I learned really quickly that to be sensitive to my sons needs that I need to be respectful to how he felt about public affection. I also learned to be sensitive to his feelings in other ways as well. Not assuming that his feelings were irrational or selfish, but really a cry out for help with something I would need to work hard to reveal. Full time farming, community work and having three other children makes this difficult for me sometimes. I've found that proving to Carter that I would be here-but may need extra help understanding his feelings-has taught him to open up more quickly rather than losing hours to frustration, silence and pouting.
Carter has always been my snuggler. We didn't start out attachment parenting and I think that we've always been catching up on what we missed that first year. But now as a ten year old I've had to learn to be patient to the appropriate ways to provide him nurturing touch. I find that as the sun goes down Carter becomes much more ready for time with mom. At a certain point of every day (or in times when he just needs me) he'll walk up and put his head against me. That's my invitation to rub his head and give him hugs. As he's grown older it becomes more important that it's on his timing and when he needs it most. I've learned to enjoy the occasional hand and feet size comparing ritual just as much as an hour snuggling on the couch.
Safe Sleep (Physically & Emotionally)
On days when we have balance within our home Carter will come to me at the end of the day and sit. If I'm patient enough he'll share his highs and lows from the day. The things he enjoyed and the things that hurt. It's his way of opening up and letting go all the things that could weigh on him throughout the night. We've found that when we create a safe place for him to share his feelings that he sleeps better and wakes up feeling confident to take on the new day. When we're too busy or he falls asleep before having a chance to process his day it seems that the burdens become too heavy and harder to share. This is a good reminder for us as well.
The last couple of years have been hard for our family. We've gone through several changes and there were days that we barely survived. In all honesty, I wasn't always the picture of consistent love. But through apologizing when I stumble and explaining the situation we are in my hope is that Carter has learned that the world doesn't revolve around him, that I always love him no matter our circumstances and that it is okay for him to be honest with me about my own disrespectful behavior. Over time he has learned to come and tell me when he isn't feeling loved or if there is something that we are doing that makes him afraid or angry. We remind him that just as we do not earn Gods love he does not earn our love either. We want to know him-all of him.
Our family believes in doing almost all of the directional discipline early in life. While I cannot remember the last time Carter was formally disciplined we do allow for natural consequences and responsibility to shape the way our children fit into our day. We tend to be fairly lax on orderliness and structure, but more particular about how our children respond relationally and through contribution. I've found that the best method for working with Carter on behaviors that are negative is to not let him walk away. He comes to me or I go to him-and we talk it out-immediately. There's nothing to harden your heart like being allowed to talk rudely or arrogantly to another human being. I'm honest, "when you talk to your sister that way it makes her feel badly about herself and then she will treat your other sisters that way", "when you behave like this it becomes a distraction to our work and we will be unable to go fishing later", "if I allow you to talk with that tone of voice you will feel guilty when you lay down in bed tonight". Teaching my children becomes reminders of my own tendency to do all of the same things. My children always have the right to come to me and be honest if my attitude needs an adjustment!
I'm busy. But occasionally I'll intentionally make time to simply be present while Carter does the things he loves to do. I'll walk down to the river with him and sit quietly while he fishes, I'll be present while he flips through the Cabella's catalog, I'll walk behind him while he looks for arrowheads. Every now and then he'll turn around to see if I'm still there and if I'm paying attention. He wants to be seen, known, loved. Through observing someone else doing what they love I've learned how important it is for me to have that myself. One of the biggest ways I've worked through having a growing boy is by finding myself as I've walked through parenthood. It's been a slow process as we worked through attachment parenting, being a stay at home or work at home mom (and dad), rethinking gender roles and what being the woman God intended me to be really means. Understanding that these kiddos were given to me-not anyone else. I'm highly distracted, multi-task all day long, would rather work through policy change and food access issues than learn to sew or knit. Learning to be okay with who I am allows me to determine where I need more self control and where I need to live fully in my uniqueness. Offering my own gifts to this world teaches my children to do the same. Through our journey we're in a place where Nathan and Carter see women as whole, equal persons who add value through contribution, thought and giftedness to who they are as a man. Nathan sees me living out my calling as an invitation for him to step into his fatherhood more fully. Having a father who can engage his son and daughters throughout the day is like attachment parenting beyond the breastfeeding and ring slings. He picks up where I've left off in a meaningful way. This has become very important as my role with younger children and in our community has changed. We're hopeful that it's preparing Carter to have balance in his own home once he's an adult. To recognize how important and meaningful a father is in his child's life.
As Carter grows into a young man we find ourselves working through his maturity. In some ways he may seem "immature" such as his desire to play with younger children or his discomfort with disrespectful TV. But I remind him that those are signs of distinct maturity. His willingness to put others first will go a long way later in life. His recognition of things that make him feel guilty or uncomfortable will serve him well. We have started to work through all of the difficult subjects that growing boys (and girls) need to learn. Creating an environment where he feels safe, comfortable, loved and surrounded with respect helps us do that. It's very much like wrapping up that little baby with all those layers of comfort and holding them close, but instead your slowing letting go.
An additional last thought...
If you run into Carter please ask him about fishing, or picking veggies, or reading books about arrowheads to his sisters, or growing grapes, or helping his Tappaw or our upcoming purchase of pigs and cows. I can answer a few questions for him if anyone is wondering. No, he does not have a girlfriend. No, he hasn't been kissed (in that way). No, he doesn't care that that 20 year old girl over there is wearing a short skirt. He's 10. He's fishing, working hard with his daddy, being mentored by mature men, learning to love his family, taking care of his sisters, creating interest in potential projects that might turn into a career someday. Help us encourage him to do those things now so that when the time is right he'll be ready to have a girlfriend, get kissed like that and be the kind of husband and daddy he wants to be. We're taking action on what society is doing to boys. Carter wants to be a respectful man (his words) and we're going to help him make that happen.