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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Quitting and Failing Are Not the Same Thing

Competitive parenting is the ruin of many a mother's self esteem.  Benchmarks, milestones, highlights plague parents even as they repeat the mantra that every child is different, every one unique. They find themselves wondering if their baby is more advanced than their neighbor's niece.  Their parents start in with the ever-popular "when you were his age..."  Well-meaning mothers meeting at playgroups offer advice while others silently stew, worried about their own child's development.

And there is so much to worry about - weight gain, height, motor skills, walking, talking - the list seems unending.  Every time a child passes one hurdle, the next one looms, and sometimes, as parents, we push too hard.

My twins were born at 34 weeks.  They were in the 3rd percentile for weight and height for longer than I was comfortable with.  You would think, then, that I would be immune to all the talk about developmental victories, having struggled with my own kids in their infancy even to get them onto the charts.  Alas, I am not immune.

It started with sippy cups.  My children, for the longest time, refused to use sippy cups.  They would play with them.  They would try to dump the liquid out.  They would sometimes throw them and laugh at their achievement.  But drinking from one was a concept they could not grasp - not even with patient lessons from mommy.  Eight months passed, nine months - nothing.  What about straw cups, my parent counterparts asked?  What about a gummy spout?  I tried them all.

Then, one day, I stopped trying.  I quit.  And when I introduced the sippies to them once again, probably at 13 months or so, they used them from day one, as if there had never been a problem - as if they'd been using them from eight months old.  Quitting and failing are not the same thing.

Fast forward to the day before yesterday - I've just quit again.  When my babies turned two, we started potty training.  For four intense weeks, I cleaned up spill after spill.  I gave out treats and hugs.  I made a ritual of dumping potty droppings in the adult toilet with the babies.  For their part, they sat on those potties religiously.  They went diaperless (except for during naps and sleep).  They learned what having to go to the bathroom felt like. 

Then things took an odd turn.  They started ignoring that feeling.  They started flooding their diapers during nap and bedtime.  They started rejecting the potty.  We persisted for a week or so after that, until one morning, when I got up to change the babies and start another round of potty-sitting. I entered their room to find them absolutely soaked from head to foot and cold.  We aren't potty training, I realized.  I'm training them to hold their urine until they burst.  Messes I could deal with.  Uncomfortable babies on their way to urinary tract infections?  We needed to quit.

But, quitting and failing are not the same thing.  As I said, the day before yesterday I put them back in diapers.  Yesterday, for the first time in at least a week, Natalina asked for the potty.  She sat on it, and within minutes had gone number two.  Does this mean she's ready for the strict schedule I'd set for us, you know, to keep the pace with other babies?  No.  Today she's in diapers again.  And she's happy.  And she's healthy.  And two months from now, six months from now, a year from now, when she and her sister are actually ready to use the potty on their terms, they'll be trained.  I'm not worried about it.  So what if my mother says I was potty trained at 18 months?  Every baby is different and that doesn't make one any better or any worse than the other.  Plus, I'm starting to think she's remembering that wrong.

So, I say, relax.  When your child turns 10 you won't even remember these battles.  When your child turns 25, you may be the parent who says "well, when you were his age...", and you may also get the memory completely wrong.

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