Growing, Changing, and Loss

January 14, 2012 · 11 comments

in Caring With Respect, Daily Life, Development, Relationship, Toddlers

I’ve been contemplating these words from Janet Lansbury for days now, as J., who will turn three years old in less than two weeks, has been growing in leaps and bounds right before our very eyes:

In regard to babies and loss…. Even if we never, ever leave our baby’s side, s/he will experience loss. Leaving the womb is “loss”. Anytime the child grows, accomplishes, becomes a little more independent, there is loss involved. Weaning and toilet learning are losses, even if the child leads the way. When the baby wants mommy and only daddy is available to her, that is loss. Loss is a natural, unavoidable part of life, even for babies. But babies aren’t “afraid” of it the way we might be… However, we can teach them to be. Crying is healing when it is supported by loving parents and caregivers. Babies learn something very empowering…”I’m okay”, or “Mommy comes back”.

I am always conscious of the fact that if I am doing my job as an infant/toddler caregiver well, it means that I am providing the baby with both the support and the freedom s/he needs to become ever more independent, but without pushing before the child is ready. Babies and toddlers grow and change so quickly, and even as adults (sometimes anxiously) look forward to “first times”, cheer new accomplishments, and celebrate developmental milestones and birthdays, both babies and adults sometimes struggle with the feelings of loss that inevitably accompany growth, change, and new achievements. While there can’t be growth without loss, I can’t help but feel that in order to truly embrace the “new” and the “now”, we need to acknowledge (not get stuck in, but just take a moment to contemplate and honor) what once was, what we are letting go of the baby that once was, the relationship that once was- and is now changing. If we can accept all of the sometimes conflicting emotions that come up (for both children and grown-ups) as we and they move through stages and ages, maybe we can move through them with a little more ease.


                                          If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies. ~Author Unknown

Monarch Butterfly female

At the end of last week, J. began attending a play based preschool program for three hours each morning (the same one his sister attended starting when she was 40 months old, and J. was just a newborn baby). He is so excited, proud, and happy to be going to what he calls “my school” (just  like his big sister). So far, his adjustment has been going smoothly. There have been a few tears in the morning when his Mom and Dad drop him off, but he quickly calms down and enthusiastically joins in the play. “I cried, because I didn’t want Mommy and Daddy to go. But only a little bit.”

When I arrive to pick J. up, I usually find him hanging from the monkey bars, and he’s eager to show me the new tricks he’s been practicing after he leaps into my arms for a hug. On our drive home, he is full of stories about what he did that day, and the fun he had with his “new best friend” C. It’s clear he’s so ready for this experience. His teachers have remarked on his “delightful sense of humor,” and his “impressive ability to communicate and express his wants, needs, and emotions clearly,”  both to them and his peers.

Yet, the very first day, although he played happily all morning, J. was a bit reluctant to allow the teachers to help him when it came time to change his diaper. He told them, “No fank (thank) you. I’m just going to wait for Lisa. She’ll come and take care of me, and change my diaper.” My eyes welled up with tears when I heard this story. Magda Gerber taught that caregiving times (diapering, feeding, bathing) are relationship building times. She urged adults to slow down and bring full focus and attention to the child during these times, and to include the baby fully in the process. When done Magda’s way, diaper changes are intimate, connected, “together”, enjoyable times between caregiver and baby.

As Janet Lansbury says in How to Love A Diaper Change, “Diapering is not just about getting a job done, or having a clean baby. Our hands are a baby’s introduction to the world. If they touch slowly, gently, and “ask” a child for cooperation rather than demand it, we are rewarded with a relationship bound in trust, respect and the inexorable knowledge of our importance to each other.” To me, J.’s response to his teacher spoke to the close, trusting relationship we had forged over three years of daily diaper changes.

Yesterday afternoon, J. accomplished another big milestone. While I was in the kitchen putting away the dishes, and his sister was in the living room reading a book, J. took it upon himself to use the small potty that’s been sitting in the bathroom since he’s been about two years old. He called to me to help him put his diaper back on after he’d finished pooping. Today, his Mom told me that he called to her at about five this morning, telling her he had to use the potty (despite the fact that he had already wet through his diaper in his sleep). He remained dry during his two hour nap time today though, and used the potty without any prompting from me when I helped undress him for his bath after we picked his sister up from school. It seems he is on his way to mastering toilet learning on his own terms.

Yet, last weekend, as his parents cleaned out the garage to prepare for a yard sale, J. enjoyed revisiting and playing with some of the baby toys he had long outgrown. I sat to watch him play for a bit, when suddenly he lifted his arms and asked me to pick him up. When I did, he said, “Lisa, I want to be a baby and a big boy too.” I nuzzled him and told him I understood.

