This is my daughter Echo some time last year. She was three and still nursing quite a bit. I was struggling with it all and so took a moment to ask her about her thoughts on nursing.
After making the video my compassion for this little being grew. I no longer saw her as an adversary in the nursing struggle, I saw her as someone that loves me so and doesn’t want to squander a single moment of shared affection. My emotional renewal on the topic allowed me to lovingly nurse her another eight months when she self-weaned.
I thought that was the end of the story. I am surprised that ten months later the subject still comes up. When Echo weaned it wasn’t exactly a conscious decision on her part. She was only nursing for a few minutes each night as she fell asleep but then for a few nights in a row she became distracted by stories and singing and it didn’t occur to her to nurse. Eventually the milk ran out and when she thought to ask to nurse again it was no longer an option. I felt pretty good about the process as it was natural and without upset, but apparently it’s still on Echo’s mind. On New Year’s she made a wish. Without a moments hesitation she wished she could nurse again.
We got the video camera out to talk about it.
Once more I felt a well of compassion rise in me when I watched this. I hold Echo a lot but I have to admit that I put her down pretty quickly, either setting her on the counter or drawing her attention to something else so that I can release her. I tell myself that it’s hard to hold her because she’s so big now, and it is, but I also tell myself made-up stories about how an almost five year-old should walk on her own, or that if I hold her and cradle her she will never want me to put her down and I will be trapped and unable to “get anything done”. These stories leave me frustrated, as “shoulds” always do, and also insensitive to her desires for closeness. My response is sometimes begrudging and cold, not cradle-y and warm.
And whenever we ignore our children’s needs, in this case connection with a parent, they don’t disappear, they pop up again. The more I turn Echo down or distract her, the more her need finds ways to bob to the surface elsewhere – whining, or extreme snuggling in bed where I can barely move, or fatigue, or discontent. If I were to meet her need by purposeful holding I might just be able to avoid all of the other manifestations of that need, all of which are just as irritating and prohibitive if not more so.
In any case, when she asks me to hold her now I do, and I make sure to be present and gracious in my giving of myself. My perspective of her has shifted to one that feels so much better. And all because I asked. I love that.
About Natalie Christensen
Natalie Christensen is a mother, artist, and writer living in Missoula, Montana. She is co-creator and illustrator of the innovative line of emotional-educational tools called Feeleez. She writes about her empathy-based parenting ideas, struggles, and triumphs at www.talkfeeleez.typepad.com. Natalie also helps other mamas and papas find new perspectives and ideas about their lives and parenting through phone consults.