This started out as a response to Emily’s recent post on Mothers of Brothers: Age Old Questions. The problem is that I’m one of those people who can’t not re-read my emails and posts (only time I don’t is text messages … they’re too quick and pervasive to edit). With this response, though, every time I edited it got longer instead of shorter and more concise. After a couple of attempts, I gave up and decided to turn it into a blog post of it’s own.
So … here goes:
I know I'm going to be an oddball here ... I'm a very physical person. We co-sleep with our young ones for, typically, as long as we can stand it / as long as they want to. When I first met my wife this was not the case. Then, the babies slept in cribs, and her rule was “as soon as they’re old enough to climb out of their crib, we need to get them a toddler bed” … for the last three children, we haven’t even owned a crib.
To make matters harder: When we first got together I suddenly had these four boys, three of which I had never got to change their diapers, never got to burp them, never got to hug them or fall asleep with them sleeping on my chest … all those things that you do with babies to bond with them.
So ... I started snuggling with them early on. Every morning, or every evening, or both, I’d climb in next to them, typically wearing my PJ bottoms (which I don’t actually sleep in, but what the heck), them typically wearing boxers or whatever. Sometimes I’d “spoon” with them, letting their bare backs press against my bare chest. While it’s different than doing it with an infant, it was still very rewarding. Sometimes they’d roll over and hug me, falling asleep with their heads on my shoulder. Sometimes they’d lay on top of me while I scratched their backs. Whatever worked ...
And it worked.
No, it’s not exactly the same as the bond I have with the kids I held as babies. But no two kids bond the same anyway. It’s close enough to the same that I can’t tell you if the difference is because of personality or because I missed those extra-special early years, so I'd say it was VERY successful!
Years later I read an article in Parenting Magazine stating that spending 5-15 minutes holding your kids as they wake up was a great way to a: wake them up slow, b: make your mornings go smoother, and c: bond with your kids … I felt vindicated. I was very glad for that article, too, because that was about the same time my wife’s ex-husband started making heinous accusations against me, and when CPS came to investigate I was able to point to that article as backup for my claim that it was normal and natural. Honestly, CPS didn’t need convincing … what I was doing, while not the norm, was not illegal, immoral, or damaging to my kids. It was making us a stronger family.
I was nervous about how it was going to go as they got older. When we moved to Oregon, away from their dad, the court required us to take them to counseling … meh. This happened to be about the time my oldest started to go through the change. I discussed it with the counselor … what should I do? The outcome is that I didn’t stop just because he started getting erections (ooh…there’s one of them there words). Instead, I used it as a chance to lever open the door to talk about the changes his body was going through, what to expect, etc.
Fast forward about 8 years, and now I’ve got two sticky situations:
My daughter is starting to go through the change. In a way, this is much closer to the situation Emily blogged about because, to be honest, I’m much more comfortable discussing erections with my boys than I am discussing sore budding breasts with my daughter … But still ... the discussions need to happen. I’m working really, really hard not to cross the line here, and I don’t know for sure how things are going to progress. Right now she still wants me to hold her, but I admit I’m much more careful about where my hand falls when I put it around her than I was in the past …
Topher grew up in a house where he was hardly ever touched, hardly ever hugged. The thought of being held confuses him and he’s not comfortable with it. The thought of not being able to put my arms around one of my kids when they’re sad warps MY brain. Discussing his “changes” … really uncomfortable … and, at the same time, even more necessary because he has nowhere else to turn to. Right now, neither one of us is exactly happy with where things stand … but we’ve only been at this 3 months … we’re still bonding, and it will take time.
We’ll figure it out.
Finally, some direct response to Emily … I say take your own advice: Trust your gut. If it feels like you’re crossing a line, you probably are. Be open and honest with your kids and, in general, they’ll return the favor. My oldest boys have drifted away, over the years, from snuggling ... but even at 18 and 20, I still find it happening on occasion that we're both in a cuddling mood. I hold the big, muscular, hairy men they have become and miss my little boys ... but I love them so much it doesn't matter. Taking comfort in each other is what it's all about, and in my opinion you should hold onto that as long as possible!
Puberty is not really much more fun from the parent’s side than it was when you were a kid … but you, and they, will survive it.