We are in the midst of our birthday season in our house.
I think in a way, this is like my own personal New Years. I’ve never done much reflecting or planning ahead as the calendar year flips over. It just didn’t seem like I was ever in that mode at that point. I think I used to use the school years' shifting for that type of reflective and planning space. And I guess that having summer babies fit right into that same schematic.
So I’m entering our new year over here.
And one thing I love doing around now is reading these books written by Louise Bates Ames.
I’ve mentioned them at least once on the blog, way back when I first came across them, five years ago. But as I was reserving the right ages for us this year (eight, six and three), at the Library today, I thought, “You know, these deserve their own blog post.” So I’m writing it.
Ames focused on stages in child development and wrote a book for each year of childhood, up until age nine, and then there is a book for 10-14 year olds.
I personally had no experience with children before becoming a mom (outside of my own childhood of course.) So I really wasn’t coming to the table with much. The discovery of these books is something I feel deeply grateful for. Had I not found these I would be SO MUCH more: lost, overwhelmed, worried, and exhausted. And I’d likely be inadvertently hurting my kids emotionally and developmentally, because I would not have had a clue about norms and therefore would have had unrealistic expectations for them.
I first found these when my oldest had somewhat recently turned three. And it was a GAME CHANGER. Oh how I wish I had found them earlier. I regret my lack of knowledge during her infancy (however I did have a few baby books and websites so I kinda felt like I knew what was going on), but I was LOST during her second year. That was a hard year for me I had just added our second daughter to the family, was getting NO sleep between the two of them, I was lacking in social support and I didn’t know what two year olds did. I was muddling through that year -- just blind and struggling. I didn’t know why she did anything she did. I didn’t want her to do a lot of it. And I was just not connecting with her at her level. That year we had some very confusing battles of will in which neither of us were coming out ahead.
I can honestly say that an ENORMOUS weight was lifted off me and our relationship once I just happened upon these books on the library shelf.
They are written so well. And they give an excellent base to work from to year each.
In my experience so far, they have been pretty spot on with each of my three kids at each age. Of course each of my kids have their own personalities and temperaments so it plays out uniquely. But what’s absolutely interesting to me is that each age has it’s own personality. (Hence those subtitles, Like “Your Two Year Old: Tender or Terrible” ) And actually, the younger years especially, have two different types of personality per year -- like a three year old will act very differently than a three and a half year old. (Oh man was that helpful knowledge because with my oldest it did change like over night and if I wasn’t expecting it I would have been very concerned.)
The books are set up to explain the ages uniqueness. I don’t have any in front of me right now so I can’t quite remember the layout. But it spells out tons of helpful things, like what they will be learning. How their focus will be either internal or external at that stage. It explains what are normal fears for that age. Normal stresses. Common interests. How they view the parents at that point and why. How they view other children.
It’s just a ton of helpful information that helps normalize every day. It helped me let go of taking tons of things personally, and just open my hands (metaphorically speaking) and let them develop. It took away some of the mom guilt I was deep inside of.
A couple examples of stuff that mattered to me:
I remember specifically in the three year old book it talking about how it can be very helpful for the mother to not be in the room when the three year old is eating. I cannot tell you how much of a blessing that was for me. We had just figured out food allergies so I didn’t know what I was doing in the kitchen, and she is a highly sensitive kid overall so she’s very picky about food and textures. And the food battles we had been having were awful. I felt so much guilt lift with that permission the book gave me, and it brought us so much peace. We had an open kitchen to our living room. So I would set her up with her plate and then go over to the couch with the baby, and she’d eat. It was like magic. And it was relaxing for both of us.
I also remember the book mentioning that three year olds love the word “surprise.” Oh my goodness was that ever true with her. (She actually stayed obsessed with it for about another year or so. Constantly “surprising” me EVERY time I walked by which of course could get on my last nerve, but at least I knew it was a normal kid thing and could remind myself that when I wanted to lose my mind.) But I also was able to use the word “surprise” in my favor - by saying things like "I wonder if you can surprise me by eating up your lunch while I’m not looking?” Oh the joy that would light up her eyes -- she was thrilled. It was so helpful.
So the book doesn’t give a lot of specific parenting techniques -- but it equips with concepts of where the kids are at at that point. Like in those examples above. Those types of examples are about as specific they ever get to giving you something you can do. The rest is just saying things like “At this age nightmares are not uncommon.” or what have you. And then you can adjust your sense of what to do accordingly.
At the end of the books they even have a tiny chapter on what they birthday parties might be planned like. (Things like how many kids they would do well with having come that year. How they might interact with each other. How long to make the party for their attention span. That kinda thing.)
These books were written in the early 80s. So they look dated in the photos. And occasionally read from another era. (But it’s my era -- so it’s an easy translation for me.) But realistically most of it reads timelessly.
I can usually feel my need to pick one of these books up. It hits me the hardest with my oldest (since I don’t know what’s coming.) I can feel myself getting more and more baffled by what she’s doing and it makes me feel like I need to correct her a ton, I don’t feel in tune with her, and our relationship feels strained. If I don’t catch it, it just spirals down as we each get exhausted by this. When it dawns on me that it’s the fact that I don’t know what’s normal for her (or the other kids, if it’s kinda been lost in the back of my mind) right now, I get one of these books. Some times it’s a new year and I need new info. Sometimes it’s just time for a refresher. And I come out of it so much more equipped to be patient and understanding.
That said, I’m looking forward to these ages’ books getting check back in and reserved for me. I’ve been feeling that shift again.
Anyway, I was thinking how of all the things I’m happy about inside my parenting, these books are right up there at the top of the list. And I always recommend them.
And if you are curious---
Other than these age books, the two most influential books for me for parenting on the whole I wrote about here.
(And the age books mesh SO WELL into those two other books. The combo effect of them all together is just so empowering.)
As well as “The Highly Sensitive Child” (which is really only useful if you or your child is highly sensitive -- but if it applies then it’s REALLY helpful) -- which I wrote a bit about in this post.