Last night we had our first one-on-one session with a therapist; I’ll call her the Wise Owl. We had been meeting with her in a group setting for a few months, and today my husband and I met with her, just the three of us. She asked us how life had been going lately, and our story started to spill out. As we talked about our family and some of this things we struggled with, she empathized with us. She acknowledged us, validated us, commented on how unfair our journey had been, stating in wonder that “you guys have been through hell, it’s amazing you’re still together”, and ended the evening with a optimistic, almost triumphant declaration; “We’re going to get that baby back”.
The ‘baby’ she was talking about is our almost 7 year old daughter, who I’ll refer to as Baby Butterfly. We opened up with identifying her chronological age – 7; cognitive age – 4, and emotional age, which we estimated to be around 10 months. When we described some of her normal behaviors, it was almost comical that we hadn’t seen the trends that this therapist quickly identified. Baby Butterfly often wants to play by climbing up into our shirt, pretending to breastfeed, and fake crying inconsolably. “This baby isn’t a 10 month old, she’s an infant! Maybe still in utero!” Wise Owl exclaimed. Tears started pouring down my face as I started connecting the dots.
In my mind over the last 24 hours, I’ve continued having realizations. One of Baby Butterfly’s therapists has mentioned a recurring theme in their sessions: during play therapy, babies can’t be comforted by caregivers. Perhaps a throwback to the months of visits with biological parents who had so much love for her, but their impairments made them unable to parent. Perhaps the 45 minutes each way trips for parent visits, several days a week, driven by multiple different strangers who weren’t allowed to pull over to comfort her. I thought back even further. Baby Butterfly has always been on her own timeline. She didn’t hit developmental milestones as expected, and by 6 months old, had been referred to start therapy to work towards meeting those milestones. Our girl had been pushed along every step of the way, by a system optimistically trying to encourage her development, but pushing her forward before her brain was ready to go there. She had difficulties transitioning away from binkies, bottles, and sippers when the time came. I mentioned her fascination with and desire to still use bottles and diapers, and to sleep in a crib. I recalled the struggle in learning to drink from a cup. She would tip the cup up, let the water flow into her mouth, and the water would fall right back out. She didn’t understand how to swallow without her bottle, but was pushed to do so because ‘it’s the right thing for her age’.
The Wise Owl told us to take Baby Butterfly to the dollar store, to the baby section, and let her pick out some toys. She told us to give her the bottle. To stop discouraging these ‘age inappropriate behaviors’ because her brain hadn’t made it past that stage yet. Once that need is filled, she’ll stop using bottles, climbing into our shirts, and asking to sleep in a crib.
Had we not been working with her in a group for months, and had we not known others who had worked with her very successfully… we’d probably have thought she was nuts. But we know these methods work. These methods so opposite of the ‘traditional’ parenting we’d grown up with. We’ve seen Baby Butterfly slowly start thriving in certain situations where we’ve been able to implement love based parenting techniques.
I read once that the worst criteria on which to decide to send a child to school is their age. Children learn and develop at all different ages and stages, and should be allowed to do so. I remember being so proud that my oldest child, who I’ll refer to as the Brave Lion, was young. Her pediatricians office gave us a wheel with an opening in it, we could spin it around to see developmental milestones and be sure that we were encouraging age appropriate behaviors. With Baby Butterfly, I should have thrown the wheel out. Had I known then what I know now…
And so, here we are. Going to get that baby back… and let her journey through the parts of life she was pushed through too quickly. The parts her brain didn’t have adequate time to process. We’ll let her sit there as long as she needs. We’ll let her use her bottle, her binky, her crib, her whatever… until that need has been met in her brain, and she can move forward… at her own pace.
These revelations have led to many others. The parts of my life that I’ve forced myself through too quickly. My mentality to ‘hurry up and get through it’ instead of cherishing the journey and learning to fail forward.
But, I didn’t know then what I know now. And there’s no going back. I don’t regret any parts of my journey, though… because all of this living journey is a repetition of learning more, loving better, and growing stronger.
Disclaimer: Everyone parents differently. It’s a beautiful journey. Nothing on this blog should be seen as medical or professional advice, encouragement to parent your own children differently, or judgement for anyone but myself. I’ll share pieces of my journey in a raw and transparent manner, and ask for grace. This space is my outlet to share my story.