Ever since reading the PhD in Parenting post on Emotional Availability and Infant Sleep I have been mulling over the concept of ’emotional availability’. For us it was never an ‘option’ to parent the small one to sleep each and every time, it was instinctive. Not to digress into a lecture on infant development and mental health, but to me controlled crying (or crying-it-out, or controlled settling, or whatever incarnation it’s presented in) with a newborn is just teaching them that they can holler all they like and no-one will care. New baby humans aren’t meant to be independent. So I feed small, one of us rocks him, pats him, tucks him into his bed, sings eleventy-nine verses of Silent Night (twenty years from now I fully expect a lecture from small….how my mummies ruined Christmas by using carols to induce sleep and now I sleep through every festive season, spontaneously nodding off in shopping centres as early as October) and slowly creeps away. Sometime this takes five minutes, sometimes it takes forty-five minutes. Sometimes I go to bed and am out cold immediately, sometimes I lie there with my brain fizzing for hours, whispering at the beloved and poking her with my cold feet. See my point?
Anyway, while it is always affirming to read that your own parenting practices can have positive and specific ramifications for your child, there is more to it than just sleep quality. I was walking today and musing on a conversation the beloved and I have had many times lately, about how we really need to try to be nicer to each other, to be less snappish and more kind, less ‘get off me, I’m busy ironing’ and more ‘why yes, I am listening and appreciative of your concerns’. A snuffly small was tucked against my chest, riding high in the ergo, occasionally patting me on the cheek and ‘hhhurrrhing’ at things we passed. And I realised for the umpteenth time how open he is, how raw. Whenever I look at him he is looking to me, even if he’s seen something that interests him he looks back to me to pull my attention to it. His face is open, his eyes searching my face. He’s like we all are when we fall in love. Do you remember? When all you can see is That Person, when all you can think about is That Person, when everyone else is a little bit blurry. And if That Person doesn’t see you, doesn’t hear you, how bleak do you feel? He hasn’t learnt to suppress, switch off, distract himself with work. He is just feeling it. And just like falling in love, it won’t last forever. He will grow into a toddler, a child, a tween (oh lordy), a teenager, an adult. His focus will shift ever-outwards, he will move ever-outwards, out of the nest of my arms. And as this happens he will keep looking back to me, to us, just a bit less often. And I want him to know that he matters, that people matter more than stuff and that if he needs us, we’ll be there.
I’m no saint. Don’t get to thinking that every time I’m murmuring the third verse of Silent Night on the fourth repeat that I’m smiling beatifically, stroking small’s tiny brow and praising the joy of forty minutes of rocking back and forth. No no no, there are times when I’m absolutely resentful, grinding my teeth, huffing, sighing and willing him to just-bloody-go-to-sleep-so-I-can-go-back-to-my-ever-cooling-cup-of-tea-and-vital-episode-of-Modern-Family. But I’ll keep doing it. Like with the beloved and I, it’s just a matter of practice and constant reminders. The small one won’t need to be rocked to sleep forever, but I hope that one day, when he might be a super-sensitive tween, or an angsty teen, that he’s as emotionally available to me as he is now.