When ending our visit at Grandma’s house this evening, the Bean announced that she wanted to stay the night. Well, she is almost 4 years old. What is so amazing about her staying the night at Grandma’s house? Just the fact that many people thought that she would never go; that if I didn’t force her to go while she was young, that she would never be comfortable enough to go on her own.
Beanie was an intense baby. She was born at 31 weeks, and spent 19 days in the NICU, at the mercy of doctors and nurses who controlled her environment and our interactions – to a large degree. After she was released, she still had to go through many, many unhappy doctors’ visits. She learned very early on that she did NOT like other people. In fact, she did not like to be away from me for any amount of time or for any reason. When I would force her to Daddy to go take a 20 minute shower, once a week, they would pace the hallway with her screaming hysterically until I would return. She would rarely let Grandma or Grandpa even hold her, although we lived with them when she was born. We moved out when she was 6 months old, but the thought of spending an afternoon with Grandma and Grandpa without me was not something that could even be considered at the time. In fact, she would rarely even dole out hugs at the beginning of a visit until she was a fair amount over a year old. At 2 years old, she found that she could go to Grandma’s for the afternoon and have a good time, but she couldn’t stay the night because she still nursed to sleep. She finally stayed the night for the first time when she was about 3 years old, after careful planning with Grandma and lots of time to think on it and make sure it would be ok.
I had many a critic at the time. Many, many people felt that if she were just given the opportunity to try spending time without me she would be fine. Well, maybe not so much the first time, but that eventually she would stop crying and be happy to play with Grandma and Grandpa, or a babysitter, or whoever. I was unwilling, however, to force her to be terrified, for any amount of time, without me. I figured it wasn’t a necessity and that if there came a time when I absolutely couldn’t be there, then she could deal with it then. No need to put her through unnecessary stress. Many predicted that she would grow up afraid of people, painfully shy and frightened about everyone if I didn’t force her to go. I, however, felt that she would be less afraid if she was allowed to come to wanting to explore others on her own. I felt that when she was old enough to logically understand that Mommy was leaving but that I would return in a while, that she would be better able to handle it. I wanted her to want to go instead of being forced to go. And in the end, she did.
One thing that has always confused me is the way people define independence. Independence isn’t about being forced into self-sufficiency. Independence is about choosing to do what you want to do for yourself, instead of what others might think you should do.