Everyday Parenting: Overwriting Autopilot
I still do stupid things.
Just in case you thought I had this whole parenting thing figured out by now, let me assure you, I don’t.
Sometimes I just don’t think. Sometimes I think I’m doing the right thing and then I get a sudden realisation that actually what I’m doing makes no sense at all and how on earth could I have missed that?
I had that experience today.
Miss almost 2 naps every day. I breastfeed her to sleep when she’s ready and then put her into our bed. She doesn’t spend her whole nap there though. She will wake up, sometimes after only half an hour, or sometimes two hours later. If it hasn’t been long, she’s often not quite ready to wake up. She wants another feed and then she drifts back off to sleep and stays on my lap until she’s really ready to wake up.
I’m familiar with the routine by now so whenever I hear her wake and start to cry I quickly run to grab her and take her to sit down as fast as I can. In my mind, she’s not fully awake and the quicker I can feed her and help her back to sleep then the better it is for her. She won’t have to fully wake and she’ll get more rest, right?
The thing is though, she doesn’t like it when I pick her up suddenly. She cries more and squirms and in her half asleep state doesn’t understand that I’m just trying to be quick for her so I can feed her like she wants. And yet I continue on, not considering another way, despite her protests. Because in the end, it all works out right? She gets what she wants.
Today, for some unknown reason, something clicked in my brain. I heard her stir, I rushed in, I looked at her lying there with her eyes still closed but starting to cry, I stopped. I finally realised how disconcerting it must be to be just starting to wake from sleep and then suddenly be lifted into the air and rushed out of the room!
This time, I gently said ‘you’re waking up, I’m going to pick you up now and then carry you out and you can have a feed’. She lied still. I slowly picked her up. She didn’t cry.
She wasn’t upset at all. She lay in my arms, eyes still closed. I sat down, she fed straight back to sleep. Simple.
What on earth was I doing before? At all other times I ask her before picking her up, why was I not doing it in these moments? Where was this misguided belief that I knew best, despite her obvious discomfort, coming from? Gah! I annoy myself.
We all make mistakes and when we know better, we do better.
To me, these realisations are a reminder of the importance of conscious, intentional parenting. If I had stopped to think about what I was doing it would have been clear to me. I value bodily autonomy, I want to respect my children, I listen to their feelings instead of trying to shush them. But in this case, I was acting on autopilot. My intentions were good, I wanted to soothe her discomfort, but I wasn’t conscious of how my actions were contributing to the situation.
I needed to slow down and consider my options. It’s so hard to realise when you’re parenting unconsciously because it’s just that…unconscious. Sometimes you get into habits that once began as deliberate choices you made but at some point in time stopped suiting the needs of everyone involved.
I’m sure I will have more similar realisations in the future. I feel pretty silly and the mistake seems so obvious now that I’m aware of it. I’m reminding myself that even with the best of intentions, mistakes happen. All I can do is try my hardest to remain conscious, mindful, and intentional and I think the best way to do that is to be aware of everyone’s feelings and needs moment to moment.
“Parenting consciously isn’t about “getting it right” all the time, but about evolving together. Children are immensely forgiving, and neither are they irreparably damaged by those times when we come up short. On the contrary, they learn to accept their own limitations through seeing us accept ours.” -Shefali Tsabary
Have you had a similar experience? Are there any areas where you might be acting on autopilot and need to be more mindful?
This post is part of a series documenting everyday respectful parenting moments. Reading real life parenting examples inspires me. I also find it helpful to look back on situations and think about what went well or what didn’t. Maybe you will too!
I’ve had a similar experience with No. 3, our 2 y.o. daughter. A lot of her naps take place on public buses now as we cruise around town. When we arrive at our destination, if she’s asleep, I’ll pick her up and carry her off the bus. Sometimes that works, and sometimes she starts to cry in frustration as we go. I arrived at the exact same solution you did. As we’re approaching our stop, I’ll say to her in a normal tone of voice, not too quietly, “W’e’re almost to our stop. I’m going to pick you up and carry you off the bus OK?” She hasn’t cried about it since. On occasion she even nods as I tell her what’s about to happen. And, of course, if it turns out she’s actually awake, and wants to get off by herself, off she goes.
Riding buses has given me a plain example of how important bodily autonomy is to kids as well. In the hustle and bustle of getting on the bus, we occasionally wind up not next to our kids as we get on and off. I actually appreciate this because the kids get to be independent, not glued to us in public places. The only time we run into issues are the rare occasions that we run across ‘helpful’ people who pick a kid up, and place them at the top of the bus stairs. If you want to make one our kids livid, that’s the quickest way. And, it makes sense! You’d never do that to an adult, and not just because they’re too heavy, but because they’re autonomous and participate in an (not so) unspoken contract of independence with the rest of society.
I have an adult friend who is 4’9″ and in our concert-going days, random people would pick her up at concerts all the time and she said it was terrifying, so can only imagine it being just as much if not more so for kids.
Oh my gosh!!! I had just assumed that would never ever happen to an adult! I don’t know who it would be more terrifying for. I mean as bad as it is, people ‘help’ kids in non-autonomous ways pretty frequently, so at least it’s within the realm of probability for them. As an adult though… Wow!!!
Just signed up to your fb page yesterday, wonderful source of informations, i’m glad I found you! And this post, beautiful simple advice. Thank you. Just curious though, is there a reason why you don’t just feed her lying in the bed?
Thank you ❤ That would be nice! We do that at night but in the day often my 3 year old is sleeping next to her so it disturbs her or else she’s awake but comes to find me (loudly) if I disappear for too long lol.
🙂 “Gah. I annoy myself.” 🙂 This made me chuckle because ummm…it resonates. lol
I think it’s great how when we’re trying to mindfully parent we are able to come out of the ‘creatures of habit’ mode and experience those light-bulb moments.
Wow, I am learning a lot from you. I definitely was raised with childism. I dont think my mom knew any better or that there was a better way so she did her best, well, for the most part. She was a yeller which has been passed to me. Honestly, I feel like I am on auto pilot a lot. How do I get out of that? Did you meditate or do something to helped you become more aware. Hormones seem to not help. I have three kids, 7,4, and seven months so I am busy. I love my kids and want the best for them so how do I start changing this way of thinking and going into auto pilot all the time. I hate it because as soon as I calm down I regret it. Thank you for your help.