Listening and Learning: A mom’s heartfelt reflections on raising her two sons
This week’s blog post is submitted by guest contributor, Tanya Pritt. We hope you enjoy her piece and we look forward to future contributions from Tanya.
I watched my adult son as he helped the nurse in the NICU unit with his newborn son. He was learning how to change diapers, assist with changing the bedding and bathe his baby with little wipes and Q-tips. His son was born at 25 weeks and my son’s hands made his tiny body look even smaller. It was all I could do to keep from jumping in and helping, or at least directing the care verbally. Taking a step back and remembering my place as a support for my son, rather than as a parent or grandparent, was hard at first. As I listened to my son ask questions of the medical and nursing staff I was struck by his attention to detail. He carefully watched his baby, noting when he appeared uncomfortable and bringing this to the attention of the medical staff. He appeared to be attuned to his child’s needs.
This observation had me thinking about times that he and his younger brother were small; times I wasn’t as attuned. This caused great anxiety and fear that I wasn’t doing as I needed to in order to be a good parent. When my son was about 4 years old he seemed to have lost his appetite wanting only cereal. His father was gravely concerned and we would prepare foods, enticing him to eat his vegetables, even bribing him to no avail. We had cookbooks and ideas and felt strongly we were on the right path to get him to eat a balanced diet when it turned from a caregiving act of dutiful parents to a power struggle with a 4-year-old. Guess who won?
My son’s wellness check with the pediatrician coincided with our mealtime struggle. It was what my husband led with as we were talking to the doctor. His tone became more agitated as he spoke, wanting the doctor to know that we were good parents, in charge, and capable of managing the nutrition needs of our children. The doctor laughed. He asked what our son was willing to eat. “Cereal” we replied. The doctor said “great! Feed him cereal. It won’t last for long; pretty soon he will ask for other things.” In that instant, pounds of worry and frustration left our shoulders. And he was right, our son began asking for the foods he saw us eating and in time he was eating his balanced diet.
My youngest son also taught me how to observe and listen. He was an early walker but seemed to be in pain quite a bit. He limped often and squirmed, often crying, when we would put his shoes on his little feet. He was a year plus old, and as older parents, we had already learned with our first two (now 14 and 15 years old) that shoes were necessary to protect the feet. My toddler would put up such a fuss I grew concerned and scheduled a doctor appointment because I was sure he had something wrong with his feet or legs. After all, he limped and cried often. Something had to be wrong!
At the doctor’s visit his pediatrician had him walk across the exam room. As usual, my little boy limped and looked uncomfortable. I explained to the doctor that we had him fitted for his shoes because we were worried the original pair we bought was the wrong size. His pediatrician took off his shoes and held his hands out for him to walk to him again. This time my baby fairly ran! And no limp! This doctor, not the same one as before, also laughed! My little one did not want to wear shoes. And really, there was no need for him to do so other than my own faulty beliefs. I kept my floors cleaned and vacuumed; he wasn’t in any danger of injury. He would sometimes wear socks, and later, at about 2, I had a pair of leather moccasins made for him. He wore these or a type of moccasin for the next couple of years. He didn’t limp again; his feet grew normally, and we had no further problems. If I had only listened, as with the cereal example, I could have saved each of them and myself a lot of anxiety.
Children communicate from birth. As mothers, we are often able to understand what they need by the pitch of their cry. As our children grow they become more adept at communicating but sometimes life is so busy, so demanding we lose that ability to really listen to what they need. Sharing parenting challenges with others helps, reading about others’ experiences can offer perspective. Slowing down and engaging with our children, putting work and worries aside lends calm to almost any situation.
As I sat in the hospital with my son and his baby those days I had a chance to reflect on lessons I had learned. And I was learning my biggest lesson: to be quiet, to be a support, not an expert, to set aside my feelings and wishes for later, and to give grace to my son to be able to bond without competition to his baby whom we lost three days later.
Tanya has been the Director of Milestones for the past 21 years. She’s been working in the field of addictions for over 30 years.