Over the years, I've had three babies go from snuggly newborns to independent toddlers. The transition from wanting to touch me every waking moment (and even most sleeping ones) to wanting to do everything on their own was sometimes sudden, other times gradual, and varied from child to child. Regardless, I learned that there are ways your baby is trying to ask for space, and how you respond to those cues can be the difference between a happy baby and a, well, not-so-happy one.
While I know, logically, that being able to play, sleep, eat, and move on their own are important milestones for a baby to reach, I can also say that it's so heartbreaking to accept. One day your baby will want to be rocked to sleep, and the next they won't sleep unless they're alone and no one is touching them. While I can't stand the sight of my baby's tears when I leave the room, it's difficult for me to accept that, eventually, those tears will end and my baby will revel in my absence. Then they'll refuse to be held and will want to walk everywhere, by themselves, which is cute, sure, but also the worst. I mean, danger is all around you, dear reader, and your independent toddler sure as sh*t seems hellbent on finding it.
Watching your babies grow up is so bittersweet. One one hand, it's amazing to see them transform from potato-like newborns, who cry, poop, or sleep all day, to curious, tiny humans who have their own personalities and can't wait to explore the world. But feeling like your child no longer needs you is difficult. And in watching my last baby make this transition, I've found myself struggling to come to terms with the inevitable: my baby isn't a baby anymore. And it's never more obvious than when he's asking me for some space, and in the following ways:
When They *Literally* Crawl Or Walk Away
When my babies didn't want to be held or contained, they started literally crawling or walking away from me. If that's not a sign that they want some space, I don't know what is. It seems that long before they could say the words, their message was clear: go away.
When They Stop Crying As Soon As You Leave The Room
All of my babies went through a period of separation anxiety, including but certainly not limited to crying when I left the room, dropped them off at daycare, or walked out of view.
Then, suddenly, they didn't notice I was gone. And if they didn't, it certainly didn't seem like they cared. Which, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is actually a sign that they feel secure. That's great, to be sure, but damn if it didn't sting a little. On the plus side, though, I now can go to the bathroom by myself. Score.
When They *Literally* Kick You
In my experience, co-sleeping is wonderful for like the first 10 to 15 minutes. After that, however, your baby will kick you, punch you, climb on you, pee on you, or do some other horrible thing to let yo know that not only do they want some space, they need some space.
When They No Longer Want To Snuggle
My 8-year-old daughter came home in tears yesterday because someone had teased her. She immediately crawled in my lap to be comforted. It made me cry, people. Not just because I can't stand to see any of my kids hurt, but because she actually wanted to snuggle with her mother. She hasn't done that since she was a toddler. They grow up way too damn fast.
When They Want To Do Things Themselves
The phrase "I do it myself" is adorable. I mean, there's nothing like watching your baby eat with their hands, hold their bottle, or take off their own clothes. Well, maybe not that last one, but they will be sure to tell you when they want space and, as a result, the chance to learn on their own and foster some independence.
I'm not crying, you're crying.
When They Won't Let You Wear Them
I loved wearing my babies in baby carriers. In fact, I might have developed a little bit of a problem and ended up owning more baby carriers than any one person should ever own. At one point, though, you definitely learn that your toddler no longer wants to be worn. In my experience, at least, you learn this the hard way when they fight tooth and nail to escape in the Target parking lot. So frustrating.
When They Sleep Better In Their Own Room
New American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep guidelines recommend that babies sleep in the same room as a caregiver, but on their own sleep surface, until they are 1. Yeah, my youngest apparently didn't get the memo. He could not sleep in the same room with me without at least one of us waking up 100 times a night. He sleeps so much better in his own room, you guys. I wish we'd listened to him sooner.
When They Say "No"
"No" was among each of my babies' first words. In our family, we try to respect it. I mean, when that "no" has to do with space or bodily autonomy, and not bedtime, that is.
When They Arch Their Back As You Pick Them Up
I hate my baby's tendency to arch his back and try to fling himself to the ground when he wants down. I'm so scared he is going to hurt himself. His message, though, is perfectly clear: give me space. So when it's safe to do so, I let him down to explore and even though it's hard to see him grow up so damn fast.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.