Learning when to let go & hold on as a parent

So proud of Madelyn!

Even though Madelyn slept soundly last night, I woke up at various times worrying about her first full day of daycare.

Would she cry most of the day? Would she eat well for the teachers? Would she be able to nap in a new crib, surrounding by nine other babies? How do you get 10 babies to all sleep at the same time? Wouldn’t the cacophony of crying and cooing keep them awake?

These are the rabbit-hole questions that keep a mom up at night when she’s faced with one of the first big letting-go’s of motherhood. Too many moms have to experience this moment much earlier, when their babies are just weeks old, due to subpar or nonexistent maternity leave options. I’ve been lucky enough to have a job that lets me work from home, and a nanny who gave Madelyn 1:1 attention and care.

Moving to Austin earlier this month prompted me and Troy to look into different childcare options. We briefly considered looking for another nanny but ultimately decided daycare would be best. Madelyn would learn to be more independent and to socialize with other babies. She’d engage in arts and crafts. Music time. Story time.

When I dropped Madelyn off at daycare this morning, she cried. I cried. As I stood in the lobby sobbing next to another mom who had dropped off her baby for the first time, the school administrators assured me that Madelyn would be ok and that I could call and check on her as many times as I wanted. I called only once, but worked half the day from a Starbucks across the street. I needed to be nearby, to occupy the space between holding on and letting go.

It was cold and rainy when I dropped Madelyn off this morning. The weather matched our mood.
It was cold and rainy when I dropped Madelyn off this morning. The weather matched our mood.

As I thought about Madelyn throughout the day, I was reminded of the first time I rode my bike without training wheels. I peddled on my big-girl bike, while my dad held onto the back of the seat. As we approached a small hill at the end of the quiet street I grew up on, I flirted with courage.

“Daddy, I want to ride down the hill. Let go!”

He was worried. Would I lose my balance? What if my brakes gave out? What if I fell off, tumbled down the hill, and broke a bone? Multiple bones?!

It turns out, I was just fine. More than fine, actually. In a wobbly way, I flew down the hill with a big smile on my face and then stopped at the bottom, injury-free.

“I did it, daddy!” I proudly exclaimed. I had found my balance. My dad probably found some semblance of it too that day.

He recalled this experience in a note he wrote me a few years ago around the holidays. It was the first year I wouldn’t be home for Christmas because I had plans to spend it with Troy’s family in Texas.

“Every time I ‘let go’ I think of it as ‘let grow’; it makes it easier for me. Being the sentimentalist that I am, I reminisced about the times that I have let go of you in your life,” dad wrote.

“I remember so well the first time that I let go of your hands when you were learning to walk, knowing that you would fall, but you didn’t. I remember bringing you on your bike to [the neighbor’s] driveway for the first time without training wheels. I gave you a little push, knowing that within 10 feet you would fall, and Mom would come rushing to your aid to wipe away your tears. You never fell. Instead, you made it all the way down the street. It was Mom and I who had tears in our eyes.

“I remember the first time you drove out of the driveway in the Tempo alone for your first time. I was concerned, but I knew that I had to let you go.

“I remember letting go of you on your first day at Providence College, as you walked toward the dining hall, while Gramz and I stood there teary-eyed watching you walk away. When you graduated from Providence College, I wanted so much to keep you close by, but I knew letting go of you so that you could go to Florida was what I needed to do.

“Mallary, every time that I have let you go, I have watched you grow. You may look up to me for inspiration, but I look up to you for my inspiration.”

I resurfaced and reread my dad’s note today not as a daughter but as a mother. I could relate to it on a different level and couldn’t help but be grateful that life’s big letting go’s are often spaced out. I’m finding, though, that the delicate dance of learning when to hold on and when to let grow is constant. And it’s far from graceful.

Sometimes we let go too soon and fall flat on our butts. Or we hold on too tightly for too long until our hands and hearts hurt. Other times we let go at just the right time, even though it feels painfully soon. These actions require us to consider who’s leading our moves and who we’re trying to protect — ourselves or our children. They’re an act of trust — in the process and in our child’s ability to let us know when it’s time to take the next step and when we’ve made the right move.

