My daughter appears to be going through a challenging week. I don’t know if it’s teething-related (we’re still waiting for four big molars which seem to rumble occasionally) or because of nursery. It might be neither, and I’m probably projecting my nursery worries onto her. Either way, she is getting over a cold and has been sleeping more than usual, but also takes quite a long time to fall asleep in the evening.
Today she couldn’t agree with any of my plans, so getting ready for nursery was a struggle, getting home again was stressful because she could only be distracted from screaming with the help of a giant banana (after supposedly having eaten a good lunch just half an hour before), a trick which I only thought of halfway home, and the idea of stopping cuddling so that I could prepare her afternoon snack was met with a shouted “No!” followed by throwing herself on the floor.
At times like these it is difficult to stick to my plan of working towards what I have identified as my ideal parenting approach. I’m a big fan of the idea of Good-Enough Parenting, but nevertheless, when it comes to my daughter’s care, there are certain criteria which I find important to bear in mind. I will probably never feel ‘good enough’ for my standards (what mother ever does?), but I still try to aspire to a parenting style that feels right when I think about it in calm situations. When your child is snatching someone else’s toy in the middle of a heaving birthday party where all the other parents appear older, wiser, better-educated, calmer and more confident than you, it’s impossible to decide on your approach there and then, but if I think about it in advance and decide on a general stance, I find it slightly less stressful and it means that I don’t resort to the same behaviour as my daughter’s in order to restore fairness in toyland.
I see my parenting approach as constantly in flux. How I respond to my daughter depends on her development, her mood, and other situational variables. Now she is beginning to talk, it is clear that she can understand most of what I say to her, so it is now possible (and quite fun) to negotiate with her, e.g. ask her to hand my glasses back rather than prise her fingers off them. What is constant through all of this is my image of how I’d like my daughter to feel, the kind of person I’d like her to become, and how I’d like our relationship to be. So, ideally, I would like her to feel comfortable, confident and safe. I would like her to be curious, responsible and kind. And I would like our relationship to be built on trust: for her to know that she is always appreciated and that she can rely on me, and for me to know that if I give her the space to develop at her own pace, the end result will be fine.
The idea of acting according to the relationship you would like to have with your children is something I came across recently, I think it comes from Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting. I haven’t read his book yet, but it is on my list. Similarly to many of the eye-opening insights which have guided me through my daughter’s life so far (baby–led weaning, for example), I first came across Unconditional Parenting on Mumsnet. Recognising the risk associated with making my daughter think she has to earn my approval has thus far helped me resist falling into the ‘good girl’ trap. I still need to get used to the comparatively long-winded way of praising her (“X might feel sad if you take her toy away. – Look how happy she is now you’ve given it back!” vs. “Give that back! – Good girl!”), but I hope it will help her to develop her own values rather than encourage her to do things merely for an instant meaningless reward.
So when my daughter keeps waking up when I try to leave her room after having fed her for an hour already, I try to remember that she is doing it for a reason, that it is my job to find out what that reason is, and to help her cope with it. Huffing and puffing and getting fed up is sometimes inevitable, but if I work hard to behave like the kind of mummy I want my daughter to have, I feel much better when she finally does stay asleep, so it’s a win-win situation really.