I've been through this age before. After all, I survived the toddlerhood of my three other children! But I also know that I'm connected to Will; it's easy for me to meet his needs because I know him so well. This closeness has developed through, and is nurtured by, our nursing relationship.
In contrast, I'm often frustrated in trying to understand the needs of my older children. Life becomes challenging as they move outward from my influence. It's not always clear to me whether they need more limits or more independence. They are intelligent, persistent, and verbal; they argue with my suggestions if they disagree, and they argue with each other too! Sometimes I feel as if we're in constant conflict. I don't like that.
I reflected on the situation with some guilt and self-pity. "Hey!" I thought. "I nursed all of them, too! We bonded! And I've read all the right books. Why is this so difficult?" As I pondered this, my 11-year-old son, Tommy, walked into the room. I impulsively gave him a hug, then realized with a shock that I probably hadn't hugged him in several days. Had I even touched him at all? Suddenly, a revelation.
My connection with Will isn't simply due to the biological act of breastfeeding; it's a result of the attachment behavior that evolves through the nursing relationship. I spend hours every day holding and touching him. I give him my full attention whenever he needs it and take whatever time necessary to respond to him. I listen respectfully, even delightedly, to everything he tells me. No wonder we get along so well!
Obviously, my older children neither need nor desire the constant attention that Will receives. After some soul searching, though, I decided they may need more than I've been giving them. With all the coming and going we do—we're a very busy family—our interactions are often rushed. Some days we don 't really connect at all. As a result, my discipline lately has been more along the lines of irritated barking than loving guidance.
I've just begun to realize that parenting is a continuum. Will benefits from the wisdom I've gained through mothering Stephanie, Tommy, and Kelly. They can also benefit from my connection to Will. I'm writing this to share my little emotional journey and to rededicate myself to meeting the needs of all my children. In The Discipline Book, Dr. Sears says the three most important words in discipline are "know your child." By hugging more frequently, listening more attentively, and taking more time to interact, I'm starting to feel as if I know my older children after all.
Reprinted from the Winter 1998 issue of East Penn Pointers, LLL of Eastern Pennsylvania's Area Leaders' Letter.