We removed the baby gate from the top of our stairs when Adeline turned eighteen months. When others heard this, it usually was not received well, “aren’t you afraid she will fall?” or “wow, you better watch her like a hawk!” were common responses. I nodded and thanked them for letting me know how they felt. Occasionally, I would respond with, “Adeline knows when her body is safe. We have been practicing going up and down the stairs for some time. She also knows how to ask for help if she needs.”
While it was a pretty scary to watch an 18-month-old baby approach a staircase and maneuver her body to prepare to descend safely, in my heart, I felt there was no other way. Did she fall down the stairs? Yes, one time. Was it scary? Yes, of course. Did we recover and regulate with each other? Yes. Did she try again? Yes, just a few minutes later.
Adeline is just the right person for Adeline. She is exactly who she needs to be, and I acknowledge that my role as her parent is to honor that. The long nights and days of seemingly endless crying made many moments overwhelming, but not impossible. I consciously devoted my time and myself to her. This did not mean that I uprooted my life to cater to Adeline. It meant that I gained perspective on what it meant and continues to mean to be a parent. I gained new language, a new day to day life, new expectations for myself and my family, and most definitely an evolved brain specifically designed to support a new baby. Parenting is not a sacrifice. Parenting is a rebirth.
A rebirth as a parent first means acceptance of change. Recognizing that your life will be different forever is a hard but necessary step in gaining a new sense of identity. The closer I was able to come to accepting the new parts of my life, the easier it was to adapt. I slowly was able to separate my identity from my daughter’s and tune into what I needed as a new mom.
Separating my identity from Adeline’s meant that I had to trust myself enough to let Adeline develop into whomever Adeline needed or wanted to be. The stories in my head about how I believed she should look, behave, or feel were out the window. I had to take a step back and treat my infant as I would any other human, with trust, respect, and dignity. I trusted that her behavior was never a tool for manipulation rather her way of communication. I learned to trust that Adeline knows her body and emotions better than I ever will. I learned to respect her choice to say, “yes,” and “no,” even if it went against what was on my agenda for her.
Now, don’t get me wrong, trusting a child is hard, confusing, and sometimes terrifying. It challenges my psyche more than anything else I have ever done, but every time I am able to trust, it becomes a little bit easier, and makes a little bit more sense. Trusting my child also meant that I had to learn a new set of developmentally appropriate communication skills so she could navigate her world safely, freely, and with curiosity. I knew that my education and experience working and studying in the field would be helpful in my new mom job, but nothing is like the real thing. Before Adeline was born and during those early weeks of my 4th trimester, I continued to read and research and study. I asked more questions, attended more lectures, and exhausted the workshops. After all the questions were answered, papers written, clients seen, and degrees conferred, came the hard part. “How do I do this?!” I thought as I laid on the ground staring at my six-week-old wondering what to do next. Rather than worry that I was doing the wrong thing, I trusted my intuition and simply started narrating my days to her. I learned baby sign language and studied the brain to better understand word choice and language sequencing. I watched older children play at the park and listened to and watched the ways in which they communicated with one other. I played music and danced and practiced yoga and meditation with my daughter in the room. Her big emotions were and still are welcomed with little to no distraction rather connection takes precedence in those moments. I taught her words to say to encourage body autonomy and support with decision making like, “I can, but I do not want to right now,” and, “I do not like that please give me space,” or “Yes, you can take a turn with my toy.” In teaching Adeline how to communicate with the world, I also taught myself. I learned that my ego was taking up too much space and the critical eye I had of the world was clouding my ability to see others, including my daughter, the way that they are rather than the way I needed or wanted them to be. Connection to the world begins first with connection to yourself.
As I dove a little deeper into my role as an intentional parent, it became clear that my understanding of myself also needed a little bit more intention. In order to show up for Adeline and the rest of my family, I had to show up for myself first. I made a list of my daily “non-negotiables,” You know, those things I need in order to make it successfully and safely throughout the day. My list included, yoga, outside time, breath work, and the most importantly, coffee. When I allowed myself to commit to these tasks, the never-ending job of mother became more attainable, and less impossible. Now, because I am a human, every day looked and continues to look a little different. Sometimes my list is fully completed and other times it’s not, and that is also okay. Flexibility is particularly important in scenarios with small children where it seems like every hour is a whole new thing. Time with my daughter became time with my daughter. I got down on her level, which meant the floor, and played, and sang, and read, and danced. Sometimes we cried, and sometimes we yelled. But I always came back to connection. I always came back to trust. I learned that if I trusted myself and listened to my body, my rebirth into motherhood became fluid, less rigid, and more wonderful.
Connection, I learned, is the antidote to suffering. It is the ground on which we all crave to walk on and continue to seek out throughout our lifespan.