Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Judge Not

 Prior to having a child of my own, I thought I knew a thing or two about parenthood. I'd look at parents with their children, and I confess, I'd judge. "I'll never yell at my child in public." "Look at them, why can't they control their kids? My kids will be so much better behaved." "Those parents are softies. They let their kids run their lives." Ha. Oh, my naivete.

  Thing is, I know I'm not alone. I have read a number of blog posts and articles, written mostly by moms, that have confessed the very thing that I just shared. Many writers frame their posts as an open letter of apology to any and all parents they may have judged in the past. I guess, I'll follow suit.


 To the parents with the kid who takes forever to eat, or refuses to eat, that I judged. I'm sorry. To those parents that co-slept with their children, that I looked down on. I'm sorry.

  I am learning fast and hard that parenting IS NOT easy. I read books, I tried to prepare, but seriously, I feel like when you're actually on the field in the game, most of that knowledge just goes right out the window.

 When I first started out in this world of parenting, I was determined to be the model father - one who walked the fine line of love and discipline. One who would have well-behaved children, who knew they were loved and yet would keep in line and know what to do when and where.  I rejected the notion that my daughter would ever be capable of wrapping me around her little pinky. I was the authority, not her, she would live by my direction and not the opposite way around.

 Right. Did someone just splash cold water on me, because I am now fully awakened and out of my dream-like fantasy?

  The longer I am a father, the more I realize, I have NO IDEA what I'm doing. Half the time I'm guessing at what the best thing to do is. I try to stay strong and maintain discipline, but I fear crossing the boundary and inflicting some trauma or emotional scar on her.

  One clear, example, as those of you who are my friends on Facebook know, is the idea of sleep training. Seriously, I thought I knew what I was supposed to do, but truthfully? I don't.

  I got into this thing, completely believing in the philosophy that a child needs to sleep in his or her own bed, and they need to learn how to soothe themselves to sleep. If that means crying it out a couple of nights, then that means crying it out a couple of nights. I was determined to have a heart of steel, my child will cry, and I will be immune.

  Linda (my wife) and I even had several arguments about the best way to put Alicia to sleep. I felt Linda was being too soft, she felt I was being too hard. And I was angry. I really wanted to teach Alicia to sleep on her own. But it was hard for Linda to hear Alicia crying so relentlessly. I even went so far as to lock Linda out of the room so I could put Alicia to bed MY way. (Note to husbands out there, NOT A GOOD IDEA, unless you really want to see the Mama Bear rear its claws.)

  As determined as I was,  I quickly learned that I was no superhero. And even if I were, every superhero has his weakness. My Kryptonite? The tear-soaked, snot-smeared red face of my poor little girl as she cries pitifully on her knees with her arms raised begging me to pick her up.  I mean, I couldn't. I just COULDN'T just leave her there.

  Eventually, Linda and I came to a compromise, and by compromise I mean, I completely crumpled to the pressure and we have been rocking Alicia to sleep and lying in bed with her until she's asleep pretty much every night since she was a few months old.

 Oh, don't get me wrong, we've tried, several times in the past year or so to do the sleep training thing. We got into a few more arguments. I even tried to do research to prove that I was right. Yeah, well, I don't know what's right. Is there even a right?

  It just doesn't feel right to let a child cry out in desperation and not respond.  I mean what does that teach them? I know the arguments. Life is cruel. People are harsh. We don't always get what we want. But really? Are we, as parents, supposed to be the ones to inflict that on them so they can learn?

  So often I try to think what God would do? I mean, he's supposedly the perfect Father, so what would he do? Somehow, I just can't imagine him turning his back on us if we're crying out desperately to him.

  And thing is, I know the idea of putting them in their crib, leaving the room and letting them cry it out. But again, I just feel wrong about that. Cause I mean, how do I know that it's just she doesn't want to go to sleep? What if I'm wrong? What if she just really doesn't want to be left alone? What if she's scared? What if she's really stressed out about the separation? Am I to just leave her? How does that not create abandonment issues?

  Let me take a break here and say that I'm not advocating or condoning one method over another. I am not placing any sort of judgment or criticism on the cry-it-out method or the co-sleeping method. I am simply sharing with you my thought process. So if I have offended, please forgive.

