How I made the biggest parenting mistake ever and lived to tell the tale

As soon as we recognized that Norah A. Babysaurus could comprehend the meaning of “no” and other words, we started teaching her rules.

Our greatest success was when she finally learned that she was allowed to sit on the bottom step of the staircase (which can’t be blocked by a gate) but she was not allowed to stand. It took one full day of mustering all the patience and energy we had to be firm, calm, and consistent in correcting her. When at last she ran over to the step and sat right down, once, twice, every single time,  it honestly felt like we’d won the Nobel Parenting Prize.

Then after a few weeks of almost perfect behavior on the staircase, she started standing again. Consistently. Running over to the step, climbing up, and turning around with a big smile and her arm out, saying, “Ah!” which, to us, sounded a lot like, “Ta da! I can do whatever I want!”

So we started over. As she persisted, it was hard not to get angry at her stubbornness. That smug little grin. That defiant wave. The frustration of her falling when we reached down to pick her up because she’d try to step off as soon as we got close. Over and over again.

Until one day, when I managed to resist being angry for long enough to pay attention. And this is what I realized:

She had climbed up because she wanted to practice stepping down. She wasn’t waving, she was reaching out. She wasn’t saying, “Hah! Look at me asserting my independence and derring-do!” Instead, she was trying to tell me, “Hey, Mama! I can do this, but I need a little help.” So I went to her, held out my hand and asked, “Would you like some help stepping down?” She happily took my hand for balance, carefully stepped down to the floor…and promptly sat down on the step.

I stayed and helped her practice stepping up and down a few more times, until she was ready to move on to something new. No yelling. No tantrums. No frustration. Just good, solid communication.

BOOM. That was the moment — when I realized that all of our frustration and anger was because we simply weren’t listening — I knew we had made the biggest parenting mistake we’ve ever made.

In fact, I replayed it in my mind every day. I don’t want to forget it, because I realize that it’s probably the biggest mistake we could ever possibly make. Trouble is, it’s also the easiest mistake to make.

(I should know. I communicate for a living. And also for a hobby. I also have a master’s degree in it. Which is why I’m hanging my head in the most shameful kind of shame.)

I immediately apologized for not listening sooner. She might not understand the words “I’m sorry,” but I did it anyway, just to get in the habit because one day she will understand. I want her to know that I am not perfect, but I am trying to be good. I want her to know what honest, two-way communication feels like and I don’t want her to settle for less. We hugged for a moment, then she ran off to find Big Ball, I reflected on a very valuable lesson, and everything was good again. As a matter of fact, everything was better.

Since then, Norah A. Babysaurus has started to “ask” for help before she climbs up. She’ll grab my hand and bring me over to the step, or rocking chair, or whatever she wants to try. She’ll make some small indication of what she needs me to do, and that’s what I do — no more, no less. I observe, I ask, I wait, and eventually she succeeds. And that. THAT. Knowing that she knows that we understand — that we want to understand — and that she trusts us to understand, even when she can’t express herself in a way that we’re used to: that is the best prize by far.


This was going to be all sappy, then the weather turned warm and now I’m happy

Norah’s birthday and Mother’s Day and Keith’s birthday are practically on top of each other, and I was going to write something long and sappy about the things I’ve learned in my first year of motherhood, and what an awesome kid Norah A. Babysaurus has turned out to be in only a year, and how I intended to bake a lemon pound cake topped with blueberry compote for Keith’s birthday and instead he got a stack of Oreos on a salad plate.

Hello, nice weather!

But today it’s sunny and eighty-plus degrees, which means I’m feeling cheerful instead of strangely moody and sentimental. Let me sum up:


1. Everyone — friends, family, compassionate strangers — tells you from day one, “It gets better!” and you either (a) scoff, (b) roll your eyes, (c) cry, or (d) demand to know when it will get better and how much better it will get. Fifty-two percent better? Three times better? Do you have a chart or Universal Betterness Scale? Because for at least the first two to six months everything sucks to infinity. Then, one day you and your husband are having fun playing with your happy baby, and you look at each other and go, “Hey! It’s better!” It gets better.

2. According to the Internet, there are approximately seven billion ways to raise a child properly. Take your pick! The chances that your child will become an unhappy, maladjusted adult solely because of your (or someone else’s) parenting decisions are incredibly small. With the exception of locking your child in the basement for eighteen years, do what you have to do to get through each day and create the family environment that you envision, and do it with love and respect.

3. Not all mothers fall in love with their babies right away; I didn’t. Not all mothers love every part of mothering; I don’t. If the stuff you’re reading by other mothers on the Internet is making you feel bad about yourself, stop reading. Your baby doesn’t need a perfect mother; your baby needs you, as you are right now, today.

A Facebook friend recently shared a bit of insight which nicely sums up the underlying point: “When you have no judgment of how things should be, you are not limited by your expectations.” Bingo.

4. If you take a break from making everyone else happy in order to ignore them for a while and make yourself happy, everyone will be happy.


Summary of Norah A. Babysaurus at One Year


This is not a lemon pound cake with blueberry compote

I know, I know. I’ll post a very detailed tutorial later.