I do understand, because even as I experience a feeling of joy as I watch J. confidently move into the wider world outside of the close circle of his family, while nonchalantly tackling the task of potty learning, I’ve found myself  feeling a little at loose ends this week. There is a slight sadness and sense of  nostalgia  for the baby boy and young toddler that I have spent the last three years helping to nurture to this place of confidence and independence. We still have a close bond and we share our afternoons together, but he needs me in a different way than he used to. I am missing J.’s company and our mornings together, with all the easy, intimate rhythms and routines we shared, even as I delight in watching him grow and spread his wings to become exactly who he is today, and I revel in the fact that I  have gained  fifteen free hours every week to devote to walking and yoga, writing, volunteering, wedding planning, and (finally!) staring a parent/infant class.

It can be bittersweet, this letting go and saying goodbye to what was, even as we make way for what’s becoming, can’t it?




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Christine@TheAums January 14, 2012

I think my Magda Gerber story fits in well here. All my life I’ve worked with children…even when I was an older child babysitting neighborhood kids! My main jobs in life have been in daycare, preschool, elementary and high school. So needless to say, I have a lot of direct experience and I always knew I wanted to have a big family. Anyway, long before I had children, I took ECE at Cabrillo with Julie Edwards and Vicki Coffis. On the very first day of ECE 101, they showed us a Magda Gerber video about changing diapers. That was an unforgettable moment and one that both shaped and reinforced my philosophy as a caregiver. I couldn’t wait to build loving, intimate, trusting relationships with own children! My memory of that video has come back to me many times while raising my own children, and not just during diaper changes. Thank you for everything you expressed in this post…it really has me thinking and appreciating the gift I’ve been given in raising my children.

Lisa January 19, 2012


Thank you for sharing your Magda story with me. It means the world to me. Also thank you for sharing your beautiful post Kids and Butterflies Grow Up Too Fast. It really resonated. It occurs to me that we can and do keep the children we love (no matter how grown up they become), in our memories and our hearts.

Alicia January 14, 2012

I’ve been struggling with the diaper change cooperation with my infant. Both of my children are wiggly, twisting, and flipping children during diaper changes. I don’t know what to do to have them enjoy and participate in diaper changes. She just seems to hate it and it makes me sad and exasperated. What should I do to encourage a harmonious cooperative diaper change in a resistant infant?

Lisa January 19, 2012

Dear Alicia,

There is no easy answer to your question. Once some babies are able to turn over easily, it seems like it’s almost impossible for them to endure being flat on their backs and still for diaper changes. My advice may sound counter-intuitive, but I would encourage you to slow down even more, and to follow your baby’s lead as much as possible. Let him flip, wriggle, and twist a bit before bringing him back to the task at hand. Acknowledge (out loud) that it’s difficult for you to change him when he’s resisting. Also acknowledge that it is hard for him to be still. Invite him into the process anyway. Give him choices and ask for his participation each step of the way. Wait for and expect his participation. Be willing to co-operate as much with him as you are asking him to co-operate with you- meaning ask yourself if you can find a way to diaper him that doesn’t require him to be lying still and flat. What seems to make the biggest difference for parents who have struggled with this issue, is approaching the diaper change with the attitude of “We’re in this together. How can this be an enjoyable experience for both of us?” Narrate each step from the time you approach your baby to ask him if he’s ready to be changed, and give him real choices and the opportunity to participate every step of the way.”Can you hold the diaper for me?” “Do you want to feel the wipe, is it cold?” “Do you want to try to wipe yourself?”

Also, see this discussion on Janet Lansbury’s community board about what to do when diaper changes are difficult: Diaper Changing Time Is Chaos I hope these ideas are helpful, and I’d love to hear back from you about how it’s going!

Bence January 15, 2012

Touching and personal story of the joys and sadness from observing our children shed innocence and gain self confidence.

Tanya January 15, 2012

Beautiful post. It really captures a lot of the feelings I have been having as a nanny of two 2-yr-old girls that I have been watching for the past 21 months. I love to observe and be a part of all the big changes they are going through but I too feel that sense of loss because they are changing and growing so quickly. They need me in a different way and it is beautiful…but also very difficult to say goodbye to what was..who they were and who I was. Life unfolds with all it’s joys and bittersweet moments. I feel blessed to be in their lives.

Lisa January 19, 2012


Me too! I try never to lose site of what a gift it is to be a part of the children’s lives, and also what an honor it is that their parents have chosen and trust me to care for their children. As much as it is hard for me to let go of and “share” J. with his new teachers, I realize it must be 100 times as difficult for his parents…

Gina @TheTwinCoach January 16, 2012

Oh, Lisa. I loved this post! I think there are these bittersweet moments all throughout parenting (or caregiving). We so often rush through our days or are so anxious for our children to be out of diapers, to be on to solid food, to be walking etc. & then, we look back & wonder where it all went! I cleaned out our garage recently since my SIL had twins & I couldn’t believe the rush of memories those baby toys had for me. It was so hard to let them go even though I know they won’t be used! 🙂

Thank you for the beautiful post.

Elanne Kresser May 21, 2012

Got teary-eyed reading this. J and his family are so lucky to have you in their lives.
Thank you for the ongoing encouragement and reminders.

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