Monday, December 29, 2008

Going With the Flow

I had no idea before my son was born just how much pressure there is to parent your child in a certain way--much of it silent, locked into subtle responses and judgmental looks, more peer pressure than outright admonition. The American way is, as you'd imagine, to kickstart your baby's life as a rugged individualist from the get-go. Don't dare let your baby sleep in bed with you; absolutely do not respond to his every cry--in fact, let him cry longer, show him who's boss; don't bother breastfeeding if you find it inconvenient; organic food? Too expensive. All of these habits, will, naturally lead to a spoiled maniac of a child who believes himself to be an omnipotent master of you who will run rampant as an adult, turning into a less successful version of Donald Trump issuing commands and expecting the world.


I don't know where these ideas come from. Research doesn't back them up. There exist oodles of books supporting the "cry it out" method for "sleep training" your baby (read: so that you can sleep through the night), all which decry any negative effect on baby. Yet research has proven that babies left to cry it out have increased cortisol levels, and can suffer multiple negative effects on their biology and psychology in numerous ways, as well as learning not to trust that their needs will be met. The latest issue of Mothering magazine has some fabulous articles written by doctors on the benefits of bed-sharing with infants that point out how erroneous this thinking is.

Yet every time I read something about attachment parenting--going with the rhythms of your children for the first couple of years and not worrying overmuch about systems and methods or timelines--the more my heart sings YES...this is for me. YES, this is the kind of parent I am.

I know several whiney, "spoiled" children who, whaddya know--were not even breastfed or slept alone or basically took a backseat to their parents' needs at every turn.

With each passing month of my son's life, the more I am convinced that following my heart, my instincts and our rhythms, even if they can't be penned into a perfect schedule, is the right thing to do. For us.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Total Surrender

My dear friend Susan wrote me a poem before my son's birth. At the time I first read it I just thought it was a beautiful poem. Now, I read it over and over again like a set of instructions.

The first line is:

"Babies want only one thing from you: total surrender."

It's true. My husband and I were blown away, that first night home with our boy, at how we quickly became the befuddled and inadequate pages to this powerful Prince who screamed his demands (I try not to resent the creator for giving such an unnecessarily loud voice to such a small creature!) for hours on end and could be quieted only by vigorous swinging and, eventually, the breast--when the milk came in.

Now that he is no longer a newborn and seems at times more boy than baby, it's easy to interpret "total surrender"" to mean the way an empire wants to conquer smaller countries. So I try to marshall understanding for what it's like to be a six month old baby. While he can sit up by himself for short periods of time, he is completely dependent on us for his mobility. And since he speaks a language that nobody but he understands, there's a lot of room for misinterpretation of his needs. I imagine it's like being put in jail in a foreign country--you're dependent on your captors.

Still, I must repeat Susan's line a lot to myself lately: since his morning waking time has moved from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30a.m.; when, after being clung to all night, he doesn't want to sit and play alone during the day, but only to be in my lap; when he pitches a fit at having to be in the car seat or stroller; when he will play for hours with his daddy but cry after a short time with me...when a short blog post takes three separate sittings to write...I know these are small things...but when they're your world, they add up.

It would be so much "easier" to be a bad parent...(wasn't there a time when it was common to put a little gin in the baby's bottle?) but it's just not an option.

I surrender.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Attachment Parenting

One of the first lessons of parenthood--before the child is out of the womb--is that parents are people with vehement opinions. I find it amazing how often someone will dish out advice without stopping to think of how individual babies are even though they all meet relatively the same milestones as they develop.

Therefore, I won't be surprised to receive comments from people on what I'm about to write. There's a method for "sleep-training" babies known as the "Ferber" method--otherwise called the "Cry it out" method. Basically you let your baby scream in the middle of the night rather than go to him until he eventually gets the message that you're not coming and starts going back to sleep on his own. These babies are said to learn to sleep through the night on their own much faster than other babies. (Let me just put a note here that babies who do not get responded to after enough time eventually stop "asking" to have their needs met, which can have very negative consequences in a developing child). Now--for those parents who have successfully done cry-it-out and seem to have well-adjusted children, to you I say bravo! I am not made out of your kind of mettle.

I come from the "attachment parenting" model, touted by Dr. Sears and others. In this method you don't let baby cry it out--at least not alone, and you also don't subscribe to the bs that by helping your baby get back to sleep you are creating a monster child who will beg you to come to his house and put him to sleep at age 40. Around the world families sleep with their babies and answer to their every cry and they turn out adjusted, happy, productive members of society. Only in the US would we worry about coddling our children by showing them too much love. There's a difference between nurturing and spoiling. Spoiling, to me, means never setting limits and indulging a child's every desire when they're old enough to know better. Babies need as much love as you can give them, even at night. They are sponges for love, and the more you give them, the better for everyone.

This brings me to the next big lesson of parenting: Parenting is about sacrifice. The reward is in loving your child and seeing him grow. Sacrifice isn't a bad thing, either. Most of us are who we are in large part due to our parents' sacrifices--even if only the early ones. Even if your parents were terrible :) When you do it for someone you love, it even feels good.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tower of Babble

My 6 month-old has begun to "speak" in what sounds like some Native American language to me. I don't say that to demean Native Americans in any way--my son's language is very complex and interesting. In it, I swear I can hear the origins of all languages. There are other moments where I hear the makings of French or German, and even sometimes, I'm sure it's a Scandinavian tongue like Icelandic or Swedish. There's a phrase he repeats that sounds downright Hindu to me. The potential in a human infant to speak any language is massive and I only wish I knew fifteen languages so I could give them all to him.

I believe that people who speak multiple languages fluently from early childhood actually get a wider picture of the world, more metaphors and ways to see and think of everything. As a writer, I'm envious of that.