This Mom Loves Pacifiers (and Evidently, the Squirrels Do Too!)

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This week Parenting Magazine offered up these photos of a "paci tree" in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Fifteen years ago, in my pre-baby days, I probably would've scoffed at those pictures--"Look at those overly indulgent and sentimental parents," Pre-Baby Me would've said. 

It's amazing how much I knew about parenting before I had children.

Since those days, I have managed to wean four preschoolers off a pacifier, and I know that it can drive a parent to almost any method:  cold, hard cash, anyone?

First, let's back up, and I'll make it clear that I'm a big fan of the pacifier.  I know, from my own experience, that a mom who uses pacifiers with her babies will hear plenty of well-meaning advice from friends, strangers (and occasionally a dentist) about how awful pacifiers are for a child's mouth development.  Certainly, I'd advise any new mom to do her research and listen to the professionals. 

But I will also confess that I never planned to use pacifiers with my kids.  My mom gently suggested it might be a good idea to have one in my house anyway, "just in case."  I held out for only a few short days into my son's young life, and all caution about future orthodontia vanished as I looked for ANY possible means to catch a few minutes of sleep.

Maybe I was unusually fortunate; I know many women report that pacifier usage can harm early breast-feeding efforts.  I didn't have that experience at all.  A lactation consultant could give you specific pointers on how to integrate paci use with breastfeeding.

So, clearly I'm a fan, but what about the back end of the paci experience:  weaning a child OFF?  I won't lie to you; this can be hard.  We usually began the transition sometime after the second birthday, telling the child that the pacis lived in the bed.  If he wanted his paci, he could have it, but he had to sit in his bed.  This might be enough to motivate an especially social two year old, who would prefer to be in the main room with the family.

Not mine, though.  They were all plenty social, but that paci was their GOLD MINE.  It was going to take a much bigger motivator for my crew.

So as my eldest child's third birthday approached, we planned a big event.  We packed up all the pacifiers in the house, put them in a big box, gift-wrapped it elaborately and gave it to a friend who had just given birth.  It was purely symbolic (I wouldn't let that sweet new baby anywhere near our gunky old pacis), but HE didn't know that.  It was a nice mental nudge for my son to realize that pacis are for babies, and he simply wasn't a baby anymore.  He grieved for a day or two, but he quickly got over it.

The subsequent kids had similar experiences.  We tried to make the paci weaning a tangible event in which they had some control.  And--this is the important part--they had the concrete experience of removing the pacifiers from our home.  I think that was an important psychological boost.  For my youngest child, who loved to watch the squirrel families play in our backyard, we suggested that we should package up her pacis and give it to the baby squirrels.  To our surprise, she was actually quite happy about this, and we made a big production of it.  (Animal lovers, never fear--as soon as my daughter trotted off to bed, we brought the pacis back inside!)  The next morning, our groggy daughter stumbled out the back door to see the results, and the pacis were gone.  "They took them!" she squealed in amazement, and she never asked for another paci again. 

So there you go.  If your baby shows no interest in a pacifier, don’t sweat it, but if she does fancy one, then don’t sweat that either.  It can be a lifesaver to a sleepy parent, and someday your Squirrel Pacifier Party will make a great family story!

Shannon Lowe writes at Rocks In My Dryer and The Parenting Post.

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