In this day and age having a child is very different than for the generations before us. For us as millennials, we have analyzed our own minds extensively and all the psychological research that has been done emphasizes so much how important good enough parenting is for mental and physical health well into their adult years.
Childhood can make or break someone. Although there are plenty of options to repair, the path is long and arduous ( I can attest to that with my 10+ years of personal development and therapy). The basis of our brain development during the formative years is key to how we will experience wellbeing as adults.
This is why for us, choosing to have a child was such a tremendous responsibility. A task we did not take lightly, and I was just like the so-called Parenting Junkie, Avital Schreiber whose work I greatly admire, devouring books, theories, and concepts about parenting like a junkie.
Now after this deep fascination, I feel more peace and more at ease. Especially since we steered away from dogmatic ways of thinking, that I discovered in many parenting Facebook groups on attachment and natural parenting. Although I absolutely love concepts from both realms of parenting theory, the practical life experience is simply different.
Holding or nursing Jet to sleep well into his kindergarten years would simply not suffice for us. That’s why we have chosen to gently sleep train him, I’m working on a post about our Sleepytime Adventure journey. Batya the Baby Coach helped us proceed in a calm and gentle way, and I feel that our attachment hasn’t deteriorated at all but in fact improved with the empathic limits we have succeeded in setting around bedtime. Now he sleeps between eight and six or seven am without me needing to nurse him every 45 minutes or hour and a half.
I’m grateful for all the wisdom that the internet abounds with, and especially for the experts who offer their kind guidance such as dr Willem Sears, Avital and Batya.
It all boils down to a few simple concepts:
Rhymth and routines
As a Vinyasa flow teacher, designing the way the weeks and the days flow by in a healthy way inspires me very much. The times for meals, play, potty, screen and bed are not set in stone in our house but flow according to a predictable way. Drawing up a design up for a weekly and daily flow helps everyone’s needs to be met. To achieve this, we have cut down on scheduled activities. I love having stretches of long uninterrupted time together with my kid, which I only get on a few days even though we really want to have more of this. We still have to make a living of course, and as two freelancers we still have to blend our work together with our day to day life.
The daycare we have chosen supports us greatly in this. From the start, we discovered how important it is to limit the number of faces that Jet is exposed to so that he is encouraged to build deep and meaningful relationships with both adults and children. In his daycare there are only two adults taking care of him, and usually just one. ‘Tonnie’, he absolutely adores her and we’re so happy to see their relationship flourish. Also, there is only a maximum of 6 other children, so it feels like a home environment. The philosophy they have is very play-based, they have a wonderful garden with a sandbox and a wooden playhouse. And it’s even affordable too. If you’re based in or around the center of Amsterdam, contact me for further information if you are looking for a daycare at the moment.
Also, my sister in law and her partner are absolutely amazing, they love Jet almost as much as we do, and they spend one afternoon a week together.
This is the kind of community that you need as a family to be able to thrive. There is no such thing as SuperMom and the amount that you’re able to enjoy parenting is how supported you are.
Independent play and designed environment at the child’s level
Toddlers are crazy about independence and autonomy. From the start where he could walk, we have encouraged Jet to do things himself, and tried not to interrupt him when he was doing ‘his work’ as Maria Montessori calls it. When he wants to dress himself or make his own sandwich, or help out in the kitchen.
For us slow parenting means being mindful of the impulses and needs of our children, and finding suitable solutions for them. Even designing our home spaces for them so they can freely roam and explore, baby-proofing but it goes further than that, actually providing the materials for them to develop themselves. A safe way to practice walking on the stairs for example. And safe ways of letting them use knives and cutting bananas. For a long time as a one-year old still Jet was making my breakfast in the morning, it was pretty funny.
This contribution that the littlest ones make is so meaningful for them. It makes them feel useful. We shouldn’t treat our children as dolls that we dress and that should stay still preferably most of the day. Even the tiniest babies are capable of understanding far more than we could ever know, and we should treat them with respect. Talking and explaining to them what we are doing to their bodies, and letting them help as soon as possible.
Potty learning is one of the things you can start with at the earliest beginning too. You can even do diaperfree parenting but we never got there, just used cloth diapers which are great for the environment and for potty learning. And I felt the extra work wasn’t really that much work as the happy colorful patterns and designs just gave me so much energy as I hung them out to dry.
And now Jet is potty trained at 2 years old, only at night he still wears a diaper, we could have gotten rid of that earlier if we weren’t sleep training him as well at that time and we didn’t want to overstimulate him with all the things he was learning then.
We’ve used disposable for the last half year though, as he was peeing so much each time, we’d have to change his diaper so often. The key to learning them extra fast has also to do with letting them be responsible for their own excretions to a reasonable amount of course. So when he had peed in it, we’ve let one-year-old Jet place his full diaper in the bin by himself. Also his clothes in the hamper. These little tasks can be taught as soon as they can walk. It gave Jet a really proud and independent feeling to be able to contribute in this way to his own clean bum and I’m so happy he still has this habit of putting his dirty clothes in the hamper with a gentle nudge from us.
Being mindful around our children and environments sets the stage for their emotional development. Peaceful parenting is very important to us. Since I was reading much about this before I had a child, to parent my own inner child beforehand, this naturally flowed with Jet. As partners, it’s a lot harder, I’m not yet that able to be a peaceful and mindful partner at all times but we’re both definitely working on this.
Slow and mindful parenting means parenting yourself as well. The amount of care that we pour into ourselves reflects how well we are able to deal with the challenges of everyday life. It isn’t easy as especially as women we’re socialized to place ourselves last and put the baby first. As a pregnant woman I was urged by everyone to prioritize selfcare, but once the baby was outside of me in the fourth trimester all this changed. Except my Chinese relatives, they did really urge me to take it slow and take care. As western women you’re expected to ‘bounce back’ and simply go back to work, with your incontinence and all. Through my hypnobirthing course I had learned much about how important it is to care for yourself and allow others to care for you, especially the first forty days. Cocooning in those days was so glorious, we did go outside as the Chinese habit is that you should simply stay in bed. Pushed to the extreme I believe you should not even shower those days, but I’m not sure who does that in this day and age.
But as Jet grew older, this habit grew less and less. At that point setting healthy and empathic limits becomes the key. Also we have to figure out what our needs are.
Balance of Needs
In many attachment or natural parenting Facebook groups I was urged on to simply let go of my needs, and prioritize them less. I would heartily recommend against this. Prioritize your needs. Show your child how you can take care of yourself, even if it means setting limits about bedtime and being more firm around this. There is nothing wrong with setting healthy limits in a kind way. And even though your toddler or older baby might protest, in the long run when you are happy and thriving, this is most beneficial for your child. We are modelling self-care for our children. If we simply reject our own needs and go beyond all what we need, we are showing our children it’s hard for us to have them. We start to resent them. This is not their fault!
Although parenting is hard and we need support, children are a blessing. We can learn so much from them. And setting healthy limits and balancing the needs of the family is one of those very valuable lessons.
So far these are my thoughts on mindful and slow parenting. Now it’s time to have lunch.