After I had my first child my grandmother gave me some sage advice. “Start out how you can hold out,” she said. Wise wise words. It has become a philosophy in our house and affected many parenting decisions we’ve had to make. Start out how you can hold out means not creating habits that don’t serve you well. It means not necessarily taking the shortcut if that starts a behaviour you’ll only have to correct later. It means not doing something that will inevitably exhaust you and rob you of all your emotional and physical resources.
Think of “start out how you can hold out” in light of certain behaviours like the pacifier, feeding or rocking a child to sleep, laying with them as they fall asleep, spending the night in a recliner to get them to settle, letting kids sleep in your bed, buying a treat every time you go shopping, leaving the dinner table early, letting them start the day early, always feeding them their preferred food, playing computer/video games for hours, watching TV all day, etc.
Thoughts on “start out how you can hold out.”
1) Avoid behaviours that could become bad habits. Word on the street is that habits can form after doing something only 21 times. Well, since we do a few things for our children around, oh I don’t know, 45 times a day, behaviours can turn into habits quickly. You can do one unhelpful but convenient behaviour a few times a few weeks in a row and – bham – nasty habit formed. One such example is nursing or rocking your baby to sleep. I am a breastfeeder and love rocking my babies, but I am a firm believer in putting your children into their crib awake (drowsy, but awake) so they can learn to put themselves to sleep. If you rock or nurse a newborn to sleep for one week, that is like, uh, about, hm, over 50 times that you’ve done it. Think about doing it for a few months… the baby then becomes dependent on the rocking to get to sleep and when roused early from a nap, will need more rocking to get back to sleep. Pretty soon, when the baby wakes for the 3,563rd time that night and you have to go back in, you will start to think your plan wasn’t necessarily good in the long term.
2) Kids get used to things and don’t want to change. Even adults hate change so why wouldn’t children? There are lots of little things you do that kids will get used to and consequently become “dependent” on. This is not a bad thing in itself, as routine does bring security. Take the pacifier, for example. Letting babies use the pacifier helps to meet the non-nutritive sucking need that exists in newborns. However, babies will get “addicted” to it and will not let it go without a fight, and you’ll most likely end up getting up a few times in the night to put it back in. If you don’t mind this, then have at it! If the idea seems like a bad one to you, then don’t even start. Children sleeping in your bed is another example. Want to co-sleep? Fine, do what’s best for your family. But, at some point, perhaps before they get their driver’s license, they’ll need to sleep in their own bed. If you don’t actually want to co-sleep, but have just found yourself in this habit because it’s the only way that your child will calm down, then you need to break it. If it has only happened a time or two then remember the mantra “start out how you can hold out.” If you start to do something you wouldn’t want to continue, nip it in the bud immediately.
3) It’s not about right and wrong, it’s about easy and hard. Everyone on earth is unique. That is a blessing from God and who would want it any different? Since we are all different and our family dynamics vary, there will be some things you do that I don’t do and some things I do that you wouldn’t be caught dead doing. Aside from neglect and abuse, I think many areas of parenting come down to your personal and family priorities, values, and preferences. Most of the tips I suggest here are not what I think is the only way, but simply, what I have found to be the easiest way. To me, nursing to sleep is not easy.Oh, I take that back, initially it’s easy. But it quickly becomes inconvenient. Sleep training from birth and then having 3 or 4 month olds sleeping 12 hours uninterrupted through the night is easy. Start how you can hold out is a major focus of my entire parenting scheme. I will not always be right, but I can say I’m well rested. And I’m well rested because I work my schedule and run our house to be convenient for everyone. Naptime is not when they look tired, but when I say it is. If they don’t look tired, well, who cares? I put them to bed anyway and guess what? They sleep. I know that every day at certain times, the house will be quiet and I can work. Your house will run differently, but you need to find the things that you want/need and don’t start any habits that undermine them.
4) Hard work always comes at the front end. Time and time again I’m reminded that the shortcut is rarely the better way. What we do in the moment that seems convenient is often just putting of the hard work until later. That’s a little thing known as credit card parenting. Rarely is it a good idea to take the easy way now and put the hard yards off. Many mothers I know wait to sleep train until 6 or 9 months. This means that until that time they are up multiple times throughout the nights and they’re exhausted and frazzled. Plant first, harvest later. Now, something I consider to be annoying may not even phase another mother so understand, this is all relative. The point is that if you begin working towards your goal immediately, you’ll arrive sooner.
We all do it. We all take a few shortcuts here, there and end up in a habit with our children that drives us bonkers. It can happen at any stage of life with children of any age. If we just keep the idea “start out how you can hold out” in the back of our minds from Day 1, or starting now, then we’ll likely avoid having to correct undesirable habits later.
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