MOM GUILT MONDAY #3
"DON'T WORRY. HE'LL BE FINE."
J-Dragon was perched comfortably in the crook of my arm as I handed his diaper bag to the nursery caregiver. On this particular Sunday morning, it was a husband and wife team tasked with happily snuggling and playing with the toddlers. It was the husband who greeted my son, enthusiastically, with a big smile... J-Dragon was not impressed. I felt his chubby little fist tighten on the sleeve of my dress. He made no move to budge from his safe perch. He started patting me gently with his other hand, a clear sign that he is mildly distressed and in need of comforting. I pat him gently on his back and sway slightly, side to side, as I speak with the nursery worker.
I hand over the diaper bag to the caregiver and sign in my little son. Knowing full well that my boy would soon start crying, I mention that there are snacks in his bag, along with his pacifier. And then I reach down into his stroller for his security blanket and hand it to the nursery worker. He seemed to balk at this and just stared at it for a beat, making no effort to reach for it. Instead, he said, "Oh no, don't worry. He'll be fine." and proceeded to reach for J-Dragon. He left me feeling uncertain as I stood there in the doorway, me holding the blanket and him, holding my son. J-Drgaon was not crying (yet) - he was intently assessing this new situation, trying to make sense of it and wondering what it meant for him.
I stood there for a moment, with J-Dragon's blanket in hand, and hesitated on what to do next. This was my second attempt at leaving him at the nursery - the first attempt was a few months earlier and he wasn't quite ready. On this day, I knew the blanket would be a comfort to him and I knew the pacifier would be, too. I had failed to bring both the first time - it had been a spur of the moment decision to try the nursery for the first time so I hadn't brought along his favorite things. This time, I came prepared to make his transition smoother and hopefully, successful - his blankie and binky were at the ready. I knew, without a doubt, that his blanket and pacifier would soothe and comfort him when I left. I also knew that he would only need them for a few minutes while he sat on a warm, soft lap, and got used to his surroundings. I also knew that once he set eyes on the countless colorful balls and mini basketball hoop in the corner of the nursery, he would forget all about his blanket and do away with his binky. I know my little son - I am his mommy and it's my very cool job to know these kinds of things about him and to 'mother' accordingly.
"And then I did something shocking and disappointing..."
It was clear to me that the man thought I was a nervous mom, over-babying my son and decided on the spot to over-ride my parenting decision. He seemed to conclude that my son wouldn't be needing the baby blanket or his binky. Inwardly, I bristled (translation: I was majorly ticked off). Then I did something that both shocked and disappointed me... rather than simply insisting that he take the blanket, "just in case", I turned to put the blanket away, back into the empty stroller, even though I knew full well that my son would desperately want it the moment that I left. I knew that he liked to soothe and comfort himself by touching the smooth blue satin piping, along the edge of the blanket, with the tips of his tiny fingers like a buddhist and his beads. I also knew that being able to comfort, soothe, and identify one's emotions and feel safe were all important for healthy emotional development. And I knew that some parents consider security blankets and binkies harmful 'crutches' that hinder a baby's independence and development. I am NOT that parent or in that camp.
Let's be clear as to which parent camp I plant my flag - pacifiers, security blankets, and stuffed animals do not handicap a baby from learning to be independent or point them towards a future of constant neediness and inability to function independently. They don't fill our society with wimpy adults, sucking on their thumbs. They actually aid in doing the opposite. Having the ability to soothe and calm oneself in a healthy manner creates strong, confident, independent, and secure-minded individuals. We all could use something or someone to support or comfort us in distressing times. For a little one, using soothers acknowledge that very strong, and overwhelming feelings are valid and should be addressed, whether with a hug, or a security blanket, or in some other healthy and comforting way.
"You'll be fine. You don't need that." But you see, he does. Not forever, but for a time, he really, really does need it and that's okay. My baby boy, with each passing day and month, will learn new skills, discover new things, and celebrate victories, both big and small. And with each new discovery and skill learned, he will need his blanket and binky (and mommy) less and less and that is a beautiful thing. Until then, he can have his binky, his blankie, and all the hugs and reassurance that he wants. He doesn't have to be a brave little man at 18 months(!) and prove to anyone that he doesn't need anything or anyone when times are tough. And if he's scared when dropped off in a new place, it's okay to seek out something familiar for reassurance and comfort. Today, he can practice taking care of himself with the help of his trusty blanket and pacifier. I'm proud of him that he can do that for himself.
So why was I about to disregard all of that and leave him unmoored on a stranger's lap, soon to be crying and distressed? This is where mom guilt stepped in - It was because I didn't want the caregiver to think that I was a nervous mother hen, over-babying and smothering my child. Is that what I am? Maybe that's who I am... For a moment, it was more important to me that he thought well of my mothering skills and I was willing to sacrifice meeting my son's needs for that bit of positive acknowledgement. I am not proud of this. The caregiver had already walked away with my J-Dragon and he was carrying him around confidently, like his little buddy. No tears yet but he definitely wasn't warming up to the new arrangement.
I stood there at the doorway until the caregiver saw that I was still there. I gave him the blanket and said again, gently, "Here's his blanket. It'll come in handy when I leave." He took it (begrudgingly) and rather than handing it to my son, he placed it with the diaper bag without saying a word. I then walked around to the one-way-see window and watched my baby boy start to cry and howl as he saw me walk away. The worker immediately handed him over to his very capable and kind looking wife. She sat with my son in her lap and lovingly rubbed his back and mouthed soothing things to him. 'She's a pro,' I thought. She said something to her husband, which I couldn't hear. He turned from her and headed straight for my diaper bag, grabbed the blanket and gave it to my son and went back to the bag to look for his binky. My son clamped onto the blanket immediately and balled it up in his very special way that he always did when he was tired or distressed. I stayed at the window until he stopped crying and it was all of four minutes ( and yes, they were a very loooong 4 minutes for this mama). He sat on her lap for a little while longer, his breath hitching.
I feel guilty that I almost allowed another parent's judgment hinder me from allowing him the opportunity to take care of himself while I was away. The husband playfully ran little toy cars on the ground in front of them and my little guy calmed down. And yes, once he felt safe and a little brave, he slid off her lap, shed his blanket and binky, and headed off to explore, all on his own. He went straight for the balls...