I’ve had a couple of valuable epiphanies since Baby Gwen (our third) arrived. After an easy-going season for four-year-old Benjamin, the addition of a new baby seemed to throw him for a loop. His frustration wasn’t ever directed at her, his “sweetheart”, but at me. We just weren’t clicking. It felt like he was a black hole of needs and I was in the throws of postpartum sleep deprivation with little to give.
After reading one of Auntie Leila’s posts about whining, a light bulb went off. Benjamin was TIRED. Although after his first year he has slept consistently through the night, he doesn’t sleep much. He only sleeps 9 hours during the night and when Gwen was born he had given up naps for a rest time in his room playing with LEGOs and looking at books. I had been viewing the whining as a behavioral problem, but Auntie Leila’s explanation that it’s a symptom of a need that’s not being met helped me connect the dots. Giving up that nap….not sleeping any longer at night…not enough sleep for an active four-year-old. Duh. I realized that Lucy, our 2-year-old was sleeping at least FOUR HOURS MORE than he was every 24-hour period. No wonder he was crabby and emotional. The poor kid was tired.
But I couldn’t figure out a good way to solve the problem. He couldn’t seem to wind down enough to nap, even though on the days he DID fall asleep, he acted like a different child. A helpful, cheery kid.
My second epiphany was that I had been physically distant and it was hurting our relationship. I was pregnant with Lucy just after he turned two. Months of morning sickness meant that I did NOT want to be touched and climbed on, and I simply couldn’t carry around a big almost-three-year-old by the end of the pregnancy. Then I was nursing 24/7. And before Lucy weaned herself I was pregnant again and sicker than before. I couldn’t bear to be touched and I thanked heaven that at 13 months Lucy decided she wasn’t interested in nursing anymore because it made me so nauseous. I was too sick to be emotional when she weaned. I breathed a sigh of relief. And then when Gwen arrived I was baby wearing and nursing 24/7 again. I was touched out.
It took me awhile to figure this out. But when I did, I realized that Benjamin was needing that physical connection that I hadn’t been able to give. Although I spent lots of time verbally connecting, that wasn’t cutting it.
So, I tried hitting two birds with one stone. I started nursing the baby to sleep at naptime and bedtime and once she was out, going into the big kids room and climbing in bed with them until they fell asleep. Lucy wasn’t as physically needy and was typically happy to snuggle her baby dolls and animals, but Benjamin wanted and needed someone there to snuggle with. It was amazing how quickly that improved our relationship. He could snuggle up as close as he wanted, climb all over me, hug me, and then fall asleep (sometimes for two whole hours at naptime!). At night we would chat about the day and then settle into snuggle time and he would fall asleep an hour sooner than before. He was getting more sleep AND getting the physical connection he was craving that I had been unable to provide for the past 2.5 years.
I always expect that other mothers feel like experts after having three kids. But maybe they feel just as unsure as I do. Always readjusting, examining, altering, transitioning, becoming more aware of the individual needs of each child, what makes them tick and thrive, and switching gears. It really is an amazing process and I’m honored to have the opportunity to learn how to love my kids.
*For other parents of highly sensory, active kiddos that have trouble settling in to sleep, I also recommend getting a lycra sheet. On days that Baby Gwen isn’t napping and I don’t have the opportunity to snuggle Benjamin to sleep, having a sheet that “hugs” him helps him relax. My cousin who works with kids with all sorts of sensory challenges sent it to us and it’s been very helpful.