How do you balance care for your children and concern for their welfare, whilst protecting your own sanity and needs?
Last night I slept on my 14 month olds bedroom floor. I had a terrible sleep the night before due to a nuisance urinary tract infection, so with some antibiotics onboard, I was looking forward to a great night in my comfy bed. Around midnight, the baby started coughing in his sleep. Initially, I didn’t worry much and dozed whilst listening out on the monitor. He didn’t appear too disturbed and continued to sleep through the coughing. Within an hour though, the cough changed and began to sound tight and barky… my heart sunk and I said a small prayer, please don’t let it be croup. I have been down this path with our second child when he was between 15 months and three years. Sleepless nights watching him struggle to breathe, oral steroids more often than I care to admit and several trips to the ED when things got really bad.
I’m going to lay all my cards on the table here and own up – the thing I am very aware of as a mum, but struggle to admit, is that I have a definite tendency towards being highly strung and neurotic. I like to think I come across as relaxed and composed, and I’ve had other mums comment on my apparent composure… but it’s all a big lie! I’m actually a total control freak. I think it stems from my never ending quest for parenting perfection and seeking control. Through controlling my space and my surroundings, I am safe. I battle this tendency every day and it is a constant work in progress.
Last night, as soon as I heard the baby’s cough turn, I immediately pulled out my phone and started googling ‘treating croup in a baby’, ‘how young can a baby have steroids’, ‘when to worry about croup in my baby’. I also opened my second child’s e-notebook , looking at what I’d documented for him aged 13-23 months. I started to recall the many incidents of croup we’d experienced with him, the fear of watching him struggle to catch his breath, the nights in ED. I was immediately transported back to that place of fear and worry and I began to project this fear into my current reality with the baby.
Sleep was out of the question now, I was wide awake. I got up and crept into the baby’s room, listening to him breathe. Although the bark sounded pretty awful, he was still asleep and breathing quite easily. Still, I couldn’t shake the anxiety. I knew I wouldn’t be able to relax if I went back to bed, so I grabbed my dressing gown, pillow and a blanket and set myself up on his bedroom floor next to his cot so I could listen to his breathing. Thank goodness for carpeted floors, but it was still a pretty uncomfortable night. I twilighted my way to morning, listening for any changes to his breathing and startling every time he coughed. He woke in the morning chatting to himself and playing with his teddy, whilst I felt like death warmed up. I asked myself, was it really necessary that I spent the night on his bedroom floor or was this another example of my neurotic tendencies getting the better of me?
We can all relate to loving our children so hard that we can’t bear the idea of them hurting in any way. Particularly when they are so small and vulnerable, we will do anything to keep them safe and healthy. Despite our best efforts, the nature of childhood is that they do get sick, injured and hurt. As young children, these incidents tend to be more physical in nature, but as they get older, the emotional ‘hurts’ start to creep in. In some ways, the physical hurts are easier to manage than the emotional. I’ve also heard the term, ‘little people, little problems, big people, big problems’. We are probably yet to fully appreciate this quote as our eldest is only nine. But I can definitely see how that could play out.
Our children becoming ill is only one aspect to my neurotic approach to mothering. Whenever we travel, I can become overly concerned with details that will impact their sleep. Is the room warm enough? Is there too much light or can we darken it more? If they sleep at this time, will they still go to bed at night on time? Should I play white noise? The list goes on. My hubby good naturedly packs all the sleep aids without question now; the block out blinds, ipod dock and ipod with white noise, snugs, sleeping bags etc. I never allow the worry of them not sleeping from stopping us from travelling, but I have definitely had trips where I sacrificed some of these sleep aids and regretted it after.
But what if I’d approached things differently and not worried about these things from the beginning? I always joke with a friend about how when we holidayed together, I was astounded at her relaxed (actually I said torture chamber) approach, which means her children sleep beautifully in any conditions. I walked past the room where her baby was sleeping peacefully in a fully lit room, door wide open and kids stomping past. Meanwhile, I had just crept from our room where I had finally rocked the baby to sleep in his dark, white noise, temperature controlled room. No prizes for guessing that her baby slept better! It begs the question, is this my need for control affecting my ability to relax and parent giving less of a damn?!
The question I’m asking myself today is, how can I care for my children, love them fiercely and strive to keep them safe, without turning myself inside out with anxiety and worry? How do we find that magical balance? I have friends around me that I adore and look up to, one of the things I see in some of these friends and aspire to myself, is their ability to care for their children and keep them safe, but without forsaking their own mental health and needs. My concern is that I will literally sacrifice myself and my needs in order to catch and anticipate every single need of my children. But at what point should I let them fall and catch themselves?
Sometimes my head literally feels like it will explode with all the scenarios I am playing out and trying to manage (and control!). It’s totally unrealistic that I could anticipate every single thing that might happen in a day and how I might need to respond to it, but this is a trap I fall into all the time. It’s exhausting!
So today, whilst I’m struggling to come to terms with all of this, I am asking you for your help. How do you balance care for your children and concern for their welfare, whilst protecting your own sanity and needs? What are some of the strategies you use to promote this balance? Please share your experiences and approach, I’d love to hear from you.
Love Tash xx
Hugs. Oh Tash…the unanswerable question. Be kind to yourself…it has a lot to do with previous experience…and you have had more than your share of challenges; life threatening allergies and breathing difficulties. So cut yourself some slack. I admit that I too would have stayed awake all night very near the baby. That being said, I was interested in reading your approach to putting baby/children down to sleep. With all our children we do the best we can with the information we have at the time; sometimes experience plays a role too. Parenting is a balancing act. Sleep wise I parented more like you described with my first two because they were premature, because they were low birth weight etc etc etc but my third was put down to sleep within a very noisy and bright environment and he slept well with family life going on all around….Which way was better? There is no “right or wrong ” answer. It depends on so many uncontrollable variables…your health, child’s health, finances, environment, placement order in family etc. My first two didn’t sleep through the night till about four and a half…I nearly went mad till I changed my attitude and told myself that they would not be children for ever and it was my choice (and duty as the adult in the equation) to attend to their needs. Just a change from resentment to acceptance helped a lot (for me). I devised strategies to help me too though…ask your Mum and Dad about the “rooster bed”. Remember that everyone has to find their own way…but it is often helpful to get ideas from others. Hugs. Enjoy the journey.
Thank you Ruth, you always have such amazing insights to share. I keep forgetting to ask mum and dad about the ‘rooster bed’ haha. It is such a balancing act for sure, and no baby comes out the same either! Three children in and I am finally getting that x