Learning to Be Flexible With the Rules

I'm pretty much a rule person.  They keep the world tidy and orderly.  I believe in consequences for breaking rules, and I believe that we need to teach our children that there are consequences to their actions when the costs are small, rather than continuously bail them out and make their first experience of consequences come at a large cost.  I am also a pragmatist who also understands that pretty much every rule needs an exception because there will be circumstances that require it.

Parenting requires a fluidity and a balance between rules and exceptions.  Indeed, one of the reasons I said I wanted to be a parent was to learn flexibility and how to go with the flow.  Yes, the rule is generally "x," but because of "y," you can do/have "z" this one time.  There are times to hold fast to the rules, and times to bend (for some reason, I have Kenny Rogers' The Gambler running through my head), and parenting styles tend to dictate which rules we are more flexible with and under what circumstances.

Phil and I have been very lucky that we are pretty much on the same page about things.  We've been even luckier that the few times we have disagreed, it wasn't over anything big, and we still backed each other up in front of the child, and waited until later to discuss and reach consensus on whatever it was.  One thing which we agreed on before Mira was born was that she would sleep in her own room from the start.  And, except for when we were on vacation and there was only one room, we held pretty fast to that.  Even when she was in our room, we had her sleep in a separate pack-n-play.  We both held the line on this rule, with few exceptions.  Even so, there were some.  When she was scared on the cruise to Alaska, we let her sleep with us, and we all shared a bed for nap times during GenCon one year.

When I was pregnant with Patrick, we decided that it had been a pretty successful rule and planned to implement it with him as well.  In many ways, it was easier with him--no sleep training was necessary, as he was used to sleeping in his own bed away from us after a month in the hospital.  Moreover, he had too many tubes and wires to allow us to sleep with him even if we wanted to.  However, once we started being gone to Detroit for long periods of time, it was clear Mira needed reassurance, and we began to let her sleep with whichever parent was at home.  It was a rough time and making her feel safe was more important than holding the line.

When we brought Patrick home, we tried having her sleep in her own room, but she is scared of shadows and noises.  More than anything, though, she is scared she will wake up and we won't be there.  Scared of being taken away to live somewhere else.  Knowing the number of times she went to bed and I ended up taking Patrick to Detroit so she woke up to no mom or brother, and the multiple times she was taken by her grandparents for extended periods of time to Tennessee, these are not really irrational fears on her part.  So, we have allowed her to continue sleeping with us.

It's been difficult, to be sure, but there are some lovely moments--when she rolls over, drapes her arm over my shoulder, and says, "I love you, mommy," or when she scratches my back or smooths my hair with her hands in a soothing motion.  There are heartbreaking moments, too--when she wakes up crying because I am not there (I have been sleeping in the guest room so I don't get kicked in the stomach by her while I am recovering).  Each night, we let her choose where she wants to sleep--her room, our room with daddy, or the guest room with mommy.  Last night, she picked sleeping in the guest room with me.  I could tell she really missed me because she ended up putting a blanket over her face so she could not see the shadows made by the headlights of passing cars; she was willing to brave shadows to stay with me!

And then, there are the moments when I know I can't force her back to her room.  When she reaches out, multiple times, every night, to make sure I am still there.  If I have gotten up to go to the restroom, she wakes up to figure out where I am.  Once, she went walking through the house in the dark to find me and, when she did, she climbed up in bed and snuggled in next to me.  When Phil woke up and she wasn't there, he went on a search and found her snuggled up with me.  I love that she loves me, and wants me near, but it breaks my heart that she feels so scared, and her world feels so unstable to her.

In October, we had talked with her about having her start sleeping in her room every other night in November, and she was really excited about the plan--until it was time for the first night away.  Then it wasn't fun; it was scary.  Phil and I talked and we agreed that we would rather her feel safe and secure than rush her back to her room and potentially make things worse.  After all, it's only been since April that we've been allowing this.  Even if it lasts six more months, one year--even two--isn't long in the scheme of things.  We would much rather figure out how to make her feel secure enough to go back to her room willingly than force her to go back there now.  The world is scary enough when you are three--it's even scarier when your parents disappear at what seems like random, and your brother comes and goes and then is gone forever.  I can't even imagine.

So we bent.  Our firm "no co-sleeping" rule had to adapt, because, when we made it, we never anticipated the current circumstances.  None of this is to say that there are no more rules.  There are still rules, expectations, and consequences.  She figured out pretty quickly that people would treat her differently and let her get away with things if she said, "I'm sad because my brother died."  She discovered the words were a magical incantation that, once uttered, changed how the world worked.  We reigned that in pretty quickly (we think), and she is doing amazingly well for all she has been through, particularly given her age.  But things like this remind me that good parenting is a moving target.  There is no one single set of rules; no one perfect way that everyone should do it.  We learn; things change; we adapt.  It drives my type-A, OCD brain crazy, but I am learning when to be flexible, in hopes that it will keep me from breaking.

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