Q: My child turns 2 this month, and everyone seems full of nos — no more pacifiers, no more crib, no more bottles, no more diapers. Also, Baby No. 2 will arrive this year, and I’ve heard that it’s important to time these transitions so they’re not too soon before or after the birth. Can I just ignore these deadlines? My gut is telling me to do that, but the women in my family have never really used pacifiers, cribs or bottles. I don’t feel 100 percent confident about doing things my own way. My kid has an easygoing and adaptable personality but takes things very seriously, so I think he could cope with all these changes. At some point, though, it seems unfair to ask him to change so much in one year.
A: I love this question. I don’t love that you are struggling with these decisions, but life is inviting you to make some important choices, and this is good.
The only question you technically ask is this: “Can I just ignore these deadlines?” You are asking my permission to ignore the deadlines of taking away pacifiers, a crib, bottles and diapers. My hope is that when you see that typed out, you will think, “That feels pretty darn unreasonable,” because it is. It is 100 percent unreasonable to put your child through these changes based on unfounded and, frankly, wrong expectations.
Let’s begin with my guess at what those who are giving you advice are thinking.
Old-school parenting, different cultures and family lore have passed down the idea that to get kids to grow up, we have to break them of certain needs. Pacifiers, lovies, bottles and even cribs are seen as crutches that stand in the way of maturity, but this is categorically and utterly wrong.
First of all, the sucking reflex is one of babies’ most important reflexes. Clearly, it serves the purpose of having them latch on and begin breast-feeding, but it also calms down their nervous system. Babies need to suck to eat, but the sucking reflex also tells their nervous system: “It’s okay. Calm down. Someone loves you.” This is why so many babies don’t need actual food to calm down; the act of sucking on a pacifier or their thumb can soothe both babies and children.
Do you need to take the bottles and pacifiers away from your son so he can grow up? No. You will probably create more anxiety and separation problems by doing that. And with another baby on the way, why would you want to create separation problems? Won’t the new baby provide enough challenges? I feel like you know this, so trust your intuition. A time will come when your child will begin to leave the pacifier in the crib or on the couch or in the car, and those times spread into long afternoons of forgetting the binky. Yes, some children need more of a push, but don’t do it when they’re 2 years old, and don’t do it when a new baby is coming.
Second, there is no reason to move your almost-2-year-old out of his crib. In fact, there are several reasons to keep him in there for a while. You can put the new baby almost anywhere for many months, so you don’t need to evict your son from his crib now to get him ready for his eventual move to a big-boy bed. Also: You are pregnant. Do you know what will happen if you put that toddler in a big-boy bed? He will get out of it 150,000 times before 8 p.m., and you will lose your hormonal mind.
Can there be real issues around bedtime? Yes. Most parents have a heckuva time getting little ones to stay in bed. But please know that the calmer and more self-assured you are, the more the child will feel your energy and relax. So much of the bedtime brouhaha is about tone and posture, not techniques and windows of time that you are afraid you will miss.
Third, smoke comes out of my ears when people suggest that parents should take diapers away from 2-year-olds to train them to use the potty. You will probably just end up with epic power struggles and regression. Potty training usually works in this sequence: First, your son will indicate that he has gone and needs his diaper changed. Next, he will indicate that he is “going.” Finally, he will be able to “catch it” before he goes. This is a process that you cannot bully or reward along, not in any real way. Can you make potty training fun and carefree? Sure. But when parents bump up against resistance, they are literally forcing their children to do something their body isn’t ready for. Why would we do that? I have coached many parents who have unknowingly created full-blown resistance and anxiety issues about toileting, all because they listened to others and pushed. Unless your son shows signs of wanting to train, leave him alone. He will train faster, and without emotional collateral, on his own schedule.
Finally, stop (for the most part) listening to other people. And yes, that means you don’t have to listen to me. Only you and your partner fully know your child, and parenting is the practice of listening to your gut. You will make so many wrong decisions. But in all these wrong turns, if you stay aware, you will learn and correct course. Each decision will reveal something new about you and your son, and you have to trust that. Should you learn about basic child development? Yes. Should you turn to trusted doctors, friends and experts for counsel? Yes. But at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. Try not to fear the confusion or uncertainty, because even those uncomfortable feelings are teaching and changing you.
If you feel a great deal of doubt in yourself, do not hesitate to reach out to a therapist, parent coach or group parenting class. Groups such as the Washington-area Parent Encouragement Program (PEP) are effective, in large part because you find yourself in a group of peers. Everyone is struggling, and there is a wonderful sense of community born out of this. I would also recommend the Making Sense of Preschoolers class on the Neufeld Institute website (neufeldinstitute.org). I have taught this class myself, and it has never failed to change its participants.
Don’t be afraid of going your own way. It will be painful to not do what every woman in your family has done, but the rewards will be worth it. Good luck.