Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Standing up for your kids

We're recuperating right now from a grandparents visit. It was one of those packed two-week extravaganzas that make you wonder: Are you visiting Seattle, or visiting us? Because maybe you should choose.

Often it's been just Sam's mom who's come out, and for once it was both his parents. His dad hadn't seen Mikko since he was four months old (Mikko, that is). And now our little guy is two years old, so he's changed a bit.

So it was good. Good to see them, good for Mikko to see them. Good to see Mikko connect with his grandparents, call Granddad "Da-da" and learn that he was the dude who always had a cool pen in his pocket. "Peh, peh," as Mikko would insist.

And we even had a couple quiet moments of connection and familial bliss, like the laid-back excursion to a German toddler story time at the library, just Grandma, Mikko, and me.

But at the end of it all, we had one very, very tired little guy. Two-year-olds don't do so well with pulling all-nighters, and Mikko didn't sleep well the whole two weeks. He found it hard to unwind from all the excitement of the day to fall asleep at night; he was awoken early by the strange sounds in the bathroom adjoining our bedroom (does that sound wrong to say?); and naps were an utter bust. There was always something going on, even if we had the chance to put him down for a bit during the day. He won't sleep on the move anymore, so...well, he got tired. To the point of screaming. Random meltdowns over the slightest trigger.

And Granddad would ask, "What's wrong with him?"

And we would say, "He's tired."

"Yes, but what's wrong?"

How to explain two-year-old behavior to someone who didn't raise his own kids? Who doesn't know that there's not always an easy fix when a baby is exhausted and feeling overwhelmed and just needs time and space to recover.

And, so, on the last day, Sam felt he had to speak up. It seemed almost too late, but he felt like it would certainly be too late if he waited till the next trip.

He told his parents that Mikko needed a less brutal pace. That a toddler needed absolute quiet during a few hours of the day to rest, and that his parents really should have gone out on their own instead of hanging around and distracting him. That some trips were simply too long and too dull for a boy his age to tolerate. He told them that next time would need to be different, that the grandparents could do whatever they wanted to in terms of vacation if they did most of it on their own, but that the grandchild would retain more of his routine.

Sam said all this respectfully, but he still felt guilty afterwards. He wondered if there had been a point to bringing it up at all right as his parents were leaving, so that it was their last perspective on the trip.

But in the end, he felt like it had been his duty to speak up for a toddler who couldn't articulately speak for himself, and that, indeed, he regretted not having taken a stand earlier.

I told him I knew exactly what he meant, because the parenting episodes I've regretted most have been the times I was called to be an advocate for my child and failed.

For instance, there was the nurse in the hospital forcing formula down him, as I watched in pained dismay but didn't snatch my newborn back to stop her.

More recently, I feel like I should have stayed in the class with him longer when he was just beginning his preschool, even the whole time if necessary, so that he could have felt comfortable while still having my presence. I felt pressure to conform to expectations and to what the other parents were doing, but we're not the same people, and our children have different needs.

I think, after all, that this is our ultimate role as parents, is it not? To advocate, to stand up for these fragile beings who have been placed in our care, to look out for their best interests while they're not in a position to do so for themselves.

I know we don't get chances to do things over, but I hope I start to see my opportunities to stand up for Mikko, and that the reminder that I will mournfully regret not doing so is enough to prompt me to go against the grain when needed to give my child what he needs.


Amanda said...

Great post!

This is exactly what I've been leaning with my son too. Initially, I tried to "conform" but now that he's nearly 3, I've learnt that all kids are different and I need to stand up for who he is. It doesn't mean that I'm spoiling him or giving in to his wants.

Sandy said...

I don't know if you have other children or what their ages are (it's my first time here), but as the mother of four, the oldest being 18, I can tell you that you are going to have countless opportunities to stand up for your child's best interest. People mean well, but they can be very heavy-handed in telling you what's best and expecting you to go along. You're the mom, you know best; don't let anyone tell you differently. He will quickly get to an age where he will know if you're on his side or not. Keep up the good work, Mom. You won't regret it. Oh, and a big round of applause to your husband. Standing up to the grandparents is very difficult.

Anonymous said...

It pains me that I have to learn so much through my first child. I have to make so many mistakes with him because I still need to unlearn so much that this backwards parenting culture has instilled in me over the years. But at least I'm getting better. I just hope to do well enough that he will be able to do an even better job with his own kids one day.

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