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I Want To Be With My Children

I Want To Be With My Children
By Heidi Haghighi

When I first became pregnant, my plan was just like most other soon-to-be-mothers – to finish my year of maternity leave, send my little girl to a nice daycare, and return to my government job. I mean, isn’t that what you were supposed to do after you had a baby? Everyone told me that it would be such a relief to go back to work to get a break and finally have some adult conversations. I heard so much advice about how to get my baby to detach from me right from infancy (so she wouldn’t be too clingy), how to avoid spoiling her, and so on. I fully anticipated that I would follow all of this advice, even though it did sound a little strange to my ears. I thought that I would have no trouble “training” her to accept being with a childcare provider for nine hours a day. I was told exactly how to ease her into it and to force myself to accept it since it was the right thing to do. I thought it would be just that easy. At least that’s what I was trying to convince myself.

It didn’t take long before I realized that I was different from most of my advice givers. It took a mom-centered baby to open my eyes. My baby did not want to be with anybody other than me and she barely tolerated her adoring dad. People kept advising me to get her used to others holding her and taking care of her without me, even if she cried. If I didn’t teach her independence now then I would never be able to get away from her. I even tried this a few times. I would leave her with my husband while I went to run errands. I wondered why I would feel so strange and nervous without her. When I arrived back home, my baby was always crying and my husband was always panicking because she adamantly refused my breastmilk from a bottle. I soon decided that it was more stressful to leave her than to take her with me and resolved never to leave her behind. This was the best decision I have ever made. It has led me down a path of learning, the likes of which I had never before experienced!

There are many things that I do that many other parents and “experts” don’t agree with, like bed sharing, child-led weaning (including extended breastfeeding), child-led learning, babywearing, intuitive parenting, and so on. But the one thing that dumbfounds so many people is that I actually love spending time with my child. And no, that is not “quality time” after work, or just the times when my child is happy and smiling. I love it so much that I am willing to forgo my exciting career opportunities until we are both ready. I am willing to make a lot of material sacrifices in order to make it a possibility. We are together around the clock, all of the time, except for the natural separations that occur spontaneously when she goes along with her dad or a close friend of mine. My child has no attachment objects, pacifiers, or blankies because she has me, all of the time.

People sometimes ask me how I manage to have “a life” when I’m always with her. Of course, being with my child, continually learning about her, having conversations with her, and participating in all of the things that are interesting to her is my life. I have more than enough room to be me when I am with her. Only, the me that I have been used to is now a whole lot different, and a whole lot more authentic.

Being with my child is the most authentic life I can imagine for myself; the rest is just trying to conform to what I supposedly should be doing. With my daughter, there is only the truth, and reality stares me in the face. My little girl does not hold back her feelings and wants; nor do I ask her to. She does not change her perceptions to suit the crowd and will never say yes when she means no. I have learned from her how to find and express my authentic self. Since my daughter has come into my life, office politics mean nothing, gossip is incredibly boring, ridged thinking and rules are out the window, and my learning has skyrocketed.

It took me some time to accept that my child is an autonomous being who deserves respect and freedom of expression. Allowing this autonomy to develop can be messy and loud. It doesn’t cleanly align with a world that values obedience, passivity, complicity, and time-outs. But because I was able to follow my heart, I now see before me a child who is tender, gentle, intuitive, attentive, and fully expressive. I can’t see why I should want to be away from a person like this because I am enjoying her in so many ways.

Sometimes it is not easy existing in the community with a child who is always by my side. There is a rigid expectation that children should only be allowed in “kid-friendly” places and they are only barely tolerated outside of that sphere. This unwritten rule is so prevalent that even an Attachment Parenting workshop that I wanted to attend politely informed me that children were not allowed! I then politely informed them that I would not be attending. It seems strange to me that children, who are expected to one day be fully-integrated contributors to society, are segregated from adults until at least the age of sixteen. Parents have to constantly search for those child-friendly play areas – which usually are full of plastic toys, rules, and a whole lot of frustrated children – or endure cold glares when their child participates wholeheartedly in everyday life. Even within these kid-friendly activities, children are segregated by age. It seems that socialization should never occur between children more than two years apart, if that! This strange age division continues through school and until adulthood for most children. Even for parents who want to be with their children, everything around them is telling them that it just isn’t right to feel that way.

I have never sat down and asked my child if she wants me to be around, or if she would rather spend the day with a childhood educator. It’s not one of those things that needs to be asked because the answer is as clear as day. We spend our days reading books, doing art, playing with other families, swimming, going to the library, attending story times and family events, playing at the park, having picnics, going to meet-up groups, and sometimes just hanging around the house.

Who knows what other fun ideas we will come up with as she grows! She never has to leave my side unless she wants to, she never has to wake up or go to sleep unless she is naturally inclined, she is never forced to “get along” with anyone she doesn’t like, and if she doesn’t want to be somewhere we just leave. I know I make mistakes all of the time, but, just like my daughter, I am learning and growing continually. When spending each minute with a child who’s closer than her life’s vein, a parent has no choice but to grow and change with her. It’s the natural movement of life.

Not every day is smooth, and not every day is easy for either of us. Sometimes my husband comes home to a very grumpy wife and child. But somehow, every single night, we cuddle up in bed as a family and talk, giggle, and share stories. When the lights go out, my little one snuggles up to me, warm and comfortable, and nurses her way into oblivion. I can’t imagine a better person to spend all the hours of the day with. And when the rhythm of her suckling becomes in sync with the beat of my heart, I’m certain that there is nobody she’d rather be with, either.

Heidi Haghighi is a stay-at-home mother, attachment parent, breastfeeding advocate, part-time doula, and unschooler, who lives in Surrey, BC, Canada with her husband and daughter who was almost-two when this article was written. She aspires to become a midwife once her child (and future children) are grown.

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