Stay the Course

Hopefully my consistency in parenting is better than my approach to posting on this blog. It’s not that there isn’t a lot to write about; every day with Toby is an adventure. He has boundless energy, and just the things he says on a daily basis could fill volumes. Finding the time and energy to document his words and activities is another matter.

While some things in life can survive a “take it as it comes” attitude, parenting is not one of them (at least as I see it). Children are the first to point out disconnects between what we say and what we do; even quicker to point out that we let them do “X” last time… why not now? I believe we shape our children one interaction at a time, which means we need to be mindful of what we say, how we act, and what we model.

I know many will disagree with that concept. Believe me, I’m not a “helicopter parent”, constantly hovering over Tobey to supervise his every move. But I do like to be intentional. I know that I want him to adopt certain values and beliefs, certain ways of interacting with others that recognize their worth and honor them…. and I’ve seen through life that those things don’t just happen.

The problem is, I still struggle with consistency in important areas of my own life. I’d really like to be one way, but I find myself behaving in ways that contradict that desire. It reminds me of the saying that we have two animals inside of us… one that wants to do good and one that wants to do evil. Which one wins? The one we feed. Perhaps for some people, consistency comes more easily. I was not raised to be a disciplined person, and have struggled to overcome that my entire life. I see threads of that struggle in my first four children. I don’t want Toby to fight that same battle. Perhaps learning consistent habits earlier in life will help him later. But I’m guessing that those life skills are as much “caught” as “taught”. Which means my battle is long from over. If not for my sake, then at least for his.

A Long Day’s Night

Tobey has never slept well. Hs challenges significantly predate his coming to live with us. We know from his previous caregiver that he often woke up with night terrors, screaming and clawing at something that only he could see. We experienced that scary phenomenon for a couple of months after he came to live with us, but it eventually subsided. In fact, he mostly slept through the night for almost 4 months, until his birth mother and her new husband showed up unexpectedly at our door demanding that he be returned immediately. That episode seemed to scare him so badly that he hasn’t really slept through the night since. And that’s been over a year.

I suppose that, in the grand scheme of things, not getting a good night’s sleep as a parent isn’t the end of the world. But after a year, it starts to drag you down. Some nights are better than others, but some are downright awful. We’ve had some episodes of waking up every 45 minutes, with him needing to be patted back to sleep for an hour. Many nights, he needs to have someone lay down next to him until he falls asleep, which may take an hour or two on a bad night.

We struggle with how much of this is learned behavior and how much is some deep-seated insecurity. We’ve been hesitant to force him to “cry it out”, as almost any parent of a two year old has had to do. Is this just a delayed developmental phase, or is he really that fragile? Deep down, neither the wife nor I wants to hear in 15 years that we scarred him irrevocably because we wouldn’t sleep next to him. But we also don’t want to stunt his emotional development. They still don’t give instruction books for this stuff.

So, we struggle on. He really likes his room, so we’re experimenting with agreeing to lay down with him, but not in his room. If he wants someone to lay down, it needs to be in another bed. Does that mean anything to a 5 year old? I don’t know. But so far, nothing else has worked.

All I really want is a good night’s sleep. And a happy kid. Is that too much to ask?

A Look in the Mirror

There are definitely phases to raising children. We had 4 kids in round one, all pretty close together. Their age proximity meant that we experienced about 8 straight years of toddlerhood, then moved on to preschool for about the same amount of time. We never really had to go back to any previous phases because of “late arrivals.” Until Tobey.

In the spirit of brutal honesty, I did not handle the abrupt return to dealing with a preschooler very successful. The transition was compounded by the fact that he was somewhat developmentally delayed; he looked like a 4 year old, but behaved more like a 2 year old. I remember very vividly being so frustrated as this tiny human directly challenged my authority to tell him to put away his toys or, heaven forbid, eat with a fork! My mood, or the circumstances of the moment, often drove my response, as opposed to a rational and emotionally sound understanding of his difficulties.

While I’m happy with the progress I’ve made in responding in a more appropriate manner, I got an ugly slap in the face while I was on the road this week. I saw a family traveling through the airport and got to witness another father treat his own son, about Tobey’s age, in the same way I did more often than I’d like to admit. The boy was doing what little kids often do… experiencing and engaging with his world in a fully immersive way. He was jumping from one colored carpet square to another instead of walking in a straight line like any normal, sane person would do. His dad, on the other hand, was a man on a mission. Get to the baggage claim as directly and quickly as possible. Never mind the fact that they would almost certainly beat the bags and then be forced to wait, standing still, for what would seem like an eternity to both of them.

Dad had a choice, as I did so often. Slow down and experience the world with his son, or try to drag him back into the reality of their “urgent” task at hand. You can guess what he did. Grabbing his son by the arm, he yanked and pulled. As the boy resisted, he pulled harder. Watching the interaction and the boy’s struggles, it literally broke my heart. How many times have I placed my artificially elevated priorities above engaging with Tobey in the moment, then used my size and strength to prove that I was more important? The aching in my heart for that little boy told me it was much more often than I’d want to admit.

I wanted so much to stop the father and tell him to take a deep breath and engage. I wanted to tell him to hold his son’s hand less tightly… and hold his heart more tenderly. I wanted to tell him… to tell me… that the luggage would wait, and that somewhere, deep inside, his son would remember this interaction much longer than the father.

But I did none of that. I held my tongue as the man dragged his struggling son through the airport. And I cried inside as I saw myself in his place, knowing that, even today, my capacity for failure is so great. God forgive me.

The Journey Begins

In my mid fifties (okay, maybe late fifties), I never thought I’d find myself raising a preschooler. I could have seen myself filling the grandpa role, but “dad”? You never know what life will throw at you. But, here we are. My wife and I are back in the primary parenting role, six years after the youngest of our four kids graduated from college. It’s a brave new world of parenting, and we’re back in the middle of it. Whether you’re interested in parenting young kids, discovering new roles as an emerging “senior citizen”, or just experiencing life in general, you are welcome to follow along.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton