June 2017 ByVidya Murlidhar Children cannot be brought up on the wisdom in even the best baby books, but only through listening to your heart, says Vidya Murlidhar I was awestruck. She was a vision of perfection. How could someone so tiny be so magnificent, so complete? My heart filled with wonder, I made a decision. My daughter deserved the best and I would do everything I could to make her world perfect. If ever there was a coveted trophy for the world’s best mom I would get it. I gathered every book I could on raising smart, happy kids. What to Expect in the First Year, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, The Happiest Baby on the Block, adorned my bookshelf. Within their pages lay the solution to every problem I thought I would stumble upon on my journey to motherhood. All I had to do was a parent by the book. And I did. I diligently followed the advice given by the doctors and the parenting gurus. I nursed, nourished, and nurtured her with healthy doses of love and organic food, and of course, the perfect toys to enhance her brain development. That trophy was bound to be mine! To create an atmosphere conducive to raising a genius I filled my daughter’s nursery with top-of-the-line toys that were proven to stimulate her senses, increase hand-eye coordination, and improve cognitive functioning. She listened to Mozart while on her baby swing, her crib mobile featured cuddly, colorful jungle animals while it played the alphabet song, her play gym had an electronic sun to teach colors and shapes, and her car seat was fitted with a baby-safe mirror to increase self-awareness. (Smartphones were not available then.) Days soon turned to weeks and months. To my dismay, my baby was not fascinated by any of the genius-creating gizmos. She slept only if I rocked her in my arms, my not-so melodious singing was the only music she enjoyed, she preferred to gaze at my face rather than at the cuddly animals, my finger was her favorite chewable toy, my lap comforted her more than her play gym, and my tummy was her favorite bouncy chair. She was the happiest baby on the block, yes, but only when she was in my arms; and I was an exhausted mother. She rarely slept through the night and fussed greatly if I was not around. She did everything a baby would…she cooed, gurgled, laughed heartily from the belly, rolled over, crawled, held my hand, and stood up but only if I was within her sight. She suffered from severe separation anxiety. “Was I raising a spoiled brat instead of a genius?” I wondered. That niggling doubt soon became entrenched when friends and well-wishers remarked that my style of parenting encouraged unhealthy attachment and dependency. Even though I read through all the solutions in the books I was not able to bring myself to implement any of them. Most of them offered a simple solution …To let the child cry. Once my baby would realize that I did not respond to her crying she would start behaving. I did try it but at the sound of her first few cries a voice deep inside of me would say, “PICK HER UP NOW!!!” And I would. My heart refused to follow the logical rationale described in the books. One evening, just a few days shy of her first birthday, she was unusually fussy. Nothing I did could calm her down. I had this sinking feeling deep inside of me and I knew something was not quite right. We rushed her to the emergency room and a series of tests revealed a serious congenital defect, a rare kind of diaphragmatic hernia that could be corrected only through emergency surgery. She had been born with a diaphragm that was abnormally thin on the right side and in the absence of that barrier her liver and intestines had moved up the abdominal cavity and were crushing her lung. The doctors were appalled that they had overlooked such a serious condition during her regular monthly visits. Maybe it was because she had seemed to thrive despite her condition. The next few days were traumatic. Nothing pierces a mother’s heart more than the sight of her baby in distress, and her own inability to abate it. It was when I was in the throes of that trauma that I realized that my heart had been right all along. My baby had been in pain for months and my presence was the weapon she had used to battle the pain. My voice had been her armor, and my touch her shield. Parenting a child is similar to nurturing a delicate sapling I had not been encouraging dependency, I had been merely responding to her need. In one of those excruciating moments, I had a clear insight into parenting. How much time and effort did we spend to find the perfect house, the best school, the perfect ballet and tennis coaches, the perfect car to chauffeur our children to and from to their activities? Yet what truly mattered was not the BMW or Mercedes our children rode in, but our presence in the driver’s seat. The essence of being a parent is simply to accept them for who they are. Every child is born with a deep ability to love and to fulfill a unique purpose. We are all here to contribute. Yet more often than not instead of celebrating this uniqueness we focus on their weakness. A shy child is forced to be more outspoken, an extremely bubbly child is asked to calm down. We try so hard to fit every child into a single mold. A mold created by society, not the Creator. Our job as parents is just to let our children dream big and follow their hearts. We need to let them hold our hands for just as long as they need it. We need to be the wind beneath their wings, not a hammer on their heads. After that day, I stopped my chase for the elusive ‘Best Mother’ trophy. I mothered from the heart. The surgery had repaired her physically but my presence was what she needed to heal emotionally. The solutions my maternal spidey sense offered were simple – a bear hug, a kiss on the forehead, getting down to my knees, and having serious heart-to-heart conversations about Play-doh and Pooh or telling the kids a funny joke. Whether the booboo was on the knee or their feelings, these solutions worked wonders. A little laughter and play changed the course of the most humungous tantrums and stopped the onset of gigantic tears flowing down those cherubic cheeks. Love and being present at the moment were the panacea for all the turbulence in their little lives. I did not need a book or a guru to tell me that. Once the realization dawned that parenting was not a race to the finish line, I felt a whole load had lifted off my shoulders. I relaxed and cherished the moments I spent with my daughter. Her personality, in turn, blossomed. She was no longer anxious and clingy. Years flew by. The pre-teen and early years did bring with them many moments of friction. This time around my heart told me to take a step back. This was the crucial period in life when my daughter was trying to separate her identity from mine and find her place in the world. My job was to give her the space she needed to grow and to let her know that even if we did disagree on many matters, I would always love her. Today my daughter is 18, and fiercely independent. She often looks me in the eye and says, “I can handle myself, Mom… you don’t need to be there.” I smile when I hear that voice inside of me that says, “Let her go, Mom. Let her go.” Such a contrast to the voice that had once admonished me and said, “Pick her up now.’’ My parenting style has changed as my daughter’s needs have and what a rewarding experience it has been, thanks to that voice of my heart. Now if I ever pass by a cranky child and its weary mom, I silently say a prayer for them, with all, turns out well and that their journey turns out as enjoyable as mine. Vidya Murlidhar lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, two children, and father-in-law. When she is not writing, she spends her time dancing, baking, and learning about Reiki and energy healing.
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