Summer is officially over and I find myself reflecting on a bit of criticism we received recently regarding our parenting of Hiccup. Nothing relationship shattering, but definitely worth examining. Overall, summer was a great season for our little family of three. Starting with Hiccup’s first birthday, we spent lots of time with friends and extended family. There were parties, beach trips, picnics. One set of grandparents has a pool, the other lives near the ocean. It has been apocalyptically hot this year; and as long as no one is brandishing a wash cloth and soap, it turns out Hiccup loves the water. A good time was had by all and we feel incredibly grateful to everyone for their hospitality and for their willingness to travel various distances to visit us at times. Of course, even now that Hiccup is toddling, he’s still very much a baby; so there were times when the fun had to be cut short. His threshold for certain things is low; his patience and understanding are just beginning to develop. Overall, he handles things pretty well (he’s what some people call “a trooper”), but he definitely has his limits.
Some of you will know what I’m talking about: the meltdown mark. The point at which your little one simply cannot go one more minute without a change to their present circumstance. To unsympathetic outsiders it looks like a tantrum, but to a pre-verbal child it’s really just effective communication. My husband and I are learning that the one common thread to any meltdown is that some need (for food, sleep, safety, etc.) is not being met and the only cure is to quickly meet whatever that need might be. Knowing this, there were times over the summer when we needed to decline making plans with people or had to cut our time with them short. I’m afraid we disappointed a few people who are important to us. Some of them handled this really well, confident that they would see us again when the timing was better; while others implied (or directly stated in one instance) that Hiccup should be made to “just deal with it.” That was the wrong response.
You see, my son (any child) is already in a constant state of learning to “just deal” with things. The whole first year of his life was one new, exhausting, frightening thing after another and that’s not going to be changing anytime soon. He has to just deal with things like doctor appointments where he’s poked and prodded without knowing why; with having a brain that has developed to the point of knowing exactly what he wants but not having the words to communicate effectively with the imbecilic giants who have somehow been entrusted with his survival; with having a body that can’t quite keep up with other kids at the park yet. He has to just deal with having a working mom who disappears for ten hours at a time; and he has to just deal with not understanding any of it. Yes, encountering opportunities to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone is a part of growing up; but as Hiccup’s parents, the Professor and I are responsible for making sure those opportunities occur at age appropriate moments, when he is not already worn down and in a state of mind that would make learning impossible. We know him and we know that there are times when he just can’t take being strapped into his car seat one more time. So we deal with it. We sacrifice what we want (and sometimes what someone else wants), because we are the adults. If someone is going to suck up their feelings and deal with being disappointed it should be us.
Wanting Hiccup to develop at a healthy, reasonable pace in a way that doesn’t also grow resentment in his heart is why the Professor and I will sometimes judge that it’s better to stay home or do something just the three of us rather than leave him with a friend so we can have a date or drive 60 miles in the hot car to visit family for two hours. To our loved ones who struggled with the fact that we didn’t take you up on every invitation this summer, please know that we are truly sorry to have caused you disappointment. That being said, I don’t think we’ll be changing our parenting tactics anytime soon. So…you know…