A common phrase you’ll hear as a new mum is, “you’ll build a rod for your own back”. This usually comes after instructions such as, don’t let the baby fall asleep in your arms, don’t let the baby sleep in your bed or don’t feed the baby to sleep. I always found it strange hearing people talk about babies in such a way, it seemed odd to me as I always considered those things quite normal and natural for a baby. I mean, imagine only ever knowing the comfort of the walls that surround you. Then, suddenly you’re exposed to an open environment where nothing is familiar. Babies need constant reassurance that they are safe and secure. Hence why babies will often only sleep in their mums arms. When they lay against your chest they can hear that comforting sound of your heartbeat, something that is familiar to them from being in the womb.
Once babies have gone through that ‘newborn stage’, it seems like people expect them to be completely independent and ready for the world. Health visitors will ask how many times they’re feeding, are they sleeping through the night, are they sleeping in their own room. The list goes on. All of these things are expected to happen within the first 6-12 months. Society has conditioned us into believing that babies need to be taught independence before they’ve even learnt to walk or talk. Why? Because we live in a society where success and money are of the utmost importance. Therefore, throughout childhood children are being fed subliminal messages through family life and school that they must learn to be independent and successful. This ensures that they function efficiently in a capitalist society.
For years and years, parents have been fixated on their babies being able to fall asleep independently and sleep alone in their own room. I still find this one odd. You’ll often hear adults talk about how they miss their partners when they’re away as they don’t like sleeping alone, yet we expect a small baby or child to be happy sleeping alone? Babies and toddlers don’t understand their environment and can’t rationalise their thoughts or fears. Many parents spend hours getting stressed and angry with their little ones when they won’t sleep alone. But can you really blame them? We have this idea that if you let your child sleep in your room, they’re never going to leave. This couldn’t be further from the truth! There will come a point where your child feels safe and secure enough in their environment and relationships that they’re confident to sleep alone. We know that pushing a toddler to potty train when they aren’t ready is counter-productive, the same applies for all aspects of parenting! This includes sleep, breastfeeding and eating solids.
Society has created this unnecessary stress with parenting, all to ensure children learn independence. However, it’s also because more women are expected to go back to work when their babies or children are young. Therefore, it prepares both the child and adult for the separation when mum goes back to work. Sometimes it isn’t an option, mums are often forced back to work because they can’t afford not to. It’s sad for those who wish to stay at home and only creates more inner conflict and stress.
The point is, babies and toddlers are not mini-adults. They aren’t trying to manipulate you when they cry until you pick them up! They don’t have the capacity to think or behave in that way! Health visitors might tell you that your baby should be sleeping through the night and to let them ‘cry it out’. The only thing this achieves is the baby learning to accept that nobody comes when they cry and that their needs aren’t important. Sometimes they just need a hug, sometimes they need milk. However, sometimes they just need to see your familiar face and feel your comforting arms. No, if you ‘give in’ they aren’t going to be doing that when they’re 10 years old! A child who has a secure and happy relationship will feel confident to explore and leave their secure ‘base’. Every baby or child does this at different times.
Most of the stress we feel is caused by the pressure and norms of society. We don’t have to do things because ‘they’ve always been done that way’. We have the freedom and rights to parent in the way we feel best. The more you relax, trust your own instincts and make your own decisions about parenting, the happier you will feel.