My 3-Year-Old Still Has A Pacifier. So What?

We sat in the pediatric dentist’s exam room, waiting to be scolded as the dentist examined Harrison’s little mouth. He was just about 3- years old.

The dentist began to speak, “There is some curvature to the roof of his mouth Did he suck his thumb? Or perhaps had a pacifier?” I looked down in shame. My son still had a pacifier at almost age three, but I didn’t want to admit it. I eventually caved and said we were working on weaning him off it, which I will admit was totally a lie at the time. I remember reading this could happen to his teeth. I remember that was ultimately why my brother gave up sucking his two fingers. But I allowed it anyway. Enter: Mommy Guilt.

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I had read all the statistics on the use of pacifiers. I knew that if I wanted to give him one, I was going to wait until a month after he was born (even though I think we lasted 3 weeks) because we wanted to avoid nipple confusion. I knew the use of a pacifier decreased the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and I reassured myself that if this piece of rubber could save his life.

So, I was on board with it for the first six months. I had done all the reading on the dependence on pacifiers and what it could do to a child’s teeth. I even read that it increases the chances of ear infections, which scared me as my husband suffered from intense ear infections as a child and is still scarred from his multiple ear surgeries.

Related: 12 Ways Pacifiers Can Save The Baby's Life

Honestly, I swore I wouldn’t be a pacifier mom for these very reasons. There were too many cons with a very short pro column. I didn’t want to break the habit eventually as I read countless entries in the Facebook mom groups I was in, pleading for help with breaking the habit. I didn’t want him to be that kid who always had it hanging out of his mouth or the kid who couldn’t sleep without it. I prayed he’d never find his thumb because a pacifier was something that could be taken away, but a thumb not so much.

It boiled down to my own sanity. If I could get quick relief from the constant nursing so that I could shower or perhaps have a hot meal while he sucked on a pacifier, I was okay with it. I once read a meme that said, “I was the perfect mom until I had kids." This holds true for me and pacifiers before I was in the throes of motherhood.

I swore we would break him of his habit early, but life got chaotic. Isn’t this always the excuse? We moved from a house into an apartment while we built a home. We found out we were pregnant with his sister mere days before moving into that new home only six months later. And well frankly, it was just easier for him to have it to soothe himself after his sister arrived.

I stressed immensely when we went out in public and he had it. I worried that people would see and judge my parenting. I am sure they did. We restricted it to at home only for a while, mostly because I was embarrassed that he was an older toddler and still had one. Looking back on the shame, it’s silly to have cared so much about what others thought. I was in survival mode with a new baby and a diagnosis of postpartum anxiety. The anxiety was greater when I felt my parenting skills were being judged, so I hid that he still had a pacifier and I avoided the added anxiety from the judgment.

He slept so well during this period of his life. He was already sleeping through the night in a toddler bed as long as he had his pacifier, which we always made sure that he had plenty of. Although much too old, he preferred the Wub-a-Nub Puppy, a stuffed animal attached to a rubber pacifier. We went through at least four of them in that final year. He would eventually chew through it, and I would immediately remove the pacifier from the stuffed puppy. When I was cleaning out the toys one day recently, I actually found over 5 of them piled them up. He was thrilled to see he had so many. I, on the other hand, was ashamed that we had gone through so many. Eventually, we got him to give those up and just have the pacifier piece.

We told him at two years old that he could only have them when he was sleeping. So, at naptime and bedtime. No other time would be allowed. He would sneak it in every so often but we managed to stick to those times only. After his third birthday, however, we said we were done. We would buy no more. Once they were gone, they were gone. We threw out the last of them, giving him one last one to hold onto. We told him once that one had a hole in it, there was no more. He no longer needed them. He was a big boy. He seemed okay with it, but I had my doubts. I dreaded what was to come.

I vividly remember the day the last pacifier broke. I was pleading with him to take a nap in the afternoon so I could finish my workday. I ran downstairs to grab something and heard him yell about something being broken and dread set in. It had been on its last leg and I knew it was coming. But I was terrified to find him heartbroken and refusing to nap.

Instead, he was unphased by it. He nonchalantly told me that his pacifier was broken and then he was all done. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. And truthfully, it wasn’t. Sleep tanked around the same time as he gave up the pacifier. He began sleeping in our beds halfway through the nights and refusing to take naps But he never asked his pacifier and he never got upset over not having one. Maybe, given that he was a bit older, he understood it was time to let go.

Related: Should You Allow Your Child A Pacifier?

It’s funny because with our second child it was like we were learning to parent all over again. She never took a pacifier, so when she cried or when she was hungry or tired, there was no giving her a binky to quiet her until I could feed or soothe her to sleep. I realized then how dependent we had become on the pacifier with our son, and although it was a whole new learning curve, I was partly happy she wanted nothing to do with it.

To this day, I still find pacifiers around the house- the ones that he lost and never found. We cleaned out his car seat and I found two stuffed inside. I quickly hid them just in case he gets the urge, which I doubt he would as he’s five now. The last time he found one, he told me it was his cousin Zoey’s and that he was going to save it for her because he knew she needed it. Never once did he mention that he wanted it.

Bottom line is, sometimes you have to do what’s best for you to get by. That may mean co-sleeping or having a pacifier past three. You won’t find any judgment from me because I’ve been there, and I know if there is a three-year-old with a pacifier or a blanky or whatever crutch it may be, there is probably an exhausted parent following close behind doing the best that they can.

Related: Mom Is Shamed Online After Revealing Her Six Year Old Still Uses A Pacifier

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