About two months ago I visited with a friend who has five children. Her oldest is 12, the youngest, at the time was ten months. She raved about having so many little helpers. Then she complained that the baby was unable to soothe himself and cried if she ever put him down, so she never did , unless she was handing him off to someone else to hold and she was concerned because she noticed he could sit up and stand but only if someone put him in those positions. She had talked to her pediatrician and then sought out a second opinion and even specialists who could find nothing wrong with her son. Or at least, nothing correctable.
As we talked, she held the baby who constantly wanted to be facing her and did not want her to talk to me. She eventually handed him off to her ten-year-old who took the baby to play with the other children in the same room. I glanced over occasionally. The baby always sat in someone’s lap and if he dropped a toy out of his reach, another child ran and got it for him. If they were later in fetching it than the baby would like he would let out a yelp, loud and screeching. When he cried as his oldest sister attempted to give him a bottle of expressed breast milk, his cries were more like whines as he pushed it away.
He was ten-months-old and I don’t want to pigeon hole him, but I think I know what the problem is. I think he’s a bit spoiled. He hasn’t rolled over yet, because when he gets into a position that he doesn’t like, he cries until someone moves him. He doesn’t put himself in a sitting position, because someone else always helps him. He doesn’t like to be put down because someone always holds him…I can see how that is wearing on a mother.
My friend is not big on attachment parenting. Not at all. So, I’m kind of flummoxed as to how she ended up with such a high needs baby except that all of her “little helpers” are in fact “little hinderers” of the baby’s independence. The baby believes he cannot do those things because his siblings have never let him. After wondering if I should say something for the past couple of months or not, I got an email from her last night, this is part of what it said:
My parents came for a visit this weekend on their way to Florida (her parents live in Vermont and are snow birds). My father could not believe that J could not stand up or walk yet. I told him that J was not even crawling. My father said, “Well, no wonder, he has four big servants that carry him everywhere. I wouldn’t walk either.” I’m beginning to think he is on to something. I told A, C, V and P not to pick him up at all today. He’s cried a good deal but he’s been trying to do things for himself after a while. I also told them not get a toy he throws out of his range but to let him try and get it. We are all weary of the screaming, whining and crying, but J seems to already be figuring it out already that he has to do somethings for himself.
I have to say, I was happy the news came from my friend’s father whose opinion she prizes and that she took it well. I am more of an attachment parent, but I realized early on I need to force some independence on my kids. I needed them to be able to realize that they could do things for themselves and should. I didn’t leave them to cry for hours when they couldn’t do something, but I did put a toy just out of reach to force them to move to it and praise them when they did. I tried to motivate them but still encourage independence.
It was about balance. I’ve seen mothers on both sides of the extremes. There are moments to hold your child and do things for them and moments to let them go and try themselves. I’ve realized recently though, that we also need to set the example and instruct older children in this as well. Seeing as any more children we may be blessed with will have brothers (and a sister, but Shelby’s “help” is a little different) who will want to help out with the baby, it is important that they understand this balance too.