Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Heart Thoughts [in which babies have emotional needs, too]

Ben and I have been discussing this topic a lot lately, and we both used our creative outlets to express our thoughts. It was fun to both come up with something on the same topic! :-) (obviously, the poem is Ben's....)

Saplings


Children are not slates,

Where we record our noble discoveries

That they might be passed on

To the next generation

And live forever,


Nor are they robots

We program with our liturgies,

That they may move in sync

With our agendas

And what we think is true.


Children are like saplings,

With life beyond our touch;

We nurture them

And care for them

But do not choose their form.


A child grows best

Not with letters engraved

In her branches,

But with the gentle raindrops

Of love.


~~~

I’ve seen something sad, a lot. I’ve seen it in secular families, Christian families, *even* homeschool families. (side note: that isn’t to say that homeschoolers are superior to those who aren’t. I’ve heard we’re the cream of the crop, but lately, I haven’t often seen something to impress me amongst homeschool grads. Sad, but true.) It’s the act of dehumanizing babies and children. Degrading them till they’re simply blobs we take care of. Just maybe, if these mothers thought about it, they’d change their actions. Perhaps they don’t premeditate it and decide that babies aren’t really humans. But at any rate, actions show better than un-thought beliefs.

There’s dealing with a fussy little one. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve observed or heard about (sometimes, unashamedly, from the mother’s own mouth!) something similar to this situation: A baby is fussy. However, said baby is fed and changed, so the exasperated mother puts them in a car seat or similar contraption and says, “I’ve already fed and changed him, so if he’s going to cry, he might as well be down!” WHAT?! Seriously? It’s obvious to me that there are at least a few other physical discomforts to be aware of, such as tiredness, illness, teething, etc. (and being blessed with a baby who was difficult to get to sleep, I’m fully aware that all baby’s can’t just fall asleep at the drop of a pin because you want them to!) But let’s just assume none of those are true. There are still other needs. Babies are humans- and basically, that means they have emotional needs, too. That means they get lonely, like you and I. It means that sometimes for no particular reason, they need to be held, comforted, and whispered to. It means that sometimes, no matter what “fun” thing you’d rather be doing, they need your full attention.

The attitudes of so many mothers in this situation make me think of a strictly functional marriage. One where the husband pays the bills, the wife cooks the meals and keeps house. Everyone’s basic physical needs are taken care of- she has a home, he gets fed. Would you think the wife unreasonable if she was discontent? If she longed for a relationship….for conversation and companionship? Of course not- we consider those valid needs. Likewise, we’d consider the husband’s needs for companionship, sex, etc., perfectly valid. Because somehow, when we’re talking about adults, it’s okay to have emotional needs.

There might be times for putting a screaming baby down. I know it gets wearing to deal with a fussy baby for hours and hours. You might need a minute or two to collect yourself so you can better nurture and have greater compassion for your little one. The point is that we shouldn’t discard a baby’s emotional needs as being non existent. Putting a crying baby down should enable you to more fully meet their needs in a minute, not just be an act of neglect.

Another situation/attitude I’ve observed quite a bit, is that if a baby’s content down by themselves, they’re fine to stay down. Lots of moms have commented, “Well, she’s such an easy baby, I don’t need to use a carrier. She’s fine on the floor or in her car seat.” If a baby will be happy in their car seat through the grocery trip, they see no need to take them out. If they’ll sit there while you make dinner, they see no need to put the extra hassle into holding the baby.

And this makes me think of taking advantage of an easy-going non-demanding spouse. Like my husband….I could totally get my way about anything if I wanted to, and never meet his needs, because he just won’t demand. But that doesn’t strike me as a very good reason to use it to my advantage. Just because your spouse has an extra-large servant’s heart, isn’t a very good reason to crush and punish them.

It’s okay for your baby to play by itself. I put Vivi on the bed by herself when I go to the bathroom. Once baby’s start exploring, they love to be independent and seek their own adventures. I know eventually, Viviana will get there, and she’ll be running away from me. I’ll continue to arrange my day so that we spend lots of time together, but she will be gaining independence, which is natural. In the long run, I want my children to be independent.

However, if we want our babies/children to develop optimally, to thrive, to feel loved, to be confident, we need to seek actively to meet even the needs of the “good” babies. They might not demand your attention, but like any human, they do need it in order to develop to their fullest potential.

You may hold/wear your fussier babies more than some of your others, and that’s okay. Some babies do have greater needs. Just don’t overuse your ability to plop a baby here or there. Remember that you’re helping your baby to thrive emotionally when you choose to pull them into what you’re doing, whether or not they’re fussy.

I don’t want to judge your parenting style- especially if you’ve thoroughly thought out your parenting beliefs. I’d just like for moms (and dads) to consider the fact that their babies and children are humans with emotional needs. I’d like for them to understand that a baby’s needs go beyond dry bums and full tummies. I would like to see a generation of children reach their fullest potential because they had loving, investing parents standing behind (or beside) them, cheering them on, sharing life, being a friend.

8 comments:

  1. I think you have some really good thoughts here. It is very sad how many parents don't understand that babies' needs extend beyond feeding and diapering. Of course they have emotional needs! I want my babies/children to remember me giving them attention because I delight to do it (when possible), not merely when they demand it.

