AP and the Growing Child

By Susan Esserman-Schack, Leader of API of Bergen County, NJ

Susan & family
Susan & family

I have a new baby in my family – he is now 17 months old. My last baby was born 10 years earlier. The one before that was born two years prior to my second. When I look at my new baby, all I see is joy and love in his eyes. All his intentions are true and pure. He is my newest angel. I know that he does not manipulate or judge, his wants are his needs, and I have no problem meeting them. He nurses and all is right with the world. He sleeps and truly looks like an angel, our dream has come true.

I remember looking adoringly at my first two babies. I loved to watch them sleep – and trusted their souls completely. I watched them grow, and they taught me so much about what it meant to be a happy family. They knew what they needed, and had no problem letting me know. They both nursed until they felt that they did not need to breastfeed any longer.

The challenges began as they grew.

I always believed in following my instincts about parenting and caring for my babies. There was no word for Attachment Parenting when I had my first, and I really just relied on what my heart was telling me to do. As I parent now, I still do the same thing. No rules to follow, just follow my heart. I know I cannot make a mistake this way, as my instincts and my children will lead the way. As my children grew, there was an abundance of information about what they “should” be doing and when they “should” outgrow aspects of their babyhood/childhood. I just continued to trust that they knew what they were doing and however they were doing it was appropriate for them. This felt right for me.

I had to make adjustments to accommodate their interests, and I too began to become interested in the things that they wanted to learn about. We took a multitude of field trips with friends to discover new places and new things; we spent a lot of time exploring the outdoors and bug collecting. They truly taught me everything, as I grew up with only one sister, and here I was with two little boys! Listening became a big part of my job – hearing what they had to say, waiting for them to figure out how to say it.

AP & School-Age Children

As my boys became older, my job as a mom continued to grow – now I was also teacher after school – and tutor. I was eavesdropper as they spoke in the car to each other and with their friends. I was given the big window into their lives in the car. The car became the place where we all reconnected. In the car, there was no competition for any of our attention. We spoke of many things in the car, and learned all about boy-girl relationships and sex. For some reason, they always asked me the hardest questions while I was driving them. Part of the advantage to this was that they could not see my face and my shock in the innocence of their intense questions.

I made myself available to them whenever they needed. I tried to not interfere with their burgeoning independence. I tried not to act hurt when they acted like I was a “stupid woman.” I say this with a smile, as I know it is a stage that all pre-adolescents go through, thinking that they are the all powerful and all knowing and their parents are just simply stupid and know nothing! My friends and I would laugh about all this, and actually feel proud of our children and how confident they were in their power and knowledge. What a good feeling!

AP & Teens

Now my older children are 11 and 13. My first teenager has bouts of intense love for me and intense anger about anything. He will just come up to me and hug me and tell me that he loves me. The next day, he will tell me I am ruining his life. I continue to follow my heart and love him everyday, and let him know it. I love hearing about everything that is going on in his life – as much as he is willing to share with me. I keep an open mind and let him know of my availability to him to talk about anything. I respect his privacy and his decisions. We have made certain agreements about his being able to call me and have me fish him out of any uncomfortable situation he finds himself in – no questions asked – no punishment offered. He is teaching me everyday, again, about growing up and being a teenager – about separation and attachment.

What he is going through is strikingly similar to what my toddler is going through. Two steps forward, one step back. Independent one day, leaning on me the next. Growing and learning about his new body and intelligence and power and strength. Learning how to handle all the new feelings in his body. Learning how his parents fit into the big picture.  He is a bright, articulate, strong young man who has his future at his feet. He has every opportunity in the world before him. I have to learn patience as he takes his steps in navigating his unique journey in this world. I need to learn patience and trust in his process, and trust that he will make decisions that are right for him. I must learn when to talk and when to stay quiet.

How AP Changes as Children Grow

I take time to talk with other parents with kids the same ages. Some of these parents have been my “co-workers” in my parenting career since our older babies were the littlest of babies. Hearing what they have to say comforts me as I learn that, once again, what my children are doing is normal. Expectations must be adjusted once more, as even though our children are literally big, they are still very focused on only themselves, at times. Autonomy ebbs and flows. They move at their own pace. I must believe that what they are doing is the right thing to be doing at their age and stage of development.

Touch is still an essential tool in my parenting practices. Hugs, kisses, telling them “I love you” are daily activities. Taking affection any way I can get it from them, while understanding that it may come in odd ways – like wrestling with my boys! I continue to be emotionally available to them, at the drop of a pin. My boys keep busy, but we must be careful not to over-schedule, as they still really need their down time. I must learn more about being involved without being intrusive.

Babies, toddlers, and adolescents – strikingly similar. Parenting through it all and following my children’s lead has been my mantra. I make decisions based on what works for today. I continue to follow my heart and my instincts. I may make mistakes along the way, all of this is part of learning. I understand now how quickly they grow, and I cherish my time with all three of my sons – knowing one day they will be gone from my home and in their own with children of their own…and I will miss them tremendously.

Reprinted with permission from Seventh Moon~ Perinatal Support Services. © 2004 Susan Esserman-Schack, LCSW, IBCLC, LCCE.

I made myself available to them whenever they needed. I tried to not interfere with their burgeoning independence. I tried not to act hurt when they acted like I was a “stupid woman.”

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