I blogged a few weeks ago about parenting discussions with my mom and decided to do a series of posts regarding my parenting philosophy. So, here we go.
To begin, I believe that we are all fallen and sinful creatures who are redeemed only by the blood of Christ. Babies are no exception; they are born with the same sin nature as you and I. I think there is a distinction that needs to be made though between the sin nature and active sin. I do not believe that a young infant has the capacity to actively sin, though he is a sinner due to The Fall. A little one crying inconsolably is not sinning, he is communicating the only way he knows how. A young baby wiggling on the changing table is not sinning, he is just practicing skills needed in his physical development – he is designed with the need to move and practice his coordination. He does not realize that he might be making your job a little harder. Of course, there comes the time when that little one develops an understanding of right and wrong and you begin to see disobedience, and that’s a whole other ball game, and then you do have to shift gears and begin dealing with their sin. That is my very basic view on sin as it relates to babies.
A parent’s job in the early months of a child’s life is to meet his needs. Most basic, of course is his need for food, sleep, and a clean diaper. Equally important for his emotional and psychological development is his need for security. I believe security is best fostered by a strong attachment that is developed by parents meeting his needs quickly and consistently. When an infant cries, it is a signal to the parents that he needs something. I believe a cry always means something, even if he’s just been changed, nursed and is not tired. Perhaps he is lonely, not feeling well, frustrated or scared. I have found that in the early months, responding, even when I don’t understand what the problem is, is always the right thing to do.
A parent’s consistent response develops an infant’s trust. He knows when he cries he will be comforted, even if it’s two in the morning and he’s up for the third time that night. He doesn’t have to wonder apprehensively if his parents will come to him this time, and so he feels safe and learns to trust others. He is not confused by what he sees as arbitrary response to him. If an infant develops trust for his parents early on, as he gets older, he has reason to believe his mom and dad when they tell them something that is important. This of course does not mean children will be easy and angelic. Toddlerhood is all about learning boundaries and autonomy, so of course there are a lot of little battles of the will, but I have found thus far that Jonas believes me when I tell him something is important and, for the most part, follows my instruction in those cases.
For our family, the things that have helped foster Jonas’ attachment to us include immediate response to crying during infancy, cue feeding, co-sleeping and babywearing. Think about it. The world must be a pretty scary place for a newborn. They move from the warm safety of the womb where they are continually nurtured, to a bright, noisy place full of foreign experiences that must make them apprehensive and a little scared. Isn’t it only natural that they should seek protection and comfort in the arms of their caregiver?
I believe that young babies should be in their mother’s arms as much as possible, and I’ve found that the easiest way to do this is through babywearing. I think I will address this practice in a separate post, as there is much to say, but to be brief, I have found it to be an amazing way to comfort an infant and provide a secure, womb-like environment, while maintaining the ability to go about your day. I do not believe that an infant can be spoiled by being held too much, as our grandmothers’ generation is fond of warning us. It seems completely healthy to me that they should want to be close to their mother, and that the mother should take joy in the intimacy of holding her little ones, knowing that she has the capacity to provide such warmth and safety, while strengthening her relationship with her child.
Another aspect of parenting that I have found to be important for us is cue-feeding. I have always nursed Jonas when he has signaled a need, rather than waiting for a scheduled time as is suggested by some baby training books today. This may sound odd, but I have always seen a correlation between the purposes of nursing and sex. Both are designed to fulfill a basic biological function: giving nutrition and filling an empty belly, and procreating. God could have left it at that, but God delights in giving us far more than we need. Both acts also have the ability to provide comfort and foster intimacy. To say that comfort and intimacy are of less importance simply because one can survive without them, would be wrong, as those are the things that nurture and satisfy our spirits and develop deeper relationships. So, I never questioned Jonas’ desire to nurse. If it was sometimes an emotional, and not a physical need he was filling, I believe that is only healthy. Another reason I don’t think a schedule should be imposed is because I think it is presumptuous for a parent to think they know whether a baby is hungry better than the baby himself. The thought that a baby shouldn’t be hungry yet because it “isn’t time,” just seems strange to me. As adults do we always get hungry at precisely the same time daily? Does our appetite never wax and wane? Add to that the fact that infants go through growth spurts at specific times in their development, and I just don’t think it’s the best idea to try to schedule their meals. It would be laughable to imagine our spouse regulating when we’re allowed to eat. And again, going back to the development of trust, an infant has no concept of time; he merely responds to the physical and emotional sensations within him. Responding consistently to a baby’s nursing cues is another way that we strengthen trust and relationship. I have also found that it makes me more confident in my ability to understand my child because I learn to look for more subtle clues than the crying that ensues once hunger has overtaken him, and I am just more sensitive to his needs in general.