    That being said, I feel no guilt at all when I put a perfectly happy baby in a swing next to the dinner table so I can enjoy my meal with 2 hands. I gave my son's hand 2nd-degree burns when he was 5 months old when he reached for a bowl of chili that wasn't placed far enough away. The lesson learned is obviously to be more careful, but it also reminded me that a swing/bouncer/whatever is a perfectly fine and sometimes safer(!) place for a baby during dinner. Provided the baby is happy, of course! Foods like soups and stews are really hard to eat without burning a baby or dribbling food.

    My daughter, for one, loves her swing. I try to utilize my arms and/or carriers as much as possible, but sometimes the swing really is the best option, and I'm glad she likes it for short periods of time :-). It's a good tool, but shouldn't become a crutch, the way I see it.

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  2. Susan, I think we're more or less on the same page.

    I totally agree, there's nothing wrong with seats at times. I don't know if I clearly expressed it, but I don't necessarily think you must hold an "easy" baby as much as you would a "high-needs" baby. I absolutely never put Vivi down as an infant, but I don't have a problem with people doing so. For instance, I anticipate with "easy" babies I'll put them in a bouncer/similar in front of the shower while I shower in the future. That just wouldn't work with Vivi, unless I wanted to shut my ears to her cries, and that wasn't happening. :-) I think "high needs" babies have more needs than other babies...needs that really are NEEDS. That doesn't necessarily mean they have to set the standard for how you care for all your children- especially as you add to your numbers, because obviously, ALL your children have needs, not just the infant, and to devote yourself entirely to the infant would be to neglect the needs of older children.

    The issue, like you said, is using it as a crutch, or using that kind of stuff all the time, just because you can. It's the attitude of "if the baby's happy by himself, why should I hold him?" Uh....if the baby's going to be by itself all the time, and is only a bother, why did you HAVE him?! :-)

    Also, you mention that Gretchen's in a swing next to the dinner table....so while you might be enjoying the novelty of eating with two hands, she's still able to interact with you guys, which I think is an important aspect. Vivi enjoys sitting in a high chair at the table now sometimes, which has its perks. :-) But she can still fully interact with us...we still talk to her and she hears/watches us talking.

    Anyway- thanks for commenting! I also enjoy chatting with you about life stuff!

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  3. Gotcha. I would definitely agree with the idea of adapting parenting to the needs of the baby. Hans just really needed touch (still does!), so showers were usually very hurried affairs while he was napping ;-), because while it's great if other women want to babywear while showering, that was definitely not my style! I don't need much personal space, but give me some for a shower, hehe ;-). And I agree that things start to look different as you add more children. Hans really craves individual touch, so sometimes I put Gretchen to play on the floor while he and I cuddle on the couch. Everyone's happy, so that's great in my book :-). Anyway, I always enjoy reading your posts.

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  4. I like personal showers.... :-) Showering while she's napping usually doesn't work, or didn't used to anyway, b/c are only shower is in the master bath attached to our bedroom (where she sleeps), and she's very noise sensitive. But, she got some daddy-daughter time in at some point, and that's my shower time. :-) Especially in the early months, I must admit, that little while was always very nice! It seems really important to, like you're doing, meet everyone's needs. On the other extreme of what I addressed, some people can be so wrapped up in the baby that everyone else gets neglected- and that just doesn't get the point, either. That's why we got Hans and Vivi for our first babies, right? :-)

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  5. My first child was also extremely high needs, and is still to this day at 3 1/2. I do agree with all that you have said, I also held bredan all the time, as if I did not he would be so heart broken and scream, but im not trying to break his spirit, so i heldhim and nurtured him. now with our second child, he doesnt like to be hld as muh (hes 1 now) but in the first 5/6 month held hi alot until he realized he didnt like it anymore. I have also found that with bredan, he is so much more loving (giving kisses, cuddle, hug) toward his little rother Isaiah, and I'd like to think it is because that is also what he was given. (or so I think thats why..) any way, love the post :-)

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  6. Oh my! I just realized all my spellng errors! I appologize, as my keyboard sticks and doesnt always take the letters the first time!

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  7. Your poem reminds me of a saying that my grandmother passed told me that was an example of the wisdom of her mother. She compared children to sapling trees which shouldn't be tied too tightly or too loosely to their stakes. Too tight and the tree would be strangled; too loosely and the tree couldn't stand against the wind and wouldn't grow straight.

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  8. Hi Lizzie! I guess there's lots of factors, so we'll never know "for sure" if it was holding them that made our babies the way they are, but I like to think that Vivi is the well-balanced, beautiful personality she is because I've met what I perceive as being her needs, not just a spirit that needs broken. I suppose she might still classify as "high needs" in some respects- for instance, she still doesn't really play by herself....but she truly is a joyful, affectionate, happy and secure baby- even confident with lots of other people. A lot of research is pointing that direction now, too- that babies really do have emotional needs, and you really won't spoil them by holding them. :-) Blessings, and thanks for stopping by!

    Anna- that's a good analogy. Trouble is, finding the perfect balance.... ;-)

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