I was a first-time parent when my twins were born and couldn’t wait to find out what motherhood, my childhood dream, had in store for me. There were a lot of adjustments at first as any new mother would expect with balancing the needs of not one, but two babies. Co-workers and strangers alike felt the need to warn me of the trials of twins, because it could only be seen as a nearly impossible feat in their eyes. I was just glad to finally find out for myself.
Double the diapers and tandem nursing while recovering from a c-section was a new challenge for me, but so was parenting altogether, and we knew nothing different. We were fortunate enough to have my mother and mother-in-law stay overnight with us the first couple weeks, taking the babies after I nursed them so that I could sleep and recover. My husband Kevin was still in school and working part-time, so this help was a miraculous blessing.
Once it was just Kevin and me at night, and the girls were waking to eat at different times, I decided to work with them on getting into a routine so that there feeding and sleeping time would coincide. The sleeplessness was catching up to me and I was determined to do my best to make a schedule of sorts work.
Swaddle, bink, and lay in their crib within a couple hours of waking was how it all started, everything around the clock and with purpose after reading several sleep books. While it took a lot of consistency, it worked.
Our September babies were taking scheduled naps at the same times and sleeping 6-8 hours at night by Thanksgiving. It was life-changing. Not only did they sleep through the night at merely 3 months old, but they traveled so easily in their car seats, never making a peep and many times falling asleep during car rides. The girls would go easily to any family members or friends without crying or getting scared, and they were super laid back and relaxed which made my job 100 times easier.
Many people told me what a great mom I must be if I could handle twins so well and have them sleeping through the night and so well mannered. I made it look easy apparently, and that felt really good to hear. I wanted to be a great mom, and obviously based on how well my babies were doing, I was totally killing it. I could have 14 more of these babies, no problem. Little did I know that buying into this belief would set me up for failure.
The girls were three years when I gave birth to my third child, a son. I had already done the twin routine, and I could only imagine how simple it was going to be caring for just one baby. I was ready to totally rock this mom thing all over again.
It only took a few weeks after his birth, before we found ourselves trying to soothe our son while he relentlessly screamed through every.single.car ride. His sleeping habits were all over the place during the day and he needed to be rocked for hours before he would finally fall asleep. The smallest noise woke him and he’d be crying again, fighting sleep, and we’d need to start the process all over, bouncing him on the exercise ball or walking in circles in the nursery until we were confident he was fast asleep. I tried suggestions from the same books I read with the twins, but it just would not work.
He hated being held by strangers and would cry and cling to me if anyone tried to take him. He slept four-hour stints at night, which was nice, but by the time he was one, he was still waking every morning at 4 am to be nursed and put back to bed. Eventually, we decided that I needed my sleep more then he needed an early AM nursing session, and so we started sending Kevin in with a sippy cup of water. He screamed bloody murder the first week, but after that, he finally stopped the early wakings and was sleeping 9 hours at night around the age of 16 months. Little did I know that this was fairly normal!
During the first year of his life, I remember feeling a large lack of confidence in myself as a mother. Things were so different with him and so challenging. I figured I must not be as good as a mom as I thought I was, and that thought hurt.
By the time I had my fourth child, who gifted us with nine months of colicky screaming every evening and into the night, I didn’t feel like I should have any more children at all.
My babies seemed miserable, which meant I was miserable too, and I couldn’t seem to do anything about it no matter how hard I tried. I figured God was giving me a sign that I was not to have any more children.
Fortunately, in time my outlook changed and we were blessed with a fifth child a couple years ago. This adorable son allowed us to experience yet another higher need baby, this time with what I can only guess was silent reflux for the first 11 months. I was sleep deprived and overwhelmed once again, but this time it didn’t feel like a reflection of my abilities as a mother. I didn’t feel bad about it.
Why not? What changed?
I think what I had finally realized, is that while we can greatly influence our children through our love and support, we are not the cause of their actions, personalities and life experiences. So while I wanted to take credit for my twins being so happy, calm and well rested, I would then also have to take credit for my son who was screaming, temperamental and not sleeping through the night until he was nearly a toddler, along with my colicky daughter and silent reflux son. In both cases, I had given myself too much credit for something I had nothing to do with, and it was tipping the scales of my value from one side to the other.
At times it’s too easy to take credit for the easy and the challenging experiences of our children when in reality, for the most part, it has nothing to do with us and everything to do with their own unique journey and life experience. No credit is sometimes the best credit we can give ourselves.