I used to feel like a schedule and a plan was the only way to parent. Now I’m finding a certain joy in the unknown.
I love rules and routine. Having lived with generalized anxiety disorder my whole life, predictability makes me feel safe. So, when our baby stopped eating and sleeping during the day, it not only disrupted my schedule, but my whole world. Of course, it did not help that the world was actually being disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak at the very same time.
Our baby had fallen organically into a schedule by 6 weeks old, so I (naively) assumed he would always be that regimented. He is my son after all. Don’t get me wrong, there were still many “no nap” afternoons, but otherwise he followed the clock fairly precisely — eating every 3 hours and sleeping easily after 45-minute wake windows.
Then he turned 12 weeks old.
Over the course of a month, what started as occasionally losing his attention during feeds and taking a little longer to fall asleep turned into a full-on daytime nursing and nap strike.
Around the same time, the novel coronavirus disease was making landfall in the United States. As the virus’ proliferation worsened, so did our baby’s eating and sleeping patterns. I wondered how much of his behaviors were normal developmental changes and how much was him picking up on the anxiety in the greater world around us.
One minute he would be elated, smiling, and attempting his first real giggles. The next, he would be in hysterics, inconsolable, and hiccuping to catch his breath — personifying the roller coaster of emotions that so many of us were feeling.
When our city was given a stay-at-home mandate, my life was now not only disrupted inside our home, but outside as well.
Usually when things feel uncertain, I find comfort in keeping a rigid schedule. The illusion of control appeases my anxiety. Not only did the stay-at-home order make this challenging, as we couldn’t go out to do our regular activities and errands, but every time I tried to stick to a schedule at home, my son would disrupt it.
I found myself not only holed up in our apartment, but in a corner of the nursery, trying to will him to eat and sleep.
After several afternoons of crying together in frustration (me wanting him to sleep, him wanting no part) I decided to try something different.
I decided stop fighting what was happening, both inside and outside.
What I can control, however, is how I approach this period of great uncertainty. I can loosen my rigid schedules and bend my hardened rules. I can learn to flow with change instead of resisting it.
I started with his meals. Before, I would spend the entire day stretching or shortening the time between feeds, trying to hit certain hours on the clock. This made it much easier to plan my day. Now, if he does not eat at precise times, I go with it.
Some days I offer him my boob every hour, other days we go longer than 3 hours. With the stay-at-home order, we don’t have anywhere to go, allowing us to be more flexible. Plus, by putting less pressure on him, he is actually eating better.
Next, I stopped forcing daytime sleep. I had become so beholden to awake windows, I was constantly watching the clock versus looking at my baby. Or I would set rules, like I could only baby wear once during the day (even though, I wanted to wear him constantly), because he “needed to practice” sleeping in the crib.
Now, we offer him a nap and if he is not ready to fall asleep, we let him stay up a little longer. Being home also means I have the flexibility to wear him all day if he needs it. It is a lot more fun to have this additional time together playing and cuddling than being bolted to a rocking chair with a screaming baby. And he ends up sleeping better.
Another place I am loosening up my rules is around screens. I had hoped to limit our son’s exposure to the screen until he was at least 2 years old. If we were on FaceTime, I would feel the need to rush off, so as not to “spoil” him. Now Zoom and FaceTime are essential for staying connected with family and friends and our mommy and me group.
A little extra screen time is a small price to pay for human connection, especially at a time when we all need it the most. It is also very rewarding to see how happy it makes everyone to see him and to start to see him recognizing everyone right back.
At first, it was very uncomfortable letting all these things go. I felt like, I was failing as a mother for not sticking to my “rules.” I was afraid of the unknown. This all created significant additional stress during an already stressful time.
You see, I used schedules and rules and keep my life predictable, but my son is not a robot and the world is not a machine.
The quarantine can feel both scary and mundane. Loosening my rules has made our days not only more joyful, but exciting. After all, it is in the unknown where we find possibility. That is the world I want to share with my son — one where anything is possible.
Sarah Ezrin is a motivator, writer, yoga teacher, and yoga teacher trainer. Based in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband and their dog, Sarah is changing the world, teaching self-love to one person at a time. For more information on Sarah please visit her website, www.sarahezrinyoga.com.