Sunday, January 20, 2002

Babies who love too much

Another baby being damaged by excess cuddling.

The other day, I was reading an article by another single mom about her son's infancy. She described waking up in bed with him, and how he gazed at her as if she were bliss personified.

My glow at remembering those own heady days when Nick was a baby were shortllived. The author concluded that her son was getting too attached to her, and that if she didn't get him out of her bed now (aged 6 months), she would be sleeping with an 18 year old! Her solution to the imagined problem was to force him to sleep alone, and ignore his heartrending cries.

I do not want to seem like I am trashing this mom, because I think this is a typical fear in our society. Indeed, I myself wondered at times if Nicky and I were too close. It is clear that she acted in what she thought was his best interests in pushing him to be more independent, even though it was something of a sacrifice for her.

Isn't our species messed up? What other mammal expects its infants to sleep alone? A six month old human cannot be independent--he is utterly dependent on adults for all of his needs. Does a mother lion or bear worry that her cubs are not independent enough when they are so little that they need to snuggle up to her at night? Do lions and bears grow up to be sissies?

When Nick was around 5 months old, I attempted to participate in a mothers' support group. The babies were expected to spend an hour and a half in the childcare room down the hall, which met all official guidelines, etc etc. Nicky was confused the first time we went. The second time, he had to be brought to me a couple of times. The third time, he freaked, screaming so loudly that everyone came out of their offices to see what was wrong.

The experts who ran the programme assured me that he would get used to it, that this stress now would prepare him for stress later on, he needed to be more independent, yadda yadda. It was obvious to me they were wrong. Nick was not getting used to it; he was getting more and more distressed each time we went there. He was clearly not ready to spend that time apart from me at such a tender age.

We didn't go back to that group.

Was Nick somehow harmed by my not forcing him to be more independent? Hardly. At 18 months, he was ready to enjoy a whole day at his daddy's house, by two he could handle me going out in the evening (which means bedtime without me and my magic sleep-inducing milk) and now he is taking a dance class with big kids (4 year olds)!

Why do we have so little faith that our babies will grow up? Why do we see intimacy, nurturing, and responding to our babies' needs as damaging rather than wholesome? Maybe it's the whole no pain, no gain idea - if the child is getting what he wants rather than screaming with despair, he won't learn what the "real world" is like.

I like to think that by letting Nick move to independence at his own pace, he will be more self-confident (by having success the first time he tries, rather than the difficulties that come from trying before he is ready), and that he will learn that he, and other people, deserve to be treated with respect.

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