When my children were babies, I dreaded the end of Mother’s Day. As that magical respite of appreciation and pampering came to a close, I felt my ball gown slowly unraveling and transforming back into rags. The next day I’d return to servitude, subverting my whims to fill the needs of others, Cinderella once again.
There is no question that parenting, particularly for the first years, requires tremendous sacrifice. Like marathoners, mommies and daddies have to “go to the wall” on a regular basis, enduring sleep deprivation and tedious, endless days. If not for the aching adorableness of babies – the first smile (which might just be gas) and then the music of that first belly laugh — would we survive?
Parents need highs, and plenty of them. The good news is that the best ways to find parenting euphoria are good for your babies, too. Here are some ways I’ve achieved parenting bliss through the wisdom of infant expert Magda Gerber:
Do less, enjoy more. To make this famous Magda Gerber mantra your own, create a safe, gated play area, stock it with a variety of basic toys and objects (balls, cotton scarves, baby dolls, teethers, stacking cups, blocks – we get to be creative here), and allow that to be your baby’s haven when he is rested, changed and fed. Place him on his back so he has maximum mobility. Then sit comfortably beside your baby, let go of worries, projections and expectations and find that relaxing Zen place where you are fully present, waiting. The surprises begin…
I will never forget the expression on each of my children’s faces when they rolled from back to tummy for the first time after days of struggling to the sound of my gentle verbal encouragement. None of them smiled, but in their eyes was a glint of disbelief, then satisfaction, and recognition: “I can do it.”
Once my two-year-old took out a set of four cotton placemats, never-used ‘toys’ that had been in her play area for many months. She designated the placemats seats on an imaginary airplane. For several minutes she talked to herself as she arranged the seats, sat on them and even saw clouds pass by through the airplane window.
There are hundreds of moments like these with infants and toddlers when “it works”. There are also plenty of days when it doesn’t, but instilling the habit of inner-directed, uninterrupted play is an investment that guarantees treasured moments. Creating a place for playtime outdoors together makes the day even richer. Through inner-directed play our baby’s emergent personality, creativity and his unique methods of developing his physical and cognitive skills become our joyful discoveries, too.
Wait for readiness. We can’t wait for our baby to try out all the activities we loved as a child, but we get a bigger buzz (as does our child) when we delay gratification and wait for him to demonstrate readiness. Our child usually does this by initiating the activity himself (as in ‘tummy-time’).
Imagine you buy your toddler a tricycle. You are eager for him to try it out, but rather than sitting him on it and pushing, you wait. One day he discovers he can sit on it. He repeats that activity for several days, weeks, even months, and then begins fiddling with the pedals for more weeks. You let go of expectation and find patience. Suddenly, one day he gets it, and with a surprised grin on his face…he’s off! He owns his accomplishment. Since he is trusted to use the tricycle in his way and time rather than being taught or cajoled, using it is not a passive activity, or a source of stress, but one of joy for both of you.
A child is most ready when he can actively participate. Holding off on a first trip to Disneyland until a child can name characters, walk rather than ride around the park, and tell you which rides he wants to try, elevates the experience for everyone.
Make the heart grow fonder. I fell deeply in love with my children during their second year. But my intense adoration usually hit me when I was away from them. Taking breaks from child care, getting away for an hour or two, gives us the perspective we need to be eager for a joyful reunion. Whenever possible, have a relative or neighbor standby while your baby is napping, or hire a trusted caregiver once in a while so you can do errands, exercise, or meet a friend for lunch without bringing your baby. Pining for the baby you are besotted with is bittersweet bliss.
These are the days. Some very wise person nailed the parenting experience: “Every day lasts forever, but the years fly by.” Embrace these days. When the late afternoon “arsenic hour” is too much to bear, play music that inspires you. When times are really tough — look forward.
There will be happy surprises. Scribbles, preschool crafts, flowers from the garden on Mother’s Day will evolve into eloquent notes that leave you sobbing. Your children will make you laugh, cry and prouder than you can imagine. Loving a child is, by far, the most enduring high there is.
These are days that you’ll remember
When May is rushing over you
With desire to be part of the miracles
You see in every hour
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you are touched
By something that will grow and bloom in you. – 10,000 Maniacs, “These Are The Days”
In Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting, I share many, many more ways to enrich your parenting experience