Everyone loves babies. And puppies. And kittens. And bassett hounds. And everything that is small and alive and cute. Some sociologist must have done a study on why we love little things, I’m not here to argue that, it’s an axiom.
Loving your own kids as infants is even easier. Everyone remembers their child cooing and looking into your eyes with wonder and the feeling of those little tiny fingers wrapped around your index finger. You remember the magic the first time they struggled and finally rolled themselves over and then lay there in amazement at what just happened, not sure if it was good or bad. You remember the bouncing in a jolly-jumper. The laugh and giggle and excitement when you walk into daycare at the end of a crappy day. The first wobbly steps when you were sure they were going to face-plant. First words. First time you hear “mom” or “dad”. Dogs licking a food covered face.
You also remember them crying for food, in pain, tired. Crying because of a stinky gross diaper..where did all of THAT come from??? How much tough love to apply so they learn to sleep on their own. Saying no to candy when you know they are going to cry. Temper tantrums in public places. Incremental changes of letting them cry a little more each night, staring at a stopwatch. Ear infections, doctor visits and the perpetual question, “Is that serious? Should I call the doctor?” Throwing food when they don’t ‘like’ it. Breaking their toys. Destroying something nice that is yours. Destruction of electronics.
Those first few years are brutal. You gain weight because you can never leave them for long enough to get in a workout, and after a hard day of work and the tantrums, who has energy anyway? Relationships struggle because it is impossible to focus on your partner when 100% of your focus is on preventing household destruction or injury or general strife. All you can think of is “Am I doing this right?” or “Why do people say this is fun?” or “How is this MY kid?”
I think the first few years as a phase can all be boiled down to the notion that your relationship to your child is that of providing basic care. But the important part is that throughout this process of being a servant, you somehow have to find a way to have patience and let the love shine through all of the sleepless nights of heartache so that you build a foundation of trust. The trust is key, because it is all your kids will take out of that part of their life. They have no memories of the horrible things they did to you. All they know is this innate sense of their ability to trust you as this parent-person who somehow brings them comfort, but they have no idea why.
The only way to get through this phase is to have patience and not let your deep down worst thoughts and first reactions and emotional response to whatever they are doing in your sleep-deprived haze, be the thing they ‘feel’ as they become toddlers. Three years of patience is tough. But that is what is needed. You can screw up the pacifier, you can feed them too much of the wrong stuff, you can let them sleep with you so that they don’t learn to sleep on their own, you can throw off their sleep schedule, or eating schedule, or general routine. But you have to do it with enough patience that enables them to evolve into a slightly bigger, mobile, smart mouthed kid that somehow still thinks you are the greatest thing on the planet. Patience lets them love you, and respect you. And with that, you can move on to the next phase, where you cash in the love-chip and they actually start to be able to listen and understand you.
I am sorry to have to ruin the surprise for all you wide-eyed people that are expecting, or have infants that you still gush over, the first three years are going to be rough. Have patience, it gets better. It’s what I tried to do.