My daughter has been a dedicated thumb-sucker since the womb. When she was an infant, I got a lot of comments from friends, family, and strangers on how adorable my little thumb-sucker was. “She is too cute with that thumb!” they would exclaim, a smile lighting up their face. “Thumb-suckers make for happy babies” more than one sage grandmotherly stranger nodded.
After her first birthday though, the comments begin to slow in frequency. Then they stopped. After her second birthday, the comments started up again, but this time they had a decidedly different tone.
“Isn’t she too old to be sucking her thumb?” the cashier at the grocery store would say, eyebrows raised. “Get that thumb out of your mouth!” This came from friends, family, and strangers.
“Lillian. You were sucking your thumb. That’s a bad thing,” one family member had the nerve to say to her.
My own feelings regarding her thumb-sucking were, and still are, mixed.
I want her to stop sucking her thumb now while she is still little so she isn’t made fun of when she goes to school and so she doesn’t completely ruin her teeth. On the other hand, she is still very much my baby, regardless of how amazingly verbal and smart she is. Seeing her soothe herself to sleep with her thumb still reinforces that she is my baby.
When she was nine months old, her pediatrician recommended ending the habit then with a device that straps around the wrist and sits on top of the child’s thumb. I agonized over it. I was sure it would be traumatic for both of us. So I didn’t do it. As the months passed, it seemed there was always a reason NOT to do it. We were moving. We were potty training. She would be a big sister in a few months. You get the picture.
Then I began to worry.
But then those reasons seemed to be pretty insignificant, and I began to worry about her teeth. I would stare at them, imagining that I could see a shift. I researched several of these devices, trying to convince myself that I needed to just go ahead and do it, knowing full well the agony it would be. The negative comments and pointed looks continued, and I began to stress way too much that I was not doing right by my child by not breaking her of this habit NOW. But I still couldn’t do it. So instead I made an appointment with a pediatric dentist. I told my husband that if the dentist said I needed to put a device on her thumb and wrist and break the habit immediately, I would.
“Do you have any questions or concerns?” the dentist asked me kindly. “Yes,” I began and told him all my fears about my daughter’s thumb-sucking. I was positive he was going to look in her mouth and confirm that, yes, her teeth have shifted. “This is a serious case!” he would say gravely. Instead, he answered my question before even examining her teeth. “I think you need to let yourself off the hook on this one, Mama.”
I’m not going to lie to y’all. Relief flooded my entire being right then and there. Instead, the doctor was encouraging me to … stop stressing? Stop worrying about what other parents think? Stop worrying about what aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, relatives, and even perfect strangers have to say about her thumb-sucking?
On the ride back home, I contemplated his advice. “Let yourself off the hook.” Was anyone else letting me off the hook? Not really. Did that matter? No. The bottom line is that when it comes to my children, my husband and I know them best. Some people will think that we are making mistakes left and right, and to be honest, we probably are. But I can only be the best mama that I can be without worrying about what other people think. I need to give myself some grace to make some mistakes and to grow as a parent without added stress about others’ perceptions.
The fact is that as my children grow older, I am sure we will not handle everything “correctly” in the eyes of those around us. I am positive that there will be struggles. And I am sure that this will not be the only time that I need to give myself some grace. So I’m going to practice starting now.