Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Toddler parenting trick #4: Comfort Them

This is A-Train self-comforting.  I wish I had it on video!

This post is not really about breastfeeding.  I thought it would be, but writing it out and really reflecting, I realized nursing was the form that comfort for Bean and peace and quiet for me happened to take.  I'd love to hear in the comments what form this has taken for other toddlers and their parents.

I have said before that I don't think breastfeeding through toddlerhood or through any particular age at all is a requirement for raising awesome kids.  I debate including this in my impromptu series and reflections on what worked in Bean's toddlerhood because it's obviously a little more complicated (and loaded) than picking up a timer, pouring on some focused attention, or slowing down and letting yourself (and your kids) dawdle.

But this was a huge part of my successful experiences of parenting Bean.  So far, with A-Train, not so much.  It's there, but it is not nearly so central (hence I haven't blogged much about breastfeeding since we got the whole thing to stop making me think I had permanent nerve damage to my nipples...).

All that said, with Bean, wow.  Wow was I ever glad to have this parenting tool.  For Bean, nursing was the ultimate comfort.  It was the best way to calm him down when he was hurling himself over the edge (read:  at me).  If I wasn't here, eventually he would go completely over the edge (read:  rage against inanimate and immovable objects and scream unintelligibly for a lonnnnnnng time) and then ask someone to read him a book - he would never get to that point with me (and I tried!  Oh how I tried!).

A-Train is totally different.  Yes, sometimes he wants to nurse for comfort, but it isn't really his norm.  Sometimes he just needs his upset acknowledged ("Oh.  You're frustrated.  Here's a little help."  Moving on...).  Sometimes he just wants to be held or see what I'm doing.  Right now he wants to nurse all the time because his gut is still recovering from a virus.

I'm trying to remember how and when it has all shifted with Bean, who can now be instructed to take deep breaths and talk about his emotions, and who can sometimes be convinced to walk away and take a break when he is so frustrated he can't think straight.  At A-Train's current age (17 months), I seem to recall that every little upset or transition with Bean ended with my bra flap down.  I think that continued into his third year when yes, I was pregnant and yes, I would rather have not nursed so often and yes, we had more and more limits on nursing.  It's just who he is.  He is clearly my child - he flings himself whole-heartedly into every task, every emotion, and every interest.  Sometimes we each careen into obstacles...and we both have a really hard time admitting defeat.  I say this as I am exhausted after being up until 1AM obsessing over stuff that could easily have waited until daylight...or even the weekend...  The good news for Bean is that I kind of "get it."  The bad news for Bean is that I live it.  Man can we lock horns!

It took time and energy and patience to teach him to find comfort away from the breast.  I have to admit that I am grateful to have A-Train to show me that Bean's passion and his long-term frequent nursing were not "my fault."  Those boys arrived in my arms as individuals.  They arrived in my arms needing completely different things from me, each requiring me to stretch and grow in new ways to be the best mother for them.

I worry less about having to wean A-Train if my kidneys go south than I worried about Bean.  (Yes, the kidney disease is always hanging over my head in this area.  I have never felt any guilt at the prospect of weaning, but I have felt pangs of terror because dang that seems like a lot of work with energy I am not sure I have anyway, and it would be in a time of stress...  So yeah.  Terror.  Not guilt.)  They are just such different people.  Not that I am willing to work at weaning him now - if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

I suppose, really, I could boil this "trick" down way beyond nursing.  It's not the nursing that really mattered - it was respecting that my toddler had deep and sometimes-painful needs for what had always comforted him.  He was not ready to shift to more mature ways of being comforted or to more culturally-accepted ways of being comforted.  I know for some kids this comfort is a lovey, or a pacifier, or stroking their mother's hair, or any number of other things.  (And yes I did try giving him a lovey, a pacifier, and any number of other things - like words and sounds and actions and stuff to beat up!  And yet, that bra flap always ended up down.  Have I mentioned he is kind of stubborn and comes by it honestly?  ha!)

In fact, now that I really think about it, I'm starting to see other comforts emerge for A-Train.  He has always had this thing about pressure on his head.  He finds it relaxing if I press my palm to his forehead, and sometimes he firmly and repeatedly presses his head against a wall or the floor.  And he will grab my hand and move it along his face, wanting me to stroke his face and talk to him.  He also has yet to regularly go over the edge to the point where he can't hear me - so a simple suggestion of "let's get your pants and go outside" sends him running to his dresser gleefully, completely forgetting he was a little upset.

I wonder what is coming down the pike with him - the big tantrums started right around 18 months with Bean.  And I remember those first couple vividly!
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