Before I had children, I used to be every mother’s toughest critic. I remember I would calmly and confidently ask my aunt why she allows her little daughter, who was a preschooler at the time, to climb into her bed in the middle of the night. My question was not only because of curiosity, but it clearly had a tone of disagreement with her actions. Or I would wonder why a close family friend would always pick up and lovingly hold their child EVERY SINGLE TIME the child cried. That would go on my nerves because I could just foresee that child turning into an emotionally weak individual many years from then. And when I vocalized my disagreement to the parent or to those close by, I would wonder why they would just return it with a tired smile and change the topic.
I felt that I had a perspective on the child’s life and experiences that the parent was simply unable to see, and hence I justified my incessant judgments of how the child was being raised. Of course, my criticism was mostly of those I loved and cared for deeply; I just wanted what was best for the child and the parent, and I could not understand why some of the parents’ behaviors were left unseen by everyone but me.
I was so adamant about my opinion on child rearing, that I had made up my mind that I would never give in to my child’s request for junk food, I would never let my child sleep in my bed, and I would never give in to my child’s fake cries, lest these actions would destroy my child’s future character forever.
I remember one day I was out for dinner with some girlfriends and the family next to us had two small children who were quite restless and loud, but suddenly were quiet as a mouse. I looked over and cringed: the parents were playing a cartoon on their cell phone for the kids to watch while they ate and tried to have a simple conversation. I remember I came home to my fiancée and made such a big fuss about it. We had a very confident conversation making promises to never let our yet-to-be-born children do that.
Fast forward 6 years.
Yup, you guessed it!
At least once or twice a week, 3.5 year old Sophia is heard running as fast as she can in the middle of the night to our bedroom. She climbs in, we welcome her with open arms, and she spends the rest of the night with us.
Similarly, little 21 month old Isabella wakes up around 4 or 5 am, and refuses to be put back in her own bed. And yes these visits to mom and dad’s bed often times coincide, and one of us can be found at the edge of the bed, while the other is sleeping perpendicular at the bottom of the bed. Oh and let me tell you, even a Cal-King bed is not big enough for this!
And guess what I do when either of them throws a temper tantrum? I get close and I offer a warm loving hug. It never fails and always calms them down. Then I try to discuss what just occurred that set them off. Now that I have two children, I am often seen holding both of them simultaneously, and with equal love and affection, especially after there’s been a “situation” of conflict. Sometimes, those around me insist on taking one of my daughters away from the “situation” and out of my arms; I ALWAYS REFUSE. If my daughters are able to find peace in their mother’s bosom, why would I deny them that?
One morning at preschool drop-off, Sophia had an emotional episode of separation anxiety and my eyes were full of tears because I didn’t want to leave her crying first thing in the morning. I stayed with her for almost 45 minutes, and then her teacher gave me the cue to say goodbye. I couldn’t hold back the tears. Her teacher said, “if it’s any consolation, this is an indication that she has healthy attachment to you and that she will not end up in an abusive relationship.”
And if you do run into my family at a restaurant on a weekend for lunch, don’t be surprised to see crayons and food scattered across the table, while our daughters are quietly watching a Dr. Seuss book being read to them on our phones. My husband and I are probably starving and trying to get at least a mini conversation in while we chow down on our meal. I used to look around the first few times we took out the phones as entertainment, and I used to wonder how many people around us were judging me. Now, I don’t care! If anything, I remember myself back in the days, and I smile with amusement at my innocent judgmental ignorance.
My husband and I often laugh about our prior childless selves, while we pour our second cup of french press coffee on a typical Sunday morning, following a sleepless night. We laugh because everything about our decision to welcome our young little angels into the comfort of our bed was justified. We laugh because we see the joy in our daughters’ faces as they play lovingly together and we know that as soon as we tell them that it’s time to go potty, or wash their hands for lunch or whatever else, at least one of them will throw herself on the ground in disagreement. And one of us will pick her up and embrace her until she calms down.
So, to all of you out there who do not have children, I have one request: please don’t judge me. In the same way that I shall never allow myself to judge you or your lifestyle choices, I sincerely ask that you don’t frown upon my parenting-style. I used to be in your shoes and I used to judge; and now I am the one who will simply return a tired smile to anyone who has an opinion about my parenting.