Grace, Motherhood, Parenting

This Is What Love Looks Like At 3AM

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OK, so D. hasn’t been sleeping that well lately.  We’re not in the cry-it-out camp – I always figure that there’s something up if they’re bothering to cry about it – so it’s a matter of taking time to do the pat-pat, hush-hush, soothing noises, and top-ups on his warm milk before bed.  Last night it took me an hour to get him down.  I think it may have to do with the fact that he has begun to realize that the two of us are separate entities – that we can actually be physically apart from one another – a fact that he finds understandably disturbing.

I don’t know how long these sleep issues have been going on for – the strange thing about disruptions to their normal sleep patterns is that when you’re going through a rough phase you almost can’t remember the last time bedtime was easy, and when it’s going well it’s hard to remember a time when you struggled.  But although it seems to have been going on forever, if I had to hazard a guess I’d say that we’ve been having trouble getting him down at night for a few weeks.  Before this (sometime in the distant past, my sleep-deprived mind is insisting), bedtime was a breeze.  We had this sweet little routine of pj’s, sleep-sack, soundtrack (crashing waves) on, lights out, cuddly bottle and tooth-brushing – and then we’d kiss his sweet head, pop him down in his cot (in his preferred position: face down, bottom up) with his dummy, and he’d be asleep almost before we’d closed the door.

No more.  Now it is routinely taking an hour or more to settle D. down for the night.  To add insult to injury, some of the time he has also been waking up in the wee hours, ready to party – and it has taken up to an hour of cuddling, extra water/milk, and back-rubs to get him settled back to sleep again.  Now, believe me – I have read all the theories about how to (and how not to) deal with night-waking and how to get them down for the night.  I know that there are those who will maintain that we are, in providing such nurture and sustenance, in a mire of our own making.  So I am not writing this to elicit sympathy – you would be right that we have options; but we choose not to exercise those options.  This is not negotiable, in my book.  So, if I am not going to allow my baby to ‘cry it out,’ what options have I got?  Well, to me the best option (borne through many similar experiences with my three older boys) is to change myself and my attitude to the waking.

From the first, when I am nursing my newborn, I am making every effort to savour that special one-on-one time together.  Do not believe that this means I’m impervious to the toll of sleep deprivation on a person – it is truly torturous!  But I choose to believe that it is circumstance and need that dictates the necessity of my presence with my nursling, rather than some capricious demand orchestrated by the child himself.

As he gets a bit older, I try to follow his cues about what he needs in the night; sometimes a baby might go through a phase of disturbed sleep because of teeth, or tummy upset, or some subconscious anxiety – the origins of his discomfort might be difficult for me to pinpoint, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he is uncomfortable.  And so again, my response is to do what I can to meet his needs as best I can, no matter how inconvenient the timing of his crisis.  I try to respond to his need with nurture and love.

But that’s all philosophy.  What does it look like in practice?  That’s the challenge.  Luckily, I had lots of time to think about it between 3 and 4AM last night.  One of the readings at our wedding was the classic Bible verse on love (1 Corinthians 13), and as I struggled with frustration at D.’s wakefulness and exasperation at this ongoing inconvenience (having already spent over an hour putting him to bed in the first place!) I began to wonder, What does love look like at 3AM?

Love is patient, love is kind

This means gently returning him to the prone position over and over again to remind him that it’s sleep time. It means not muttering or growling or gnashing my teeth, even when I’m getting frustrated.  It means actively seeking solutions to comfort and soothe my baby.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud

No, “Why can’t you just sleep like X’s baby, and sleep all night?!” – and no bragging about it when he does sleep well.  No being arrogant about being the new Baby Whisperer when I luck out and get D. down in less time than it took Westley the previous night.

It does not dishonor others (it is not rude)

I don’t get a thrill from thinking about how much better a mother I am for doing this pat-pat, shush-shush when others might choose to shut the door and give their babies more time to self-soothe (this means respecting other mothers as they lovingly choose their own paths).

It is not self-seeking

I am not up in the night for me – I am up for D.; my needs come second.  If West is sleeping too deeply to be aware of the baby’s wakefulness, or if he’s choosing to let me take this watch in the night, I am not going to sigh loudly or bounce back into bed when D.’s settled so that I disturb his sleep (tempting though it may be!).

