Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Monsters We Create

My sister-in-law had her first daughter in 2009 and a friend bought her a Tigger “lovey” – Tigger’s head attached to a fuzzy square blanket. The baby enjoyed it, but enjoyed it too much – after a while Tigger was gross. So my SIL found a pink elephant lovey and gave her that. Eventually the little girl would indicate she needed a nap by grabbing her elephant and sticking her thumb in her mouth. Sometimes she’d just crash out on the living room floor with it. But she always had to have her ele. And if she didn’t have the ele…well, she wouldn’t nap. So eventually, as you can guess, the ele got gross. My SIL searched feverishly for another ele so that she could wash ele #1 and #2 would be available for naps (because you know, as a parent, that the minute you put that thing in the wash here comes your kid wanting to take a nap – it’s Murphy’s 1st Law of Parenting). She finally found another one on eBay for $20 plus shipping and didn’t bat an eye buying it. Crisis of no nap without an ele averted. For now. Yesterday her daughter brought her ele in the bathtub with her. Thankfully the ele was dry (#2 shhh) by the time her bath was done and it was time for bed.

My own son is a little over one, and I found by watching him that he loved to rub his face on soft things (fleece-like is his favorite, or faux animal hair). So I gave him a fleece blanket with chenille on one side and pile fleece on the other. My parents bought him another for Christmas, and when he got too long for those I found him an adult fleece throw for his nighttime pleasure. When you put him in his crib, he’ll take his left hand across his face and reach for the fleece blanket on his right side and rub on it until he falls asleep. He’ll also try to find one on his left side and rub on that if he wakes up in the middle of the night. When I wake him up in the morning, he has one in each hand and his face is cuddled up on the adult throw. Cute right? Sure, what parent doesn’t love having pictures of their kid roaming around the house at bedtime with a blanket in each hand, looking for someone to just put him in his crib? But we ran into the same problem – smelly blankets need to be washed. And my son literally naps every two hours (you can almost time your watch by it). If you’re fast, you can get them washed, but if you don’t think of it until he’s been up for an hour what do you try to do? You try other blankets, exactly. But no…these are not fuzzy enough to be soothing. So my son will not nap (or go to bed at night) without count them, three, fleece blankets.

My SIL and I have created monsters. Not the jump out of your closet or out from under your bed kind, but the creatures of habit who will scream if you don’t give them what they want kind. Before I had my son I thought having a lovey would be a good thing – it can help kids learn to self-soothe because they have a beloved item with them, and it can make a new place seem familiar (and less anxiety provoking). Really what we’re talking about here is giving your kid something they know well and feel comfortable with to help them relax. And that idea sounds so nice in theory. Help them relax…ahhhh…relax. Sure. And eventually that’s what happened with my son – he didn’t need me rocking him to sleep anymore – he had his blankets.

BUT. So you’re helping your kid relax, when really what you’re teaching them is to associate this item (or items) with decreasing anxiety and/or relaxation. You’re conditioning your child to relax only when the item is available and to experience more anxiety when it is not (possibly – remember, this doesn’t happen to every kid). They pair the lovey with sleep and then poof, no sleep without the lovey. And the babysitter or grandma or anyone who doesn’t know about this thing is SOL. You’re stuck rushing to wash them during awake time (or buying multiples so you don’t have to rush). So decreasing their stress stresses the parents. Probably not the best plan, but so many parents do it, and I’m one of them. So that brings up a good question – if we’re using intentional parenting (parenting after thinking about the possible consequences of our behaviors toward our kids and making a conscious decision to behave in that way or shape those behaviors in our children), should we be going the lovey route?

One option is to have multiple items that our kids can connect with. A lot of times though that doesn’t work – they pick one and they go with it, and the others are kind of secondary (and maybe not acceptable for relaxation purposes). And some kids, honestly, never give a rat’s ass about a lovey. They don’t have a favorite blanket or toy or anything that they search out in times of anxiety or sleepiness. And those parents are lucky. A second option is to buy multiples of the lovey, but really, how are you supposed to know when you pick up the owl in the store that this will be “the thing?” And if you realize it is, and go to search for more and then they’re gone or out of “season,” what then? Try telling your one-year-old, “I’m sorry, you can’t have this, I need to wash it.” I know at my house I’d get a confused look then he’d be following me around crying until he found something else fuzzy that MAY be sufficient.

So as you intentionally parent, think about this – to lovey or not to lovey? While the choice is yours, now, think about the later outcomes and decide how you want to influence your child. Most of the time we give them their first cuddle toy because WE think it’s cute, right? So who needs a lovey here really?