Friday, January 19, 2007

Don't ask the "Experts"

Disclaimer - I debated whether or not I should blog about this because I don't want anyone to think I'm passing judgement on their parenting style. My problem isn't with how people choose to parent, people do what they sincerely believe is best. My problem is with some of the experts and what they reccomend parents do.

When I was pregnant I spent a lot of my time online looking at parenting websites, reading books and visiting parenting message boards. Like anything I didn't really know a lot about, I wanted to discet it and look at it from every angle. I had never been a parent before, I wanted to do my best, and so I turned to the "experts" to learn what I should do.

A lot of things shocked me. The first was the idea of "spoiling" a child by responding to their cries, picking them up, and nursing/rocking them to sleep. The rationalization of this idea is that if a child is always responded to when they cry, then they will learn to cry to get what they want, and will end up manipulating their parents etc. It's not a good idea to pick a baby up too much because it will cause her to become clingy and will hinder independance. It's a bad idea to rock or nurse a baby to sleep because then they will form a strong sleep association and won't be able to put themselves back to sleep if they wake in the night.

All of the above went against everything I had imagined about being a parent. I had daydreams of keeping my baby close and comforting her when she cried, of holding her in my arms, of rocking her to sleep at night, feeling this warm bundle close to me. To read that I wasn't going to be able to enjoy any of that was very sad.

Now, I admit, I may be taking things much more strictly than the "experts" intend, but after hearing people around me, friends and family, say things like "cry ing is good for her", "you'll regret holding her so much" and "she needs to learn to put herself to sleep" it's obvious to me that my first reactions to the advice of experts is how many others have taken it as well (and keep in mind that I've heard all of this and my daughter is only 11 weeks old).

Now, with my limited understanding of human psycology, the idea of spoiling an infant is just insane. From a completely secular and evolutionist standpoint, humans are at the very least mamals. As mamals, infants have certain instincts and reflexes that are ther to insure their survival. Likewise, mothers are hormonaly wired to respond in certain ways to their infants.
Babies try to communicate with those around them, but, being new to the world, they don't use the same language we do, so we need to learn to speak their language.

Babies do not cry to manipulate their parents. That whole idea is just completely insane. Yes, older children will cry and throw fits to get their own way (especially when this behaviour is proven effective) but babies don't. In the world of an infant there are basic needs - human contact (which is vital for regulating internal systems - heartrate, breathing, digestion, temperature, the internal clock etc.), food, sleep, and comfort. When one of these needs isn't being met, they signal to those around them that there is a problem. A week or so of being with Hana and I could tell what it was she needed, usually with pretty good accuracy (once I got over the idea that every time she needed something she must be hungry). When the babies signals aren't noticed and her needs aren't met, they move on to a stronger signal, crying. Babies cry because something is not right in their world, and, being babies, they do not have the ability to make it right.

I learned with Hana that if I responded to her rooting around, or grimacing, or reaching for me, then she didn't cry. Now, she does cry sometimes because I can't figure out what it is she wants, or it takes longer than she thinks it should (especially when she's tired, but we all get a little more impatient when we're tired), but for the most part she doesn't have a need to cry. I couldn't imagine leaving her in her room at night to "cry it out" - everything in me compels me to go to her when she has a need, and I really don't know how people ignore it. Even when Ben is letting me sleep while he takes care of Hana it's hard for me to stay in bed and not go to her if she cries, knowing that Ben is there to help her.

And with the whole cry it out thing, I do not know of one adult who would rather cry themselves to sleep than to fall asleep in the arms of someone they love. This world is new to babies, of course they need a little help soothing themselves and going to sleep. Crying themselves into a fit of exhaustion may work, but is it really healthy? I know a lot of kids who hate going to bed, who wake up in the middle of the night and go to their parents rooms, who don't want to be left alone in their rooms, and I don't blame them. They learned at the very beginning that when they were alone in their room in the dark, their needs were not met.

I could go on, and I might some other time, because this really hits me hard. I feel like many new parents will go to these experts, be told to go against their instincts, and will end up at a loss for how to relate to and take care of their baby.

I keep Hana with me during the day. Right now she's napping in my lap while I type. She does nap in her crib if I need to shower or something, but if I can sit here and watch her sleep, I take advantage of it. When I do the dishes she sits in her bouncy seat and watches me, I talk to her. When I'm shopping or just doing things around the house, I put her in the wrap and she does everything with me. When she needs some "alone" time she lets me know (looks away, doesn't reach out to me etc.) and I lay her down to play or put her in her swing and she's content.

I'm not afraid of spoiling her, food spoils, babies don't. She has her whole life to learn to be independant, and I will teach and encourage it as she is able ot meet her own needs, but until then I will keep her in a position where I can easily meet them.


matthew said...

this post was very long steph, haha

but interesting. I am not a parent, but I appreciated hearing your honest thoughts. thanks for sharing and God bless :)

denise :) said...

Now we have already talked about this, and you know, that I agree with you, even as an ECE graduate! The parent knows best, and should be able to do whatever comes naturally for her and her child! Infants and Older babys are completely different in their needs and wants. I may not hold our little Caylee as much as you hold Hana, but that is what works for us all for now. (since too much holding equals losing most of her meals) No one can spoil an infant!

Heidi said...

I've heard of a book called "Baby Wise" that talks about creating a pattern of eat-play-sleep (I think thats the order)... that several Christian parents have spoke very highly of.

good post.. but what do I know, I'm not a parent.

Jadon & Amberly's Mommy said...

It IS a good book, but I prefer Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weisbluth. BAbywise is good, but go for the Christian version if you get it (there are two versions). We just saw the authors at our church for a parenting conference this past November.

Steph said...

actually, I looked up some stuff on Babywise and it seems a lot of problems are associated with it (including dangerously dehydrated babies). I havn't read the book, but from what i have read it seems that in order to get babies to sleep through the night parents are told to not feed them, even as young as 8 weeks old, where really some babies need that middle of the night top up for a while. Do a google search for Babywise and you'll find lots of articles. is also a good site with a lot of information, including how the church the author started out at has separated themselves from him.

Jadon & Amberly's Mommy said...

The thing with parenting books is you call pull stuff out and take out of it what you want and ignore what doesn't work for you. I don't agree 100% with any book I have read.