Friday, October 14, 2011

Is She A Good Baby? Part 2: Being Held

Whenever you find moms trying to get to know each other and make small talk, at least around here, usually sooner than later someone asks, "Is she a good baby?"  I always answer "yes", but really, what am I supposed to say? 

"No, I'm pretty sure she's the Antichrist, but we love her anyways."

This is Part 2 of my series "Is She A Good Baby?", inspired by the book "Our Babies, Our Selves".  You can read Part 1 here. 

Baby! Why don't you want to be on the floor?  Bad Baby!
So, sleeping through the night is one of the hallmarks of a "good baby".  Another one is a low need for being held.  This is never so apparent as when having other people, especially ones unfamiliar with attachment parenting, care for your baby.

We rarely have other people, even family members, watch Ivy.  Not because we don't want to get out, oh no, that's DEFINITELY not it.  And not because we are leery about letting her be cared for by others.  Mitch was having sleepovers at 1 month old and all of the older kids have made the rounds to drop-in childcares, church nurseries, babysitters, and the like.  We tried to do the same with Ivy, but by about 3 months old it was pretty apparent that she wasn't like our other kids.  The other kids happily bounced from one caregiver to another with ease.  They entertained themselves well and were pretty "easy" to care for.  Well, easy one at a time anyhow.  Together as a mob they get a bit out of control.

So anyways, one day, at about three months old, we left Ivy with a grandma that she doesn't get to see very often and took the big kids to the water park.  We came back to a sniffly sad baby and a frazzled grandma for the first time.  Apparently stranger anxiety had hit early for our little smarty pants.  That was the end of babysitters for us for the most part (more on this in Part 3: Strangers).  But on the occassion where she just had to be cared for by someone who wasn't one of "her people", inevitably the frustrated caregiver would report to us at pick-up that she had wanted to be held the entire time and would cry when put down.

Oh, but look out Baby.  Don't get squished!
I wasn't too surprised because Ivy, more than any of the other children, has always wanted to be held alot.  She really enjoys being worn, even now as a wild and crazy toddler.  It settles her and is her preferred napping method when we're out and about.  In some ways this makes things easier, because a baby in a sling isn't getting into trouble in the other room.  But it is an added weight to be sure.  And if you aren't babywearing, if you're just baby carrying, it ties up your hands and your ability to do much of anything.

But do you have to be willing to hang out on the floor or strapped in a seat all alone in order to be a "good" baby?

I say no.

Babies developed  (in evolutionary terms) in a very hostile environment.  Unlike many other mammals, human infants are virtually helpless at birth.  They can't stand and run within hours of birth, they don't have any kind of camouflage, heck, they can't even nurse unassisted at first.  So it makes sense that anything they can do to make sure they are in constant contact with an adult caregiver would be beneficial to them.  A baby who is carried is much less likely to be eaten by a passing coyote or to roll into a puddle and drown.

Being held is also one of the best ways (along with breastfeeding, Ivy's other favorite past time) to develop positive attachment.  And I can't even start to speak about how important good attachment in early childhood is.  Our prisons are full of adults who missed this particular boat.  So wanting to be held is actually not only smart from an evolutionary standpoint, but good attachment is also important to be able to be a healthy, functioning adult in our modern society.

But in Western society, we don't look at the desire to be close as a positive trait or even neutral and natural.  We're back to the whole "valuing independence" thing.  A baby who wants to be held a lot is "clingy" and "needy" and "spoiled".  A "bad baby".  Babies who will let you put them in a seat or on the ground for long periods of time are "good" and "easy".

Dangit Baby!  Put that down! No!
Well, I certainly agree that a baby who doesn't need to be held too much is easy.  The less active caregiving you need to do, the easier it is, certainly.  But I also think that expecting this at a very early age is something our culture has pushed upon us and our children.  Something that we can choose to accept... or not.  Ivy certainly doesn't accept it, and I don't value independence strongly enough to make her.  Knowing the benefits of a close attachment, I feel that it makes more sense to err on the side of a strong attachment.  They will spend their whole lives developing independence and moving further away from us, why not let them do it at their own pace?  Another form of babyled weaning, if you will.  Because the early years are your best chance at cementing that bond (not that it can't happen later) and close family bonds are one of my main goals as a mother.

I'm not the only one who feels this way.  If you do a cross-cultural look at parenting practices and values, cultures that value the collective over the individual generally are also strong babywearing cultures.  Cultures that value strong ties to extended family tend to keep their babies close.

It makes sense.  But like I've said before, I'm a counter-culture kind of a girl.

So - that being said - holding a baby all the time is still tiring and can also be stressful.  That's where this fabulous thing called babywearing comes in.  You can hold the child without actually HOLDING the child.  This makes all the difference.  If you want to make your older child a sandwich, but you can't because the baby wants to be held (or you can but only while listening to the baby scream), that is really frustrating.  Toss that baby in a carrier on your back though, and everyone is happy.

Whoa!  Dane alert!
This is a concept that some people just really reject.  My own husband for example, for whatever reason, would rather just hold the baby in his arms and get tired and frustrated instead of putting her in the Ergo.  So his stress level while watching Ivy is much higher than it has to be.  When he's been watching her and I return the report often goes something like this, "Argh - I couldn't get a d*mn thing done because that baby wanted to be held the whole time!"  A friend of mine on the other hand, one who frequently wears her own babies, makes good use of her carriers while watching Ivy.  And when I come pick her up, the report is this: "She was good.  She only cried for a minute after you left.  She wanted to be carried most of the time but she was really good."  And this from a woman who was not only watching Ivy, but also her own FOUR children aged 4 years old or less.

The choice is there for each caregiver to make.

She's not a bad baby, there are just good and bad ways to care for a baby who has a strong desire for closeness and attachment.

Hey look out for that cliff Baby!  Oh, there you are.  Gooood Baby.

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to let you know that I've nominated you for the following blog award. Congrats!


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