Co-sleeping is another practice that has worked well for us. It is definitely a decision that needs the approval of all involved or it’s bound to cause problems. Some infants sleep better on their own and some with their parents. I think our approach when it comes to nighttime parenting will be rather child specific. It has worked well with Jonas. As a high needs baby with reflux and food sensitivities, I cannot imagine what the first year would have been like, had he not bee in our bed. The constant waking and frequent nursing was made a little easier by not having to trudge down the hall ten times a night. The fact that I could nurse him back to sleep while sleeping myself helped me grab a little more shuteye than I otherwise would have. And again, I believe it is a practice that provides the security and comfort that babies crave. Many parents place a sharp divide between daytime and nighttime parenting, believing that it is best for an infant to learn to be on his own and comfort himself at night. For me, I think that a child’s needs at night should be responded to, just as they are in the day. It’s not always convenient, but it’s consistent, and it’s just one more way that we’ve built a close bond with Jonas.
I think one of the biggest objections to this style of parenting hinges on the topic of independence. Parents fear that providing this much attention will create children who are needy, withdrawn and afraid of the world. I can only say that in our experience, and the experience of others I know who have done similarly, this has not proven to be the case. I’ll admit that there have been times when I have wondered if we are doing the best for Jonas, but I am always affirmed as we watch him grow and develop. Not that we have not made mistakes of course. Parenting is a huge and ongoing learning process. But I believe that the solid attachment formed between us, supplies the foundation Jonas needs to become a confident and independent child. In the last half year, he has grown tremendously in these areas. He didn’t used to want us out of his sight and would always stay close by. Now, he generally enjoys playing in the church nursery, knowing that we will come for him in a while. Once he warms up in social situations, he plays well and talks to others, knowing we are close by if he needs us. It’s been a joy to watch his relationship with his grandparents blossom this year. He loves them all, and he is as content with them as he is with us, knowing that he can trust them as caregivers, just as he does us. I do not believe that it is healthy to force independence in infants and young children. Rather, parents should be sensitive to the child and follow his lead. It is not attachment that promotes neediness and insecurity. Rather, it is needs going unmet in the formative years. Of course you occasionally hear such objections as “my thirteen year old niece still sleeps with her mom, and has no intention of leaving the bed.” I actually read this just last week as a comment to a piece on co-sleeping. This is an extreme example, and I would argue that there is something else going on in this family that makes the child reluctant to sleep on her own at this age. It sounds like she does not have a father living at home, in which case, her mother probably works full time. Perhaps this is her way of obtaining the time and closeness with her mother that she has not been able to receive due to these circumstances. Who knows, but I do believe that it is a manifestation of an insecurity of some sort, and it is the root and not the symptom (co-sleeping) that needs to be addressed first.
I don’t believe there is a one size fits all prescription for parenting. I don’t believe my way is the only right way. It just works for us. One of the reasons I am leery of books that promote a program for child-rearing, a to do list of sorts, is that children are all so different. What works for one family, or one child, may not work the same for another. To try to force a child into a mold based on the parents’ agenda, or the opinions of self proclaimed experts, is not necessarily healthy. I believe in developing a deep knowledge of a child’s strengths, weaknesses, needs and desires. Knowing your child so well gives you the ability to sensitively guide his development in a way that sets him on the path for success.