By Cheri Fuller
"I just read an article in a parents' magazine that said we shouldn't rock our baby to sleep, sing them to sleep, or nurse them to sleep, but instead just put them in their bed to relax themselves or cry if they need to," said a young mother at a moms' group I spoke to this week.
"A book I just read said never to snuggle your baby in your bed," another mom added.
Other mothers chimed in their confusion about following parenting systems and formulas, and expressed their guilt if they didn't do it "right." Besides being disturbing, silly advice because it causes you to resist your natural nurturing, this information also goes against sound knowledge of child development.
You see, trust is the primary goal of the first year of a baby's life, developing trust in others, trust of the world, and trust of themselves. A baby learns to trust others when she is given comfort, quick responses from mom, dad, and grandparents or caretakers, and when her cues are read appropriately so her needs are met. The development of trust is one of the important areas of emotional development, and emotional development is the cornerstone of your child's learning, morals, social relationships, and much more. Leaving your baby to cry in her crib, ignoring her needs for closeness, comfort, or a feeding because it isn't convenient for your schedule or doesn't follow the "formula" you are adhering to, doesn't contribute to the development of trust.
In contrast, all the interaction between mother and baby: gentle physical touching, nursing and cuddling her, loving vocalization, play and eye contact, rocking her to sleep, holding her when she's cranky or colicky, meet your baby's needs and contribute to healthy emotional development.
Instead of parenting by a formula, here are some ideas to begin trusting your heart from my new book, The Mom You're Meant to Be: Loving Your Kids While Leaning on God:
Don't just take one resource and latch on to it as a formula. Read widely enough to know what you believe is best for your kids. Read about the amazing process of child development (like in Dr. Barry Brazelton's Touchpoints or my book Opening Your Child's Nine Learning Windows). But think of a book or resource as providing overall principles or giving you ideas, not as a "Bible" for parenting that you must follow to the letter of the law. If the currently popular healthy sleep book says that the only good sleep for babies is in their cribs and anything else is "junk sleep," and you follow such a system too rigidly, you may miss out on some wonderful chances to snuggle with your baby on a cold night (and no, your child won't refuse to sleep in his crib forevermore). Remember, opinions vary widely between experts on many matters of childrearing. Avoid extremes and don't become a slave to any one system.
Don't set your focus on accomplishing short-term, perfect-acting babies or toddlers at the expense of growing emotional healthy children. And let me encourage you not to major on behavior control as the primary way to relate to your child. Meeting your child's emotional needs through physical affection, plenty of time together, and love should be a priority in all your parenting, not controlling them with punitive methods.
Most of all, ask for and listen to God's direction for each of your children, and trust your heart as you and your spouse sense unity on parenting issues. Thank Him for the gift of your kids because as my daughter Alison (who is a mom of two boys, 21 months and 5 months herself) says, "It's all about relationship. Every day you get to spend time with this unique, marvelous human being, learning his quirks and cues is a gift!" And remember, you are the mom God picked out of all the potential mothers in the world to love, nurture, and raise your precious child.
Tips adapted from The Mom You're Meant to Be: Loving Your Kids While Leaning on God (Focus on the Family/Tyndale)
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