 Back to what I was saying. So recently, Linda and I thought it might be time for Alicia to transition into her own bed. She's getting bigger, and so three of us on the bed is getting a bit crammed. And honestly, I don't think I've have one night of uninterrupted rest whenever she sleeps with us. It's not that she wakes up, because on most nights she sleeps through the night. It's just that she moves around a lot, so if it's not a foot in the face, it's a head-butt to the gut - hard not to wake up under these circumstances. So we thought, OK, let's try to teach her to sleep in her own crib.

  Right. You'd think I was inflicting some sort of cruel and unusual punishment on the child, the way she carried on. Eventually, I had to tag out. Linda took over, rocked her to bed, and then placed in her in the crib, while I went to do some self-soothing of my own.

  The next morning, Linda took Alicia for a routine check-up with a doctor specializing in developmental issues. Linda shared with her how we were trying to transition Alicia into her own bed. The doctor actually recommended that we not rush.

  She asked Linda if Alicia when sleeping with us, would crawl over to one or the other of us and insist on some sort of physical contact with us. Linda confirmed that this was indeed the case. We'd place Alicia somewhere between us while we're settling in for the night, and try our best not to to touch her, for fear of disturbing her sleep. But somehow in the middle of the night, Alicia would always crawl or somehow maneuver her body so that her hand, her head, her foot... some part of her body was in contact with either I or Linda.

  The doctor explained that since Alicia was born so early, she lost three crucial months in the womb for bonding and connecting with mom. It's also during these last three months that the senses are developed and infants brains learn to receive and organize various stimuli. So now, she seeks out extra stimuli in a way to make up for what she lost in those last three months.

 Also, the co-sleeping allows her to build a bond and connection with us that she didn't get in those four months in the incubator. So apparently, her co-sleeping helps with her emotional and cognitive development. And to be honest, I do see a difference. I feel like I've heard somewhere that preemies in general are very irritable, anxious and rather insecure. But Alicia is none of those things. She's actually rather happy, mild-tempered and quite secure. And I do think that part of that is the bond that she gets when she sleeps with us.

So I really don't know. I mean part of me thinks, man it's a lot of work to have to rock her and hold her every night until she falls asleep. There are so many other things that I could be doing. But then the other part of me thinks, well, just suck it up. She's only going to be a baby once. And really, to who's benefit is it for her to "cry-it out?" So she stops crying after a few nights, but is that really because she's learned to self-soothe, or is it because she's learned that crying is of no use, and well, so why bother? I don't know. I mean, I just keep thinking, am i just being selfish and trying to let myself have an "easier" time?

Then there's the fear that we'll spoil her by rocking her to bed every night. But studies have actually shown that kids who co-sleep with their parents for even a brief amount of time, end up being more well-adjusted and more socially adept. And I mean I have also conducted my own non-scientific, non-professional observations. I have noticed that those kids who co-sleep with their parents tend to be more outgoing and less fearful and shy than those whose parents force them to learn to sleep on their own. Again, non-scientific, definitely not conclusive, and for sure there are exceptions to the rule. But for the most part the kids that I know that are more happy and less clingy are those that have done some amount of co-sleeping. I wonder.

  Anyway... so, conclusion? I don't really have one. Only that Linda and I will continue to love on Alicia in the best way that we can. And that we will continue to pray for wisdom.

  I believe eventually Alicia will outgrow the need to sleep with us. Hopefully she won't, as Linda said today, go straight from sleeping in our bed to sharing a bed with her husband. But, I think for now, we'll just stick with cuddling up with our little angel while she's still wanting to be with us, cause for sure, soon enough, she'll be all grown-up and out of the house and well, it'll probably be me who'll need some rocking and soothing the first night that happens.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


What is time? Minutes, hours, days pass. Time continues to move forward. And yet, so often it feels like things continue to stay the same.

As I write this, it is almost midnight of March 10, which means that in a few minutes Alicia will be 18 months old adjusted (her age she would be if she had been born on her original due date). Our daughter would have been one year and six months old if she hadn't decided to come out early.

