All of our children have gone through times in their in life where their needs were outside of the range of what our culture would see as “normal” for a parent to support. For example, Ivy nursed until she was almost six years old. Tiffany would not let us brush her hair, as he scalp was so sensitive when she was younger. We had to come up with creative solutions to work through the knots and it took hours sometimes, when she was sleeping, for me to gently comb through them. Tiff and Devin co-slept with us until they were around eleven years old. Orion always, with no exception, asks for a “wet towel” with every meal. He hates sticky hands and whenever we travel, I always make sure we have baby wipes handy for him. He also doesn’t like to go into the bathroom that is on the far end of our house at night, when it dark, without someone in the kitchen with him.
We have never felt the need to *make* them move through the many phases, or needs sooner than they were ready. There are times that it has been a challenge, when Joe or I argued with reality or during the times when it was hard to meet everyone’s needs at once. For the last few years, Ivy has had a long bedtime ritual that I was a key player in. She would brush her teeth, and then she wanted me to say goodnight to her stuffed friend, Frosty. She would then have me kiss a stuffed bear and a stuffed pig she loves. Then, we’d lay and I would tickle her back. When she was almost asleep, she’d get up and go to the bathroom again, then crawl in bed, next to Orion. (We have two queen beds pushed together in our room and we co-sleep with Ivy and Orion.) When she was in bed, she would say something, the exact same way every single night, “Night Mom, You’re the best Mom in the whole-wide world. Love you sweet dreams…..” to which I would repeat back to her. Then, she wanted Orion to say the same thing to me… there were times that I was so tired, I would literally fall asleep before the whole ritual was over, to which she’d wake me, so we could finish.
For the last two weeks, Ivy has been going to bed earlier than the rest of us. She decided that she wanted to wake up earlier because she loves the morning when it is quiet and relaxing here, before everyone wakes up. Where she goes to bed before me now, she hasn’t asked me to do the routine once. It is just over…. done! Just like that, she naturally outgrew the need, because she was ready. It wasn’t a struggle or a bad habit that she needed to “break.” It was simply that her desire and need evolved and shifted. She confidently and independently decided what she wanted for herself and because she was always supported through her dependence, she was ready.
I am so happy when the kids grow through phases in their needs, but not for the reason most would think. I look back on Ivy’s childhood years where the routine was so important to her. I look back on the years with four kids in our bed, never quite knowing when that would change. Although sometimes it was difficult, I am so, so happy that we’ve always respected the kids and honored what they needed, despite the challenges for us as parents. We didn’t take the easy way out by refusing them what they needed from us to feel loved, safe and secure.
Going to bed and *not* having to go through a long, repetitive routine is nice, I must admit, but the joy in my heart isn’t because it is over. It is because *we did it* each and every time. As Radical Unschooling parents, we see our children’s needs all the way through, until they organically and naturally outgrow them. We don’t guilt, complain, shame or force them to move through phases quicker, to make our lives easier. We know from living this partnership based paradigm for so long that when a child has a dependent need, it is only through embracing it and meeting it that they become truly independent, when they naturally outgrow the need.
Our culture claims that if you don’t force a child to suffer through not having certain needs met, that they will never do things on their own. It is said that they will never outgrow needs until they are forced or refused by the parents. This simply isn’t true – it is quite the opposite, in fact. An unmet need doesn’t go away. It just warps into a new need or dependence, leaving a child struggling internally to search for ways to get their needs met. A child loses trust in the parent and the damage to the parent/child relationship is profoundly affected.
Today, Tiff brushes her hair more than anyone in the house. She takes meticulous care of it and being a model, she sees it as her crowning glory. Ivy isn’t still nursing at age 11. She is vegan, by choice and inspires others to eat healthily and compassionately. Devin has a space above Joe’s workshop on our property, which was once my childbirth teaching studio. He moved into it and it is now his apartment, at only seventeen years old. He didn’t co-sleep until he “went off to college” as everyone told us and attempted to get us to kick him out of our family bed as soon as possible. He’s been to Peru for five weeks with friends and stays in Virginia for months at a time with his girlfriends family, confident and connected to us as parents. NONE of the fears carried by others about supporting my kids through their needs came true. Not one…
When I go to bed tonight, I will enjoy the ease of just climbing in bed and holding Orion’s little hand as he falls asleep. Joe will give me a kiss and roll over and say, “Love you, hon. Goodnight.” I will take a long, releasing breath of gratitude for the life we live together as a family. I will always look back on the years of Ivy’s bedtime routine with sweetness and love in my heart, so very grateful that we did what she needed, each and every night, even if I was exhausted.
Every single time a need has come to an end, the joy in my heart for meeting it, for however long it was present, leaves me feeling beyond grateful that I didn’t put my needs before my children’s needs. I honored and continue to meet each and every need that my children have, without judgment and without resentment. I know the result of compassion and trust with embracing their needs and I will never regret doing so. I will always be grateful that I didn’t listen to those who warned me, shamed me or attempted to fear me.
Peaceful Parenting is an investment. If you do the work now, you are nurturing their development and growth so they can be whole, confident and independent people when they are ready. It is letting them know that you will be there, through whatever they need, even if you don’t know the reason they need it. It is a practice of unconditional love, kindness and pure acceptance of who they are.
The results of respecting what our children need are powerful and real. Our children are strong, capable and compassionate people who are helping to shift the world towards the kindness and peace that will someday heal it. Let go of the fear of others and look into your child’s eyes and know that only good comes from you being present for them, through every age and stage of their lives when they need you. You can not create a negative trait in another coming from a place of love and trust. You do so by rejection, fear and the inability to be there for your kids emotionally or physically. Let go of the cultural fear surrounding kindness, love and compassion when giving your children what they are telling you they need. Step into this new awareness and embrace everything your children are reaching out to you for, right now, today and always. It is an investment in their emotional future, and one that you will never regret.
Peace & Love, Dayna