It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs

This means taking a deep breath and reminding myself that D. is NOT trying to be malicious by being awake.  It means willfully forgetting how long it took to get him down in the first place, and ignoring the urge to count up the number of times he has woken in the night lately.  ‘Keeping no record of wrongs’ means that even if I think I’ve mostly been the one getting up in the night, I’m not going to begrudge Westley the extra sleep.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth

I won’t allow myself to wallow in self-pity or anger or other destructive emotions; I will delight in the fact of this precious little person who is in my life, even when he causes pain or inconvenience to me.  I won’t lose sight of the fact that this is a temporary problem and I am equipped by Grace to handle it in a loving fashion.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres

What kind of Mamma would I be if I didn’t have that instinct to protect my young at all costs?  I am not protecting D. from physical harm as I rock him and kiss him at 3AM – I am offering him the security of my love and the comfort of my presence at a time when he is feeling needy.  I am protecting him from unnecessary stress and anxiety.  At the same time, I am trusting in my heavenly father for what *I* need; this patience, this kindness, this humility, this perseverance.  I am trusting that the dawn will come, and with it a new opportunity to find rest and renewal.  I am trusting that my Westley will let me sleep a bit longer when the other boys get up, because he loves and protects me.  I am hoping that this little phase won’t last much longer, and I am hopeful that I can continue to rise to the challenge of D.’s sleeplessness with patience and compassion.  I will persevere; I won’t give up on helping D. feel safer, more settled, and more at peace.

Love has many facets to it.  As a visiting pastor recently pointed out in a Sunday sermon, ‘Love Does.’  Love is action; love is intentional.  And to me, this is what love looks like at 3AM.

Trix and D.

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Faith, Grace, Motherhood, Parenting

Grace

“The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”

-CS Lewis, in The Weight of Glory

It had been one of those days.  Or weeks. Or months.  In fact, for as long as I could remember, A.’s behaviour had been driving me up the wall.  He was seven (nearly eight), and it seemed that for most of his life I had been battling his attention-seeking naughtiness, lip-jutting defiance, and mercurial mood-swings – add to that the nail-biting, thumb-sucking, and eye-rolling nervous habits that were slowly becoming more and more worrying, and  I was at my wit’s end.  Finally the end of the day had come, and with it the blessed relief of some kid-free time (much of which, it must be admitted, I would spend searching out ways of dealing with the aforementioned issues).

I flicked on the TV for some background noise as I pulled my laptop onto my knees and began to catch up on emails.  There was some sort of musical show on that I hadn’t seen before (in retrospect, it might have been ‘Glee’), and in it, a couple of teenagers were falling in love.  Such sweet, enthralled innocence as they declared their fledgling love.  Their enchantment with one another caught my eye, and I abandoned my online tasks as I watched the scene play out.

The young girl rested her hand on her new beau’s shoulder and gazed up into his smiling face; and I suddenly imagined this scene playing out in my own eldest son’s life as he fell in love for the first time. I was stricken with a thought: What if this was the first time he has EVER really felt loved and accepted UNCONDITIONALLY??!   It was with gut-wrenching clarity that I realized that my love for my son had hitherto been expressed with so many conditions as to hobble his very sense of worth.

This was a child I had loved from before he came into existence; one I had wanted, and prayed for and delighted in; one I would give my very life for.  Of course I loved my son unconditionally. This was the child who, when given a special snack at preschool, would insist on a portion of his helping being bundled up to take home to his little brother.  The child who deferred to the wants and needs of almost everyone else before expressing his own preference for anything.  The child who approached others with open arms and ready hugs, even before he had been properly introduced.  And yet this child of mine, who loved and forgave transgressions in others so readily and so completely, was suffering because I was not demonstrating that love and forgiveness to him.

I was spending so much time and energy trying to change what I saw as A.’s problematic behaviour that he could have been excused for imagining that I was oblivious to all the things he was doing right.  I was so focused on the negative that, in fact, I was becoming blind to the positive.

I made a decision right then – one I have returned to again and again (because I, too, am a work in progress) – that I was going to have to change my perspective.

I had to start focusing on what A. was doing well.  I needed to let A. know that I loved and accepted him unconditionally; he didn’t need to wait until he was perfect.  He didn’t need to worry about messing up, because there would always be forgiveness.  He didn’t need to worry about me missing all the good stuff by nit-picking over the little flaws I saw, because I was going to start pointing out how wonderful he was.  And I was going to try to stop seeing some of those flaws, too.  Because when we love each other, we need to be blind to some of one another’s failings.  We have to be prepared to extend grace.  I kind of already knew this, as a recipient of Grace, as a Christian – I knew that God never waited for me to be worthy to extend His love and mercy to me – and yet somehow I was unwittingly withholding that grace from one I hold dearer than life itself.

I didn’t make that decision because I wanted to see change in my son.  I made that decision because I needed to see a change in me.  But grace is grace – and grace changes everything.

My little boy has blossomed.  Yes, he still has some nervous habits and he still struggles with his feelings and he still makes bad choices sometimes.  He still conducts experiments that result in destruction and he still blows up with frustration when he gets overwhelmed and he still sometimes acts defiant… But he knows that he is loved.  He is so quick to apologize when he messes up, and he’s so sincere about that apology.  He is such a loving and cuddly kid, even at age nine when some of his friends won’t even hug their Mums in public.  I delight in him, and he knows it.  Sure, I sometimes yell – we laugh about it, because he knows that I’m a work in progress, too – and then he forgives me.  So now I don’t worry that he is thirsting for love and acceptance.

I’ve chosen grace, and grace changes everything.

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