Mac and cheese with a side order of guilt please

Over the last few weeks (okay, okay – the last few months) I’ve gotten into the bad habit of letting Cameron eat lunch in front of the TV. For some reason I decided today was the day to revert back to eating lunch at the table. What a disaster!

I was totally unprepared for the resistance I was faced with. I ended up eating alone while Cameron lay on the couch in floods of tears, alternatively asking for ‘Beebees’ (TV) and Bunny (the only thing in the world who understands him). The situation escalated far more quickly than I anticipated and I found myself in an unplanned battle of wills, having to stick to my point even though I wasn’t sure why I’d decided to make it in the first place. I’d told him he could watch TV after lunch so in the end I got him to eat three forkfuls at the table and then let him watch one show.

I’m still not sure who won.

I find these battles utterly draining, especially when they sneak up on me like this one did. Cameron moves on from them before the tear stains have even faded but I find the fallout much longer lasting. I know how important it is to stand my ground, but I often find myself having treacherous thoughts like, ‘I should have given him some warning that the routine was going to change.’ And today as I sit here devouring his uneaten mac and cheese (assuaging my guilt with carbs), I have to wonder if he’s fallen asleep hungry.

I find disciplining a toddler hard, hard, hard work. The frequency of ‘boundary battles’ is just discouraging at times. A perfectly happy morning can disintegrate into a war zone in seconds, and then swing back to a peace and tranquillity shortly after. (If I had to experience the level of emotion that Cameron does in the average day I would be an utterly exhausted wreck! I don’t know where kids get their stamina from.)

But I think the biggest problem is that these situations often leave me with a gnawing feeling of guilt over how I handled them. (Having the maid hovering at the doorway with accusing eyes while Cameron flings himself dramatically on the couch probably doesn’t help.) Mom-guilt is an insidious, evil beast, and as there’s never a right answer when it comes to parenting, it has ample opportunity to attack.

The worst part of it is that now I’ve started this process so for the next few days I will have to continue with my quest to have lunch at the table. Not a thought that encourages me. I think I’ll go find some chocolate now …

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Intelligence is the ability to adapt

Today, for the first time (but undoubtably not the last) I was the mother of that child – the one who has a full on tantrum in a public place and leaves his poor mother utterly bewildered by the force of his will. It began during Cam’s swimming lesson. We’d been having a lovely time. And then eight minutes before the end of the lesson he spotted the jelly bean jar. Whining and pointing quickly escalated to full-scale screaming, while I tried valiantly to distract my son by continuing with the exercises. Humpy Dumpty, Willie Wallie and Ring-a-ring-a Rosies were all ignored by my inconsolable child. We tried hiding the jar, but it only made things worse (apparently my new strategy of hiding sweets at home has left Cam with deep seated fears that he’s never going to get any ever again). After rushing through the last bit of the lesson, during which the other two babies in the class also started crying (because clearly something awful was happening), Cam was finally given his sweets. Instantly the crying stopped. My child, who ten seconds previously, had been screaming bloody murder, was all smiles as I slunk past the parents waiting for the next class. A mortified mother? Yip, that was me.

We are no strangers to tantrums (moms of little ones – tantrums begin way before the second birthday so brace yourselves), but this was the first one I have had to deal with in public. To be honest, I just didn’t know what to do. I have a few coping strategies for tantrums. Sometimes distraction works. But despite the fact that Cam never focuses during swimming lessons because there is so much to see, after spotting those jelly beans he was suddenly utterly devoted to keeping them in sight. Time-outs are my next weapon if choice, but I couldn’t very well leave him alone in the corner of the pool. And reasoning with a seventeen-month old is an utter waste of breath. In hindsight I should have left the pool and cut the lesson short but it didn’t occur to me at the time so I just rode it out, apologized meekly at the end and got out of there as fast as I could.

Since Cam turned one, we’ve been seeing more and more evidence of what a strong-willed child he is. I am also learning that I need different strategies to Col for dealing with him. For example, if Col raises his voice Cameron listens; if I raise my voice Cameron laughs at me. So a few weeks ago I decided that instead of raising my voice or lowering my tone, I’d grab Cam’s hands, make eye-contact with him and firmly say ‘No’. My first few attempts at this were hugely successful and I was encouraged. But then that sneaky Rip caught on. Now when I grab his hands, Cameron immediately starts looking at the ceiling, bending over backwards and twisting left and right – all in a desperate attempt to avoid making eye-contact! If he doesn’t look at me, I can’t say ‘No’. (It probably didn’t help that the first time he pulled this move I started laughing. It was just so cool to see how his brain works – even if it’s working hard at disobeying me.)

I think it was Stephen Hawking who said that intelligence is the ability to adapt. So now the question is, who can adapt fastest – mother or child?

Hello Sleep – I’ve missed you

A month ago, under the guidance of a sleep consultant, we started sleep training with Cameron and it has utterly transformed our lives. Cam has gone from waking every hour and a half at night to sleeping for 11 hours or more. What’s more, he usually goes down for his naps with very little fuss, and using the system, anyone babysitting for us can get him down too. He is thriving and I am a functional human being again!

As you can gather, the rewards have been huge, which has made it much easier to stick with the program on the tough days (of which there have been plenty). There have been lots of tears (mostly Cameron’s but some of mine too), resolve has fluctuated and occasionally doubt has crept in. Our sleep training story is not one of those miraculous 24 hour transformations – heck, a month in, Cam’s naps are still incredibly inconsistent! But having gone through it, I am firmly on the side of sleep training because not only does it work, but I can see the benefits decent sleep has had for our entire family.

Simply put, we had to remove all props Cameron was using to sleep (i.e. feeding and rocking) and give him space to learn to fall asleep by himself. Initially that space was filled with lengthy protests and plenty of tears but in a surprisingly short amount of time that stopped. Now when we put him down after his bath, he rolls over and mostly we don’t hear a peep from him until 6 am the next morning. The change is so dramatic that some days I have to remind myself it’s the same baby!

While it is true that Colin and I had to do the hard work in implementing the system, I am incredibly grateful for our sleep consultant, Petro Thamm*. She’s like a South African version of Mary Poppins – firm yet fun, professional yet easy to relate to and with a whole host of tricks and sage advice up her sleeve. And I needed that because sleep training was as hard as I anticipated it would be. In those first few days when I sat next to Cam’s cot, he would crawl over to me, put his arm between the slats and lie with his little hand stretched out, crying in confusion. It broke my heart and looking back now, I’m not sure how I managed! But knowing Petro was going to phone the next morning somehow strengthened my resolve.

The process of sleep training has been our first attempt at disciplining Cameron and we’ve learnt some big lessons. The first is just how consistent consistency needs to be. The second is that tough love is tough on parents too. The third is that there is a strong link between discipline and love. As Cam is testing boundaries more and more, we have plenty of opportunity to put these lessons into practice and are growing as parents in the process. To quote Bill Cosby:

In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck – and, of course, courage.

Here’s to love, luck, courage and a good night’s sleep!

*Petro Thamm is a certified Sleep Sense consultant. To find out more about her program, visit her website at http://www.goodnightbaby.co.za