January 8, 2009

Something I have struggled as a parent is my ability to play. Writing it even seems a little absurd to me, what indeed is ‘ability to play?’  By this, I mean the ability to engage Bodhi, and be present with Bodhi, as he explores his world through toys and objects (for of course, play isn’t limited to toys!).

It’s not that I don’t understand the importance of play to someone of his age. I remember reading somewhere that play is a child’s work; and it is through play that he will develop cognitive, social, physical and all kinds of skills.

So knowing this, I think perhaps I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a ‘good playmate’ to Bodhi. At times I have felt guilty, or perhaps neglectful, because of my inability to connect well in this way.

And it’s not all the time that I can’t be present through him with play (and that I need to acknowledge to myself). But the trend is, that I have difficulty disengaging from the adult, task orientated and distracted mindset, to that of a child, who is purely connected to the moment and experiencing things, if not for the first time, then with freshness and vigour.

It makes me sad that I am so wrapped up in my world, and my experience of the world, that I can’t let go of it without much effort and be open to the opportunity of play. I consider myself a primarily task orientated person, and the playful side of me has always been in the shadow of my more dominant persona, which has always been a source of dissatisfaction, but more recently, has been greater in magnitude due to the frustration and disconnection it entails. Often, I just can’t reach where Bodhi is on that level, and I don’t like being an outsider in that.

However, having given the feelings and experience above room to voice themselves, I now forgive myself and allow myself to be open to new experience without limiting myself. The ability to do this came from an insight I had the other day.

Play is, of course, not the only way I have to connect with my son. We connect in lots of ways- through breastfeeding, co-sleeping, reading books together and discussing the world (as well as infinite moments just shared in spur of the moment things). But I have recently discovered another way that we have been sharing presence- and that’s through the day to day tasks of living.

I had misgivings about ‘routine’ from day one as a parent. From my initial perspective, routine for me seemed more about parental convenience- having a predictable baby (maybe that’s what people mean when they ask me if I have a ‘good’ baby??) that fits well into the lives of his or her parents. And from the benefit of hindsight, whilst this may be true for some families- most often unintentionally so, and simply a matter of lack of awareness that other options exist and are beneficial- I now think I allowed myself to be indoctrinated a little.

In the natural/attachment/connection parenting circles- like with any other social group there is- there are a small number  who are fundamental and unforgiving. And these are the sources from which I took on the belief that all routine is bad, that helping my baby to sleep by having a predictable, gentle bedtime routine (even if it takes two hours some nights!) is ignoring the fact that the baby will sleep when it’s tired, so no ‘bedtime’ is needed, and in fact, this is simply a way of manipulating my child to meet my adult needs. Or other such things, like having meals at regular times and so on.

So generally, Bodhi would fall asleep anywhere between 9pm and 1am, I make him meals when he communicated he was hungry, and he might have had one or two or three naps a day anywhere between twenty minutes and three hours long. Whilst I was connected to him and tuned into his needs at all times, there was a small part of me that felt scattered and needed to reassert myself and my needs (in a mutually beneficial way) and even a little resentful. And I think Bodhi picked up on that, and because of this, and the general lack of predictability, I believe it heightened his wariness of the world that resulted from the birth trauma.

However, after my mother had the stroke, and came to live with us, I knew things had to change. Managing the needs of myself and a one-year-old, as well as Zai to some extent, was hard enough, let alone with caring for someone who had recently had a very serious illness, and whose health habits (such as only eating one meal a day) needed to be changed.

And so I started to incorporate a bit of rhythm into our lives. Some things were non negotiably outside the boundaries of routine- such as breastfeeding on Bodhi’s cues, and not forcing Bodhi to sleep through the night. But other things, such as having regular meal times; a bedtime routine where we brush our teeth, have a feed, put all the toys to bed and then read stories; and making sure there is a balance of outside and inside time and active and restful time throughout the day, have become part of our repertoire.

I believe I have balanced all of our family’s needs, allowing the things that are important not to be constrained, such as feeding to be done when needed, whilst providing a respectful, gentle framework to the day that allows everyone a sense of comfort and wellbeing.

Bodhi’s Steiner playgroup teacher explained it well to me the other week- having a predictable environment allows the child the confidence and security to go out and explore the world. And of course, the feeling of security is vital to the psychological development of a child of this age!

The surprising thing about all this, though- and here I finally come to my point!- is that I have found myself becoming more present to Bodhi within these rhythms. Stirring a pot together, eating morning tea on a blanket in the garden, cuddling each toy one by one as they go to bed- these have become our precious shared moments that I felt I was missing out on in play.

Being able to say, “Let’s go read stories now,” or “It’s time for a bath”, and seeing his face light up and watching him patter off down the hall to the book room or the bathroom has been a delight. I have become so much more anchored in the moment, and with him. I have also noticed that he is more stable in his emotions, and that joy pervades everything he does. It has also allowed me the ability to meet my needs within the family- mum and I can share parenting duties so I can study, or if I’ve had a wakeful night with him I can nap during the day. Having that framework that everyone is familiar with allows Bodhi to connect not only with me but his father and Nana as well.

So the thing I was perhaps most scared of- not meeting Bodhi’s needs- has actually turned out to be one of the things best met by our rhythm. All it takes is a little awareness.