Last night I got to have a really inspiring discussion with a friend of mine. She has a little boy born just three hours after Little Llama. If they had been born in the same country they would have had the same birthday, but alas, the time difference being what it is, he will always be a day younger. But I digress.
It started when I read her Facebook status. Apparently someone had talked smack to her about her parenting, and she was very proudly proclaiming that she gave zero figs about their criticism. So we started talking about it, because honestly, our parenting styles are quite similar at this point. I mean sure, our kids are just teeny babies (and by teeny, I mean they're both super chunky and ridiculously adorable), but there's still a lot of parenting to be done at this age. Sure, there's the baby wearing and cloth diapering and breast feeding that we both decided to do... but beyond that there is more. A lot more. There's a philosophy of love and trust that we both ascribe to that is at the root of everything we do, every decision we make as mothers.
Thing number one that I know about babies: babies are not adults. I think a lot of parents from older generations (our grandparents age) liked to think of babies as little adults. They expected that in very short order they should be capable of acting like a grown person who could hold their bladder, eat only at meal times, sleep through the night, and not cry aloud. That's the only explanation I can think of for the things I hear old people say about babies sometimes. "You should teach your tiny baby to sleep at night, just keep her up all day." "If you feed your baby all the time, you'll spoil him." "Don't pick her up, she'll start manipulating you and you'll never be able to set her down!" "Just let him cry it out." All of these phrases are things I or friends of mine have heard before or been told, and I don't believe a single one.
A baby is not a grown-up. My two month old is not capable of self-soothing when she is very upset. She cannot sleep for twelve hours at a time yet. She does not know what manipulation is and would not be able to understand my manipulating her by ignoring her. All she knows is that two months ago she was being held 24 hours a day, being fed at all hours, able to relieve herself whenever the nerve struck, cuddled and rocked any time I moved... and now she is alone in the world, having to adjust to being hungry, uncomfortable, wet, tired, upset, and lonely. She's learning how to be an individual right now, and it's my job to help her learn, not by ignoring her when she cries, or denying her sleep when she is tired, but by helping her to feel secure in her individuality and guiding her lovingly from her erratic, schedule-less existence into our community of time-frames and dead-lines. It's my job to help her learn and grow, not manipulate her into doing what I want.
And that's the root of my parenting philosophy. Babies are meant to be nurtured. We have to understand that babies are people with different needs than ourselves, that they need love and attention and proximity. They need to be comforted when they cry because they cannot understand that we're not coming to them because we want them to be independent, all they know is that we're not going to them when they are scared or hurt or uncomfortable, that they can't trust us to respond to their needs. This doesn't mean that I have to drop everything the moment my daughter fusses, it means I should observe her and respond when it is necessary. At night when she wakes and begins to fuss, I lie in bed for a while, giving her a chance to soothe herself back to sleep or pass gas or whimper a bit if she needs to. Sometimes she doesn't need me after all and falls back to sleep. Other times, her fussing turns in to crying, which after a minute, is my cue to respond. I pick her up, shush her, change her diaper, feed her for a few minutes, and put her back to bed where she falls promptly asleep. I've responded to her needs and now she's content and secure. For me the greatest example of this is my Father in Heaven, who though he allows me my freedom and chances to work through my own problems, is always there when I need him, responding to my pain and sorrow with comforting kindness and guidance. Why should I do any differently? Why should I leave my child in the dark to cry it out alone when by observing and serving her, I can help her to learn to put herself to sleep without teaching her that I am not there for her?
Babies are not fruit, they don't spoil. They don't understand manipulation and they aren't trying to take advantage of you by eating at midnight. No amount of ignoring, not picking up, or denying food is going to change their needs, it will just leave them neglected. Instead, I think that we can gently help our children to come to know who they are as an individual inside of a community by observing them and meeting their very real needs for comfort, food and sleep in a timely fashion. The rest of it will fall in to place if we're caring for them with loving patience and kindness.