When I picked Madelyn up today, I peeked through the window to the daycare room and saw her sitting at a mini table eating her afternoon snack. She seemed content but then started crying when she saw me come in. She held out her arms and wrapped them around my neck.

I held on tight.


Learning how to help our baby sleep better, one night at a time

I've taken the week off to unpack and spend some time with Madelyn before she starts daycare next week (eek!) Yesterday, we went to the Round Rock Public Library to get a library card and explore the baby book section.
I’ve taken the week off to unpack and spend some time with Madelyn before she starts daycare next week. (Not sure who that will be harder for — her or me!) Yesterday, we went to the Round Rock Public Library to get a library card and explore the baby book section.


Madelyn slept through the night for four consecutive nights this week!

She woke up a few times and cried for a bit but then went back to sleep. I don’t want to jinx it, but this feels like a victory, considering she has been waking up two to three times a night to nurse since she was just a few months old.

During the move, we bounced from St. Pete to Fort Worth to Austin over a two-week period. Madelyn was so disoriented that she began waking up four to five times a night and was often inconsolable. I was tired and frustrated and wondered why my 11-month-old baby still had the nighttime sleep habits of a newborn. My go-to coping mechanism was to empathize with her — to think about how unsettling it must have been to wake up at night in a different place with different sounds, surrounded by unfamiliarity.

I also turned to my favorite mom-related Facebook group — Precious Little Sleep — which has more than 31,000 members who post dozens of updates a day. The moms in the group seek and offer advice about how to help babies get the sleep they need. They vent and post funny pics of their babies looking wide-eyed into the baby monitor camera, or sleeping on their knees with their little butts up in the air. The posts are a reminder that there’s no silver bullet, and that even though you hear about all of these magical babies who sleep through the night, you’re not the only one who has a seemingly nocturnal child.

Sleep deprivation leads to desperation.

Companies realize this, which is why there are countless products aimed at helping babies sleep better. The variety of choices feels both comforting and utterly overwhelming. Early on, Troy and I blew so much cash on swaddle blankets that other parents swore by. They had words like “miracle” and “magic” in the descriptors — language that inspires a fleeting glimpse of hope. Some of the swaddle blankets looked more or less like baby straightjackets, so much so that when we bought them we were convinced there was no way Madelyn could ever wriggle out of them. But our determined baby girl always found a way out — one toe, one fist, at a time.

At various times we tried the “cry it out” method, but to no avail. When your baby continuously cries for 30 minutes during a cry-it-out session (and simultaneously breaks your heart), it’s honestly just easier to go into her nursery and nurse her.

Breastfeeding is the one thing that has always pacified Madelyn, but it’s not an ideal solution when you want sleep. With newborns, around-the-night nursing is to be expected. But by the time your baby is almost a year old, you can’t help but yearn for a different remedy that won’t require ongoing, interrupted sleep.

As a mom, breastfeeding feels like a superpower. It can also feel all-consuming and lonely knowing that you are responsible for all the night-time feedings and the only person who can give your baby what she wants and needs. Troy is an amazing nurturer and would help at night if he could, but Madelyn won’t take a bottle, which makes sharing nighttime duties difficult.

Troy and I were worried about how Madelyn would do at night when I was out of town last week for a four-day work trip (one of a few I’ve taken since she was born). We assumed she would wake up a lot and be inconsolable. But in fact, the opposite was true. She slept like a champ.

Since Madelyn won’t take a bottle and realized I wasn’t there to nurse her at night, she simply stopped waking up as much. I’m not sure why this particular trip has that effect on her, but I suspect it’s because I’ve been weaning her off breastmilk and onto more solid foods, so she’s not as reliant on me for nourishment. She has also been eating more food lately and goes to bed on a more full stomach.

The trip signaled a turning point, and what I hope will be the start of better sleep for Madelyn (and mom and dad). Babies have a way of constantly switching up their routine. Just when you think you’ve figured them out, they find new ways to surprise you. They are our best teachers, constantly reminding us what it means to be patient, selfless, and grateful for small victories.

For now, I’m grateful for the extra sleep (and for our healthy, loving, and strong-willed baby!) and I’m staying optimistic.