“The invisible line of parenting,”-it’s a phrase I coined, and one I should probably consider copyrighting. It starts like this; you’re going along doing something that is working for your child or children, then one day out of nowhere you’ve crossed the invisible line. That certain something you’ve been doing suddenly isn’t working. Why? Because children evolve and grow. They jump from one developmental stage to another, and you’ve been blindsided.
No mom is immune to this invisible line; the knowledge of that is so freeing, knowing I’m not alone because I started to really notice this with my last one. Subconsciously I felt this extreme need to go into a hyper-bonding mode with him. I knew the importance of bonding, which was why I chose to breastfeed as an outlet to bond with him. Working with children suffering from reactive attachment disorder had taught me that holding the child, hugging them, and bonding with them is so important for their development. Breastfeeding was a way for me to bond; however, at two or three in the morning, I suddenly realized that the feelings I was having about this being our last child was taking this far beyond just breastfeeding. I was keeping him with me, holding and sleeping, even when I wasn’t breastfeeding. Although fulfilling the need to bond I was also allowing him to dictate when I held him, I had crossed the invisible line. The effect did not only make it so that he did not want to be put down during the day but sleeping at night anywhere but on me probably wasn’t going to happen either.
Many people initially cringe at this topic because it is closely followed by the topic of “crying it out,”. Before anyone cringes let me see if I can put it into perspective. Knowing the theory of Pavlov’s dog helped me put it into perspective because the behavior of children is just as instinctual as the behavior of dogs. If you don’t know about Pavlov’s dogs the gist of it is this: Pavlov used dogs to elicit a physical response from outside stimuli. Every time the dogs were given food a bell was rung. After some time, if the dogs heard the bell they would salivate in anticipation of food being given to them. While I realize that children are not dogs, it stands to reason that this theory is quite applicable to children.
A crying baby is a bell to our invisible line parenting. It’s not anything malicious on their part, they’re just a baby! Letting your child cry for hours upon hours, to avoid crossing the invisible line, is not what I’m advocating either. What I do advocate is changing the game. Teaching our children to self-soothe is important to their development, giving them a bedtime routine, a night light, music, a blanket and a doll all help. That is why I think of it, not as “crying it out”, but as learning to self-soothe.
Another example of crossing the line is a friend of mine who has a little boy that was born prematurely. Parents of premature babies are encouraged to put as many calories into them as possible. So, that’s what she did. A couple of years later she had a very healthy, almost three-year-old, who was past the point of needing any more special checkups related to his premature birth. Getting him to sit and eat meals was impossible because he was constantly snacking outside of mealtimes. She had done the right thing for his health, but now it was potentially harmful to him once he was healthy. The invisible line of parenting had been crossed. She had to develop a new routine; starting to say no, making him choose, those are all steps she took.
Parents underestimate the power of “choice” for children, especially when it comes to eating. The fear of depriving one’s child is in all of us. If you look at it as a choice, it will help. Children are much smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. Telling them that they have a choice to eat this food, that is yummy and will make them strong, or get down and not eat until lunchtime – and following through which is key – is more powerful and more beneficial to your child than anything else you could do.
We will all do it, at some point or another. It helps to know that it’s a thing though that happens to us all. I’m a firm believer when you know something beforehand you can prepare for it and adapt quickly when the time comes.
So, here’s to being a mom, equipped with amazing adaptability skills. The invisible line can take that!