In the beginning, when I was still learning all about what it meant to be a parent of a preemie, I learned all about adjusted age vs. actual age. For a brief short hours, I had the naive fantasy that because she was born early that she would maybe somehow be ahead of the curve. She'd develop earlier than everyone, she'd learn how to walk, talk, etc... before everyone else. Well, it wasn't long before my metaphorical bubble was quickly blasted into tiny fragments of imagination. I learned from doctors and my own research that not only did her being a micro-preemie mean that she wouldn't be ahead of the developmental curve, but also, the truth is, the condition of her birth might cause her to be "delayed". I was disappointed.

Being someone who likes to be ahead of the curve, years ago, whenever I'd hear stories of my friend's children learning to walk at 8 months, or learning to talk before their first birthday, I used to think, someday, I want my child to do that. Ha. Well, as I've learned, things don't always work out the way you'd like.

While I was disappointed at first to hear the news, it's only recently that I've begun to feel the full brunt of the let-down.

I see my niece, Hope, who was originally due within weeks of Alicia, walking, running, picking things up, holding her own cup, feeding herself, and I can't help but think, wow, if Alicia were born "on time" she'd probably be doing those things.

But I comforted myself, and thought, it's OK, she's just a little behind, she'll catch up.

Then I see, Karis, one of Alicia's closest friends, she just turned one a couple of months ago. She's already started walking and toddling around, and I think, when will it be our turn?

It's gotten to the point where kids who are younger than Alicia are surpassing her in the developmental milestones, and I just keep thinking, when, God? When will she catch up?

And then there's her size and her weight. When I look at her just on her own, I think, she's great. She's growing, and wow, she's so much bigger than when we first brought her home. But then I look at other kids her age, and they're like twice her size. And today, I learn that Alicia's other friend, Joshua, who is 5 months old, is wearing the same size diaper as she is. I'm like... ARGH!

And the doubt starts creeping in. Am I not doing enough? What can I do to help her develop faster? She's only started babbling, and even then she just makes the one sound over and over. How much longer before I can hear her call me "Daddy"?

I feel like ever since Alicia's been born, it's been this constant waiting game. Most parents hear their child's cry within seconds of delivery, we had to wait months. Most kids get held within moments of being born. Alicia had to wait months. Most kids go home with Mom and Dad a few days after birth, we waited... yes, that's right, months.

In fact about the only thing we didn't have to wait for was to see her, because she came out early. But you know what, I could have waited. I really could have.

But there's no use playing this could have, would have game. She came out early, we can't change that. We just help her with what we can now.

And I know there are people that say, "What's the rush?" Let her crawl a bit longer. She'll talk when she's ready. I know all that. It's just as a parent, you can't help but wonder, is she OK? Will she really "catchup" as everyone says.

I'm sure that in a year from now, I'll look back on this and think, what was I so wound up about? She's fine! And I know she's OK.

I guess, I'm just tired of waiting. I want to hear my daughter call me Daddy. I would give anything to not have to think about her muscle tone being tight, and not having to wonder if she's using her left arm enough, or is she standing right, or why isn't she making more sounds?

Thing is, it's a huge lesson in NOT COMPARING. Right? I mean, yes there are "norms" for development but each child is different. Each child develops at his or her own pace. And barring some huge unforeseen circumstance she's got a good 90-100 years here on Earth ahead of her to walk, talk, dance, etc... So why am I in such a rush?

I think I just want to know that she's OK. I just want her to have a good life. I want her to have full function of her body. I don't want her to have any "problems".

But really? What can I do? Not too much. I can pray, and that's a huge deal. But beyond that, she's going to develop at her own pace.

And besides, she is doing so well. Alicia is such a happy, well-adjusted, secure child. She isn't overly emotional, and doesn't cry for no reason. She isn't afraid of strangers, and will readily share a smile with people she just met. She is so responsive when we talk with her and play with her, and seeing her face light up every time I walk in the door after work just fills my heart with so much joy.

So really, I just need to suck it up and trust God. Time is such a relative thing anyway, eh? What is "on time"? What is "late"? God is ALWAYS on time, and he will never be late.

Do I wish that he would do things on my time table? OF COURSE! But, he's God, he created Alicia, he brought her out when he did. I've got to trust that he's got her life in his hands. He has come through again and again with Alicia's life, so there's no reason to think that he's going to stop now.

So, Daddy. I just let go. Alicia is your daughter. You've entrusted her to our care, but ultimately, she's yours.

And I will just relish the milestones just that much more when we arrive. =D