Babies don't spoil.
Many of us enter parenthood with little to no understanding of early childhood development.
We leave our babies to cry because “it develops their lungs” and believe we can spoil a baby by holding her too much.
We joke about that “terrible twos” and the “bad behaviour” we are trying to extinguish with time outs and scolding.
We assume kids should “know better” because we told them once or twice it’s not safe to climb on the counter.
However, by gaining an understanding of early childhood development, we learn that infants are hardwired to seek physical proximity of a caregiver.
Humans are a carry species which means we carry our young. Babies are born very immature and depend on a caregiver for survival. While crying itself it isn’t bad, it isn’t meant to be ignored.
Crying is a form of communication for non-verbal little ones and they cry for more than food and needing a clean diaper.
It pains me to see how often comfort is dismissed as a basic human need.
“Oh he’s just nursing for comfort.”
“She’s just crying to be picked up.”
“He just wants attention.”
This seems to be the sediment that is passed down through the generations in our Western culture.
Don’t comfort your baby too much or he will never become independent.
This is a fucked up way to look at childhood.
Children are meant to be dependent.
Let me repeat this.
Children. Are. Meant. To. Be. DEPENDANT.
This idea of providing too much comfort and “spoiling” a baby originated from middle aged, white, male “experts” who likely had little to no involvement with raising children.
This advice went against a mother’s instincts and perpetuated until 1946 when Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote his book The Common Book of Baby and Childcare, which took a more gentle and instinctual approach to child rearing.
However, the damage was already done. Humans born and raised within the Western culture were subjected to parenting practices that encouraged ignoring a child and only picking up a baby when it fit the predetermined schedule.
While modern parenting practices are certainly more gentle, the idea of spoiling a baby pervades.
No where is this more apparent than in the approach to sleep training.
Sleep training, the practice of training a child to sleep on a specific schedule using methods of timed checks, controlled crying or extinction crying, adheres to the belief that babies need to be taught to sleep and that a child’s cries for comfort and connection are to be ignored.
First of all, sleep is developmental, just like walking or talking. Babies will do this on their own time. Babies slept for centuries before the creation of sleep training programs and will continue to sleep without them.
Secondly, the idea that we should ignore a baby’s cries goes back to the outdated information that comforting your baby is somehow spoiling your baby, as discussed above.
Of course one can’t ignore that the popularity of sleep training is really a symptom of a much larger issue-the lack of support for maternal mental health and the ridiculous expectations placed on women today, but that is a topic for another day.
Change will not happen overnight. Since this outdated advice is still woven into the fabric of our cultural narrative of child rearing, it will take time to unravel. But while I’m here, I’ll continue to push for change.
And in the words of Maya Angelou, “When you know better you do better.”