I’m on an airplane. I’m on an airplane working on my laptop. There are no small toys strewn about my lap. I am not asking my little daughter to stop clicking the buckle over and over. I am not pointing out interesting window views of the sky or ground. Nope. I packed a carry-on and a backpack, whizzed through security and waited my long turn to board the plane without children. It’s been four years coming. Right now, my child is settling in to an extended play-date with her beloved cousins in Michigan and I am off to a weekend training 600 miles away in sunny California. Three overnights. In. A. Row. It feels grand and right, and about time (in a good way).
You could say I’ve really gone for it with attachment-style parenting, so this sort of planned separation is big for me and my daughter, and one of several marks of life transition for us these days. This will be the first planned overnight trip away from each other after bed-sharing almost every night since birth. Earlier this month, we completed our slow wean from breastfeeding. Our babywearing days are only very occasional now, and numbered. Our family constellation has changed shape, too, as I’ve also recently separated from my daughter’s father who has returned to Chile and my daughter and I now live primarily in England with like-minded friends in a co-housing community where we cooperatively homeschool our children. We’re living a very colorful and undulating life right now.
Though our life circumstances have offered a roller coaster of wonder and challenge, it’s sweet to see how easefully our relationship has grown from the total entwinement of the fetal and newborn phase through to this sweet and thrilling, empowered and growing independence – for us both. Ease-full is the same as “easy” as it is parenting, afterall. However, the grace with which our bond has grown and stretched into fun new shapes through it all has me feeling pretty good, honestly. How has it been so easeful, though? I’m giving it some thought and will share more once I’m nice and settled in the hotel.
Day 3: I’ve now been at the hotel and in my training program for two days. It’s been wonderful to spend quality adult time with friends and my dear teachers. There have also been a couple of bumps back home, like my daughter got her first-ever puke-city stomach bug. The first bed time was sad for her, but the second night, she curled up and was out before the toddler. Last night when I called to say hello, she was crying wildly from feeling bad about pushing over her little cousin, but came to with her story of riding the horsey at the grocery store (which we normally do together every time we check out). She’s doing great and having so much fun. Today, she’s at a big lakeside Memorial Day party and I’m sure she’s running all over the place with the pack of children, enjoying the water and trampoline. I know she is, because I know her. I know how much she loves playing and being with other kids. I also know how incredibly strong and resilient she is, how bright and knowing she is. I also trust that she is with caring and responsible adults who love her. She is naturally independent, as she is naturally connected, and here is the key to our ease. Here’s a closer look:
1. Closeness first
From day zero, I have prioritized bonding with my daugther and fostering her sense of security. Being response to her cries and keeping her close to fully support her exterogestation (the second nine months) meant she developed a strong sense of confidence and security in her wellness. There were challenges to this wellness, like when I learned her breastfeeding wasn’t adequate and she needed supplementation as her jaundice was too advanced. However, closeness through nursing, always responding to her cries, babywearing, co-sleeping and elimination communication all got us off to an amazing start that grew beautifully. We continued building on this closeness by allowing her development to be primarily child-led.
2. Child-led development
One thing I’ve seen work really well for my daughter’s confidence in herself and in our confidence in her, is allowing my daughter to develop at her own pace. This has expressed itself on many levels. For example, we chose child-led weaning with hand-held foods and let her choose when to stand, sit and walk, refraining from using props and walkers. I offer her choices in to participate in decision making about clothes, toys, cleaning routines. I do direct encourage bed time routines and hygiene, and ask her to eat and get dressed. I often use the “this or that” method of encouragement and “when this, then that” style of discipline. I see in her a strong sense of self, and a confidence in her abilities. She has blossomed into a natural, curious and confident independence that presents itself as an unusual maturity for her age. We also encouraged her to talk to others, known or unknown, and this has fostered a comfort with new people.
3. Supportive choice-based discipline
“Okay, love, which would you like? To come on your own or for me to help you? It’s your choice.” This is a bit of a mantra in our home lately, as my daughter finds her social surroundings so compelling and much better than the small joy of teeth brushing or a decent bedtime. I offer head’s ups and make requests, and often she sees it’s time, and transitions. But just as often, she doesn’t and I pull out the simple choices. Same goes for encouraging completion of unsavory tasks, like picking up her toys or brushing her hair. “When you’ve done X, then we’ll do Y.” Sure, I say “No” and “Please stop” as well, but mostly, I give her options as a way to teach natural discipline and awareness of consequences. She is learning that her choices have meaning to her life, and for those around her. She need not simply comply with my wishes (though I express them), but she is called to see the benefit for all in what she does (or sees this fall short when poor choices are made). I believe this has fostered a strong sense of self and a confidence in making choices that helps support her natural independence and ease. She need not get instructions from me on how to be, but rather may move through the world knowing (within reason, and age-appropriate boundaries) that she can choose.
4. Encouraging cooperation and respectful relating
Over these four short years of knowing my daughter, empowering her skill in relating with others has become very important. I feel that independence, however naturally taken on by a child, can be best served with skill in relating. It’s one thing to just be able to do things by herself, and be without mom. It’s another thing to do so skillfully in relation to others around her. At (almost) four years old, and after all the transition we’ve been going through, I’ll offer that relating respectfully and skillfully can sometimes prove challenging for her. What I do see blooming in her, though, is a willingness to work it out with other children vs. coming to get me at every squabble. I remind her to use her normal voice, her respectful voice with me and others. When her “workings out” with other children look more like yelling at them and punishing their behavior (because she is clear what is acceptable and what is not, and is happy to remind people of this), I calmly remind her that everyone is still learning, just like her, and it is best to “worry about yourself”.
5. Honoring myself
There are two ways in which honoring myself, taking good care of my needs and ability to serve my daughter and the world, helps to foster my daughter’s natural independence. Firstly, it means I take space away from her to take care of things, whether it’s having her in our cooperative preschool, enlisting child care help (like this weekend) or just getting her settled at her table with a solo project while I answer emails. She knows how to be without me out of necessity at times, and that is fine with her, even if she feels emotional about it sometimes. Secondly, the extension of the first, is my own example through our time apart. I share openly with her about what I’m doing, or about to do. This weekend is a good example. I let her know I’d be away for three sleeps, that I love her and that she will be without me. I told her a little about why, about the training I am attending. She sees that time apart is good for me, fine for us, and so her own independence grows from this. I am an example to my daughter of how to take care of herself and be naturally independent. The better I am at taking care of myself and being naturally empowered in my independence, the more she will naturally grow to be skilled at this as well.
There are so many ways in which I think this blooming sense of security and independence will support my daughter throughout her childhood, and life. However, for now, I’m happy to simply see how well things are going for her day-to-day. May the flowering dance of our closeness and independence brings a sense of ease to our relationship and lives always. Let’s check in again when she’s thirteen.
If you are interested in reading more about natural consequences, gentle guidance and independence through closeness, I recommend the Gentle Guidance articles from The Natural Child Project. Really, all of their articles are helpful and thought-provoking, and I’ve found their guidance very helpful from newborn through present. Another valuable resource which has really empowered me as a parenting is the Massive Parenting training and community. They offer a wealth of support to parents to live and support our children through empowered responsiveness vs. specific techniques and ideologies. It’s a fabulous resource.