The first time I noticed that I had a lot to learn from my husband about nurturing was when our first was becoming a toddler. At this time, I only had a background in ECE and we were taught that if a child was upset about not getting their way, then we empathize but we don’t offer physical affection. I have since drastically changed my feelings on this topic and this moment was pivotal in that change. I tried to explain this ECE theory around tantrums to my husband one day, with all my technical language and research backed BS. He looked at me like I had seven heads and said “I don’t care what any book says! If my child wants to be held, I’m going to hold him.” I realized very quickly that he knows way more intuitively about nurturing than I do. His decisions are based solely on his love for his child. Like he said, he doesn’t care what the book says, he’s going to do what his heart tells him to do. He trusts his own instincts because his parents trusted theirs and also allowed him the freedom to trust his own.
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This morning was another example of his nurturing spirit: I am puttering around my kitchen while my husband gets our kids some breakfast. My brain is obsessing over the dishes left from the night before and the headache I have that just won’t go away. As I am off in my own little grumpy world, I notice my son say he is cold. I was also feeling cold but my son lives in his underwear and refuses to wear clothes. For some reason, this bothers me. He looks cold and the mom in me feels neglectful for not being able to convince my child to wear clothes, but the responsive parent in me wants to allow him to make his own choices, and so the internal struggle continues.
When moments like these happen, I struggle not to exploit the “I told you so” opportunity. My brain instantly goes to how this is a good natural consequence. Well, in the time that I took to look at the thermostat and see that indeed it is a lot colder, I hear my husband saying “You’re cold? Here take my sweater.” He lovingly wraps my son up in his dirty work sweater. I look at his little head just popping out from the top of the huge sweater, a big, comforted smile on his face. I saw that and thought, I am so lucky to have this man in my life, to share this parenting journey with me and all his instinctual wisdom.
My instinct is to teach a natural consequence, his instinct is to nurture. Just as he is finishing wrapping my son in his sweater and my son says “thank you daddy” as he looks up at him in admiration, my husband says “you’re welcome buddy. You should wear clothes.” That last part is my influence (I wish it was not). I get a tear in my eye and I tell him how lucky I am to have him as a guide in this journey. His default is always to nurture. He never thinks caring for his child is going to harm him in any way. It is not something he has to remind himself of, he intrinsically knows that nurturing is what our children need.
He was raised in a home with so much love, very few rules or boundaries, a lot of opportunity for risk taking, bedsharing into his teens and just parents who always looked at him like he was their sun, moon and stars. His parents fiercely defended him, even when he was definitely in the wrong. He was not fed all healthy food, or always sent to bed on time, he watched lots of inappropriate movies and tv shows, but that does not seem to matter. His childhood was not perfect, but none are. The point is, love and nurturing was the focus and that lesson is engrained in him so he does not have to try to be responsive to his child’s needs, he just is. That’s why we are doing this. For those who do not find this easy, that is why we are pushing through; so that when our children’s children say they are cold, they instantly grab a sweater, instead of feeling inclined to impose a “natural consequence.”
The big question for reflection is, what would have happened if my husband was not there? Would my son have just froze? No, I probably would have asked him to go get dressed and with a little frustration, he probably would have complied. But I would have lost that chance to nurture him. Without my husband there to show me another way, I likely would have never even realized this moment was lost. Is my approach ok? Yes, but my husbands comes from a place of love and mine comes from a place of trying to teach independence and responsibility, which is fine, if that’s your goal, but it’s not my goal. Just seeing my son’s face told me everything I needed to know about what he needed in that moment. It was not a lesson in independence and responsibility, it was nurturing.
Picture: He can often be seen like this, carrying both children, one in each arm. Look at the joy on the older child’s face. It does not even occur to my husband that carrying his five year old son may hinder his independence. His child wants to be carried and that is all that matters to him. I am sure that is all that matters to my son too.
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