Children must go through almost a million phases, particularly in the early years. Sometimes I could barely get used to my baby’s latest pattern before he had moved on to a different one! And some of these – especially around sleep, settling, behaviour or needing more attention than we are able to give – can feel never-ending at the time.
But of course they do pass, all of them. And when we look back at testing moments, at days that seem to stretch on forever, we mostly remember them differently: fondly, with love. They are just moments after all – moments that will pass – moments that become memories sandwiched in our hearts, reminding us how much our children have changed and grown, and how we have, too.
My son is only two-years-old, but recently I have found myself starting so many conversations with my husband with the words, ‘Do you remember when he used to..?’ It might be about him refusing to sleep anywhere except on us, or only nodding off during milk or when rocked for at least thirty-back-aching-minutes, or him cluster feeding every evening and my husband cutting up my dinner so I could eat it one handed with a spoon (pure class). We told him about some of these this morning as he sat dawdling with his breakfast and smiling ear-to-ear at the little person he used to be but can’t remember.
“And when you were a tiny baby, you couldn’t speak – everything was just ‘Waaahhhh’ until we rocked or fed you – sometimes all day.”
He laughed delightedly at us, “All day, all day, waaahhh!”
I do acknowledge that back then it didn’t always seem like much fun. Living in a state of exhaustion and being almost afraid of the baby I had made but didn’t understand. And yet, though I haven’t forgotten this, I know it was how early parenting had to be for me, for him. The wakefulness, the feeding, the tiredness, the uncertainty – it was necessary – and it was mere moments in the grand scheme of raising our boy. We built foundations, we learnt to swim, to adapt… and also to eat one-handed and survive on mere crumbs of sleep.
And now there are other phases, challenges. There’s nursery and separation anxiety, there’s fussy eating and kicks at nappy changes. There’s lying down every night next to his cot, him demanding our hand be wedged uncomfortably through the bars while he unwinds from his day and eventually drifts off. Any gentle suggestion he go to sleep without us, or even with us sat near but not practically in his bed are firmly rejected. The only way to a tear-free bed time here is staying beside him, so that is what we do.
But it can be difficult – we are always tired from our day by this point and what we want to have our dinner and unwind, not to mention all the necessary jobs we have to do before our own bed calls. Sometimes after I’ve been on duty, I practically stagger down the stairs, disorientated from an uncomfortable ten minute sleep on the floor or grumpy with hunger and the weight of the things I had planned for my wasted evening – and I have witnessed much of the same from my husband.
But last night I realised that my stress and concern over this current issue (as I seem to have termed it) is completely misguided. We won’t still be doing this in five or ten years – I know we won’t. Perhaps with some gentle encouragement or perhaps completely naturally, our son will learn to fall asleep by himself. Right now though, in this moment – he needs us. He needs us until the day he doesn’t any more, and all we have left is the memory of his slowing, rhythmic breathing and occasional checking of our presence through the brushing of his tiny, soft hand against ours.
Despite the practical downside, these moments are beautiful. He is our wonder, our masterpiece. He just wants to be with us – for a little longer – and really – how is there anything wrong with that?
So although moments like these, when our children need almost more than we are able to give, can be frustrating and challenging, they are just moments. And when we tell our boy about this particular phase in a few years, when his oh-so-grown-up exterior refutes our claims of him needing us, there will be no frustration attached. The desperation to get downstairs and eat dinner will have long since passed and we will be left with just the good parts: the closeness, the being there, the love.
So when we’re pushed to the brink, let’s remember it’s not forever. You are doing amazing things, every day, every night. And it’s noted… even if it doesn’t always seem like it.
We will remember being there in these moments, even though they will not. But what I hope our children will be left with is the feeling of love, and of us being there for them – when they needed it.
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