Thursday, July 19, 2012

My daughter sucks her thumb and the judgement just sucks

While standing in line for coffee, the older gentleman in front of us notices Lila. Crouching down, he smiles kindly and waves. Lila would usually wave back or say something charming, but since it's close to naptime, she's just not in the mood. Wrapping one arm around my leg, she sticks her thumb in her mouth and turns away (her normal “I’m sleepy so, leave me alone” body language).
To my surprise, the man straightens up and says—“Now, you be a good girl and don’t suck your thumb.”
Um, excuuuuse me?!
Appalled and annoyed, now I turn away. Seething, I rub Lila’s back and stare at the menu above the register. How dare he?!
Yes, my daughter sucks her thumb. I am well aware of this and all that comes with it. Every time she gets a fever (and winds up in the hospital from a febrile seizure) I visualize every door knob, railing, counter top, and toy covered with germs that she has touched before putting her thumb into her mouth. With each visit to the dentist, I am reminded of the potential of buck teeth and braces she inevitably will have.
Well-meaning strangers sympathize and share personal stories—“Oh, I used to suck my thumb too. I didn’t stop until I was twelve.”
“ Twelve!? Are you serious!?”  My inner voice screams as I smile politely. I cringe inside. “Oh, the horror!!”
Some suggest what could be viewed as cruel and unusual methods— “Just cover her thumb in hot sauce. That’ll stop her.”
Others warn that if I interfere she will suffer long term psychological damage or perhaps begin to stutter.

Lila as an infant discovering her thumb.
Lila, nestled next to my leg, looks up at me with her tight little fist at her mouth. She is so sweet. She just has a bad habit. Who doesn't? Why do so many people feel they have the right to judge? Probably some of these same individuals will light up a cigarette or engage in some other habitual behavior themselves. And we’re adults!

The first time Lila sucked her thumb I was actually kind of happy. I feel guilty admitting that, but sucking her thumb meant that she had developed the ability to self-soothe through the night which resulted in a full six uninterrupted hours of sleep for me! It… was… GLORIOUS! (Okay, now I really feel guilty.) I admit, I took full advantage and enjoyed some much needed SLEEP.
I didn’t think about what would happen four years later—that Lila would struggle with sucking her thumb. She is now old enough to know it is an issue and has announced many times—“I’m a big girl. I don’t suck my thumb anymore.”
But despite her strong will, she still does.
I have glanced at her in the rearview mirror as she pulls her own thumb out of her mouth and then, frustrated and defeated, puts it back in. Sometimes her eyes get teary.
Recently, I told her that we will celebrate the day she stops sucking her thumb. This idea has inspired her.
“Really, Mama?! When I stop ‘thucking’ my thumb I will have a big party with all my friends and cake and a movie and games and it will be so much fun?!”
I was thinking something much smaller (like me and Daddy taking her out to eat). But, hey, perhaps when that day comes it will be cause for a huge celebration!
Just how will we word the invitations?



  1. For the it in Italian
    "La fine di succhiare il pollice per la Lila"


  2. How about 'Thumbs Up!' although technically perhaps it's 'Thumbs Out', which sounds like she's about to go hitchhiking. The big party sounds like lots of fun!

    Back in the day, the dentist recommended that we put a small piece of cloth tape on the thumbnail at night with a water-based marker happy face. If the happy face was there in the morning, a star went on the calendar. Thirty days was the magical number for the big prize. It seemed to work okay - much better than the icky tasting stuff my parents used. I discovered that with enough vigorous and dedicated thumb sucking, I could get rid of the bad taste and go back to authentic yummy thumb.

    Whatever you do, it will be just fine and NO ONE should be offering critiques!

  3. Tara, you made me cry, especailly about the way that Lila is already struggling with the pressure to stop, and the way her habit takes over. As someone who is in the "I sucked my thmub until..." crowd, the social pressures to stop, the nasty stuff my parents put on it (everything from a wool mitten, to hot sauce, to Italain dried hot pepper!), and the shame of hiding behind my book in fourth grade so I thought no one knew what I was doing during reading time, my heart goes out to Lila.

    Lila is so smart - she will figure out mind over (what doesn't) matter. You just keep loving her, and encouraging her with positive reinforcement to stop thucking when she can.

    Hugs to both of you!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing and for the encouragement for Lila. : )