By Rebecca Gingerich
“Hard work makes a mother. We like to think something magical happens at birth, and for some it does; but, the real magic is keeping on when all you want to do is run.”
— Call the Midwife (‘Nurse Phyllis Crane’)
The dust has settled, the smoke has cleared, and here I sit as a completely different person from who I once was. Anyone else out there with a difficult second born child? Based on the many conversations I’ve had with mothers, this seems to be the going trend. The experience I had with my second born son forever changed me for the better…eventually.
The default temperament of this baby was misery. Pure and sheer misery. The constant cries literally brought me to my knees most days, as overwhelming levels of anxiety washed over every bone in my body. I would have emotional breakdowns every couple of months while I waited out the chaos, hoping he would magically snap out of it once he could eat solids…or sit up…maybe when he could crawl…or when he could walk..or God forbid, would I have to wait until he could talk?? These milestones proved to show no sign of improvement to his miserable little self. The neediness and the constant cry for attention drove me to the ground. Survival mode was my closest friend for the first few years of this little boy’s existence.
“What we can’t handle or manage, we don’t like..”
— Stan Tatkin
During these initial years, I did not like my second born — and that was a hard pill to swallow. What made matters worse is my firstborn child had to witness the gradual decline of his once content, stable, and self-controlled mother. I sadly recall a very difficult day when I lost my temper and was yelling at the baby to stop crying (not my best mommy moment). I turned around to see my four year old son walk to his bedroom and close the door behind him. I proceeded to follow him, gently opened the door, and saw him lying on his bed with his fingers firmly shoved into his ears. To this day, this memory brings tears to my eyes. I swiftly came to his side and apologized for my emotional outburst. I told him I would do better. Going forward, I did my utmost best to venture off alone somewhere in the house when a private ‘freak out’ session was in order. Looking back, it was such an added blessing to have my firstborn child with me; it definitely helped keep me going, and gave me purpose outside of the universe of ‘cranky baby’.
“The purpose of life is to find a mode of being that’s so meaningful that the fact that life is suffering is no longer relevant.”
— Jordan Peterson
In the midst of this trying season, I managed to stumble upon Jordan Peterson, who is a well renowned clinical psychologist. I watched one of his many Youtube videos, and randomly found his talk about ‘The Big Five Personality Traits’ (one of them being agreeableness vs disagreeableness). This peaked my interest, as I am typically a less agreeable person by nature. I learned that the majority of agreeable people on the planet are indeed women. He stated, “..you’re wired to be exploited by infants”. I then began to laugh and thought to myself, “YES, that is exactly what my little ornery baby is doing…he is exploiting me!” Right then and there a revelation was born — I am not agreeable; therefore, I am not easily exploited; therefore, I am losing my mind because I have absolutely no control over my current situation. It was a ‘light bulb’ moment that greatly helped me understand myself in the context of motherhood. And I guess it’s no surprise that I gave birth to a child with a temperament very similar to my own (which my husband conveniently reminds me of every so often).
“‘Child’, said the Lion, ‘I am telling you your story…I tell no one any story but his own.’”
— The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
Before this insightful self-awareness kicked in, I did experience pockets of wondering, “What is wrong with me?”…“Why can’t I adapt to this child’s temperament?”…“Why do I lose my cool so easily?” Now, it’s important to note that just because I am less agreeable, this obviously never excused bad behaviour. I never leveraged my temperament to promote a lack of self-control; instead, it meant I had to work very, very hard to try and maintain a healthy level of self-regulation, especially during the first few years of my second baby’s life.
“..give thanks in all circumstances..”
— 1 Thessalonians 5:18
I also wrestled with the comparison game. Some days I felt like a ‘lightweight’ mom. Here I had a healthy baby boy — what the heck was I complaining about? I initially dismissed my feelings of anxiety and stress, as there were mothers out there who were dealing with much more stressful situations than my own. I thought, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”…”I shouldn’t be struggling as much as I am”. Thankfully, throughout all of these moments of self-doubt, my older sister helped me understand that we cannot compare our suffering to others (and this was coming from a mother with a child who has Type 1 Diabetes). She knew a struggle far deeper than my own; yet, she helped me acknowledge and accept that just because my pain and suffering was not as severe as someone else’s, my feelings still mattered, and they needed to be expressed and worked through. How freeing this was for me! In fully embracing these negative emotions, I was able to mourn my own personal suffering, and then ultimately I was able to gain perspective and see the blessings that surrounded me each and every day. This was a wonderful balance that gave me a vast sense of self-acceptance, as well as a genuine heart of gratitude.
“You will come to know that what appears today to be a sacrifice will prove instead to be the greatest investment that you will ever make.”
— Gordon B. Hinckley
To my great and utter joy, this very difficult stage did not last forever. Eventually, my strong-willed boy reached an age where communication, consistency, and firm discipline helped restore most of the control I had originally lost. I vividly remember that beautiful spring day, walking with my two boys along a nearby scenic route. My second born was now three years old, and life was progressively getting easier (and more positive) in regards to my relationship with him — things were looking up!
As we were slowly meandering along, he stopped to look at some rocks along the path. I waited for him as he explored the environment, and then I noticed he picked something up. I walked over to him and asked him what he had found. He held up his prized possession and exclaimed, “A heart!” I stooped down and inspected the object in his hand. It was half an acorn, and the inside resembled just as he had described it — a heart. He then extended his little arm towards me and proceeded to give me his “heart”. I couldn’t help but see the metaphorical significance this precious moment had offered me. My boy was an acorn. The hard, rough exterior represented the extremely difficult stage of his infancy. But with time, the outer shell cracked, and deep within, the heart (at last) exposed itself. The clouds had separated, and I could finally see the light. A new chapter had begun.
While we journeyed back home that afternoon, the tears streamed down my face as I firmly held half of that little acorn in my hand. I had arrived. I had survived. Hallelujah, I had reached the depths of my little boy’s heart.