Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Parenting 101

I used to think how lucky Oliver was to have parents as patient and loving as Andrew and me. He's been a very high-maintenance baby from the moment he was born. Lately, though, I've started to realize how fortunate we are that Oliver is as demanding as he is because it's forced us to learn to be parents.

Oliver started throwing his first tantrums a few months ago. In the last few weeks, they've gotten more extreme. He throws himself to the ground when he's upset, and if he still doesn't get what he wants, he starts throwing anything near him. Saturday morning, Andrew and I were completely miserable because Oliver wouldn't stop screaming unless one of us picked him up.

I realized that Andrew and I weren't the only ones unhappy. There's no way Oliver could be happy by spending his days throwing fits. So, if Andrew and I were not enjoying his company, and Oliver wasn't having a good time either, then we were failing him. The thing is, it's very easy to give him what he wants. It's very hard to not carry him around all the time when I know that's the one thing he wants from me. I told Andrew that we needed to draw a line in the sand. We had to start being tough with him. That sounds so cruel, knowing Oliver's just 12 months old. Still, the three of us did not deserve to be miserable!

For the rest of Saturday, we worked on not picking him up all the time. We insisted he sit on the floor to play games with us. At first, every time we put him on the floor, he started screaming. It was very hard to see him get hysterical, but we were persistent. We said firmly, "Uh-uh!" And when he kept it up, we ignored him completely and just talked to each other. Eventually (and it took a long, long time... over an hour...), Oliver stopped crying. We turned our attention to him and started to pick up toys, but the moment we gave him our attention, he started yelling and crying again, trying to get us to pick him up. This went on for the remainder of the morning and afternoon. By evening, though, there was already a lot of improvement. Andrew and I were relieved to see him play with his toys with us, play peek-a-boo, and crawl to get to things on his own again. Andrew and I were happy to be able to talk to each other, talk to Oliver, and play with Oliver. It was nice being a family.

Honestly, it felt so good that it worked. Had it not worked, I don't know what we'd do! The next morning (Sunday), Andrew and I had to start all over again. This time, it didn't take very long (less than an hour), and then Oliver transformed into a happy, interactive baby again. We gave him all the attention he wanted when he was out of our arms and not throwing a tantrum; we gave him little attention when we were carrying him and almost no attention at all when he was screaming/crying/whining.

Being firm with Oliver is the hardest thing I've ever done. Realizing that, I also realized how lucky we are that our first child has been this difficult. If he was easy-going, we would never have learned to be parents to Oliver. We would never have had to learn how to be firm and set limits. That wouldn't have been good for him.

This week has been much easier and so, so, so much more fun for me. It's very nice to be able to play games with Oliver or just watch him play while being nearby.

I'm not saying he never whines anymore. I am saying that it's not all the time, and it's much, much less frequent. I'm also saying that Andrew, Oliver and I are much happier, and I hope to never see the stress of these last few weeks again!

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