Have a breakthrough, forget about it, repeat…

My son is almost 3 and 3 months. Just before he turned 3 we had our second son. The last few weeks with him have been fantastic. The maybe month or two before that was really hard. The first month after the baby was born was good, but weird. I feel like the really hard 1-2 month period was all about me and him having our biggest growing/separation pains yet. Biggest in intensity and complexity. Both of us having weird internal conflicts about how connected we should be or want to be – physically and emotionally. Wondering what we were both capable of, for better or worse.

The changes and introspection that the rough phase prompted for me have been nothing short of life-changing, and that’s not a term I like to throw around lightly (except for maybe to describe a really great chocolate mousse).

Background – we have been really physically connected since he was born – probably mostly due to him wanting to nurse a lot, not taking a pacifier or a bottle, nursing to sleep, and after that stopped at 1.5 years, me still lying down with him to sleep and going back in whenever he needed me. I have generally been the only person he really wanted to snuggle with – he’s very outgoing and social, but not physically. This can really confuse people, but not me because I was the exact same way. Bodily integrity is of the utmost importance to him, and I can relate 100%. I did not feel that I needed him to need me in this way – I tend to like my space, and don’t need to be needed. But he is my son and I embraced it – the part that made me happy was that I could make him happy by being there for him physically. I also I think felt that if he was with me, I could protect him from others who didn’t understand how or when he wanted to be held or not.

Each time he has gotten to a point where he has been ready to physically separate a bit more from me, it has been difficult at first, and then easy. It has been clear when he’s ready because the closeness has stopped working. With nursing to sleep, it just wasn’t working anymore. The hard part for me was I had to be the one to say we are done with this, even though he still thought he wanted it. But I knew he was ready because I could see his internal conflict. These are the times it is my job as a parent to be firm and clear and confident. I have had lots of “room for growth” in this area – which is to say, I really sucked at it at first, and I have been getting progressively better, by thinking about it a lot and reading lots of books that make sense in my mind and heart.

Our last tough phase was around 2 and a quarter. It was probably about a month or two long as well. Highlights were him crying and yelling “mommy mommy” in the middle of the night for up to an hour off and on for probably around a month, even though I was right in the room with him, holding him if he wanted. We had our big breakthrough when I was able to find a way to calmly support him. Crap, I’m already starting to see a theme. If only I had been able to remember my previous breakthrough before going through the last month or two.

I have to skip ahead now to the themes:

  • Realizing I am not him and he is not me. Sounds stupid and not revolutionary, but think about it for real. Some people don’t have this issue, some of us do. I had to examine my reactions to understand what was going on. I felt this crazy compulsion to make him stop crying immediately, and crazy frustration when I couldn’t. Hmm, shocking that wasn’t very helpful for him. Now I realize it was about control.
  • This all boils down to control. Because I felt we were somewhat the same person, I felt I had to control him. I also was letting him control me – his emotions were becoming my own. Yet they weren’t my own, so I really couldn’t stop them. This hurled me full force into my scariest mindset, one I have worked for years to control – finding a way out of my own paralyzing, red-turning, out of control frustration, in which I throw fits and act like a complete freak. Also shocking that when I see him acting like this, it freaks me out double. Even more surprising that when I try to control him more, it freaks him out more. I was able to identify that when I am in that mindset, anyone engaging with me with any energy of their own, no matter their intentions, is just fuel for the fire. So it was with him.
  • It also boils down a little bit to him or his behavior being a reflection on my parenting. I feel like this is the downgraded version of me thinking we are the same person. A little less extreme, but still dead wrong. When I was approaching him with the premise that if I did things better or right, he would never have any freakouts, that was awful for me and for him. It’s not true and it binds us together in a very unproductive way.
  • Once I was able to let go of feeling that I had to either (a) make him stop crying or (b) fix whatever was “wrong” and making him cry (so that he would stop crying), it honestly got better overnight. I was just calm and sat there with him and told him I was there. I don’t know if my reaction changing, or we just both got to a better place at the same time, but it was so wonderful to have it end.
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