I have a confession to make: I used to make fun of protective parents. Before I had kids, I thought I’d be the old-fashioned father that watched with glee as my toddler tumbled around scraping knees. I assumed I’d lock my kid outdoors for hours on end with a mandate on exploration. I giggled at the helicopter parents panicking at the sight of a few toddler tears. I secretly mocked the families baby-proofing their houses into a padded walled oblivion where corners, electric outlets, and heavy furniture couldn’t exist. Baby gates were for the softies and my children were going to spit nails and ask for more. And then I had my baby girl and, as it happens so frequently, I realized I was wrong.
The change happened overnight. Before Eliza was born, I was ready to unleash my throwback parenting style on the world. The moment I saw her, however, I quickly changed my tune. When we brought her home from the hospital, my wife and I basically created an unspoken and unacknowledged game of “How many times can we check if she’s breathing?” Where before I was the carefree and resolute, now I was holding a finger under my daughter’s nose every 18 seconds to feel her breath and gain reassurance. I can’t say for sure how long this habit lasted for my wife and I, but I’d estimate we checked her breathing 6,000 times per day for at least a year. First-time parents and all, I guess.
Eliza is two and a half and we still check her breathing from time to time while she sleeps. Life moved on though and our worries quickly shifted to external forces; furniture, sharp toys, corners, and doors were villainous threats waiting to harm our daughter. While baby-proofing the house is one option we embraced, we always relied on another time-tested strategy to protect our little girl: never leave her side. I am definitely exaggerating, but we moved from breath checks straight into overly concerned crying investigations. Once the little rugrat became mobile, accidents started to happen and we ran at the slightest sigh. If you’ve been around a toddler, you know that mischief caused owwies and crying is a constant drum, but since Eliza was our first, we initially fell for every whine and tear.
Things came to a head HERE in case you missed it. My toddler took a bloody tumble into a coffee table and our first ER visit was patiently waiting. Not to spoil the story’s ending, but that coffee table no longer resides in our living room. We must protect our girls!
Daughter #2, believe it or not, actually brought a calming assurance to our parenting lives. Whether it’s the distraction of a second child or the sleep deprivation robbing us of our dedication, we have finally started to tap the brakes on some of our more smothering moments. The breathing checks on this newborn haven’t even reached a fraction of the first, and Eliza is now free to rumble through the house and yard at will. We no longer throw up our arms in panic when Eliza cries in another room; we’ve figured out which cries are real and which cries are toddler lies.
Despite my confession, I am still committed to letting my kids learn and experience things without their hand in mine (as painful as that might be). But my expectations for parenthood have changed, and I can no longer claim to be the gruff early century father that lets his kids run wild and shows no sympathy when body parts get bruised. When I don’t respond to Eliza’s tears, it’s with a clenched lip and a look in the opposite direction; we have to willingly allow her to develop independently and resolve issues without us. And speaking of resolving issues without us, it’d sure be nice if she could ‘resolve’ using the bathroom without us…I have no problem letting go there!