Crying over spilt milk.

In my circle of friends and among my family members I am recognized as an "attachment parent" or an "unconditional parent," otherwise understood as one who takes careful measure to secure the bond between myself and my children through practices like breastfeeding until my children are ready to self-wean, wearing my babies close to my body in carriers, co-sleeping, and practicing gentle parenting practices. When I reflect on these practices I feel a sense of pride, because these are the acts that bring on oxytocin rushes and that create conditions where my children feel safe to grow and explore with a feeling of confidence and an air of support from me as their guide.
First Mother's Day in WA, '04.
I  became a mother half my lifetime ago, giving birth to Koa when I was just barely 17. I started my parenting journey like many first-time parents do: somewhat ill-prepared, parenting in the framework of my own childhood, and fumbling through the early days inept simply hoping to see my child reach his first birthday relatively unscathed. My parents ran with a punitive parenting framework, which in many ways made it difficult for us to connect. Reflectively, and after a lot of therapy, it's pretty easy to see why. When children are simply acting, as a friend of mine so elegantly puts it, like "developmentally appropriate assholes" it is our job to support them, hold them accountable, and to guide them through those phases toward stronger, more confident, authentic versions of themselves. This is hard to achieve under a punitive model that forces apologies instead of seeking understanding of motive, that grounds and revokes privilege, and that is founded on a deep-seeded distrust risen from unresolved mistakes in the past. I hardly place blame on my parents, who were young when they acquired me following my biological mother's death and suddenly found themselves the stewards of a fragile and conditioned 6-year-old, but I do wish it could have been different a little earlier in my life. So, like any other parent, I am simply trying to right the wrongs I felt growing up by approaching child-rearing in a way that feels right for my own children.
In my house, years ago, a pound of milk on the floor like this would have sent me over the edge. My boys would have likely spent some time in their rooms, crying and trying to understand why they were locked away from me when they simply acted on the age-appropriate impulse to dump it out after I left it in reach. Years ago, I would have denied my own culpability in the situation and instead take out my ill-placed rage on the most vulnerable and reliant people in my life--my boys. This is embarrassing and heart-wrenching to admit publicly, and is among my biggest personal regrets in life. I have a salient memory of expressing my frustration to a 6yo Koa, saying, "When you act like this you make it hard for me to love you." Simply typing these words out has me welling with tears for his little heart; the impact of something like that is so painful and deep... Not to mention a bunch of bullshit. I don't know if he remembers it, but I have never forgotten and have never ceased to regret saying such hateful, frustrated words of anger to my precious child. I admit this here because I think it illuminates the distance I have come, thankfully, for my children, and hope that it shows others that it is always possible to work toward different, more positive relationships in life.
Sushi Date with Koa (16)

My parenting philosophy now rests on drastically different premises. Over the last several years, since Birch (3.5) came into our lives, I have spent a great deal of time and effort reflecting on the way I want to raise my boys. I have subsequently made moves to repair my psyche so that my own baggage doesn't weigh them down, taking special care to deconstruct my earlier experience as a young mother and to reframe this period in my motherhood as something more positive and healthy. Koa and Cedar have been incredibly resilient, and have worked with me to repair the damage in our bonds from my reactive parenting in their formative years. It is the greatest gift they could ever give me, that forgiveness and openness to a new type of relationship.

So much has changed since they were little. When Aspen toddled over and gleefully poured his brother's cup of milk everyfuckingwhere yesterday while I was engaged with Birch in the back room, I was able to simply scoop him up, smile as he rubbed his milk-covered hands and feet all over my body, and simply say, "Oh man, that looks like fun. Let's get you in the bath so you can splash in clean water instead of milk!"

No tears. No struggle. No regret, no guilt, no shame in myself. And for Aspen nothing but a mother supportive of his creative (albeit sometimes overwhelming) exploration efforts, unfaltering in her display of love for him. No son, we will not be crying over spilt milk in this house... and we will all be better for it.

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