Thursday, June 11, 2009

Unrealistic Expectations Of Little Babies

New parents have such high expectations of their babies. Baby will be beautiful and perfect. Baby will cry only when it is hungry, cold or has wind. Baby will know its place in the family and will not be overly demanding of its parents. Baby will require food every three hours. Baby will give its parents an uninterrupted night's sleep from 6 months. Baby will quickly become independent and will allow its mother to resume her solo social engagements. The list goes on.

The people we talk to, the books we read and the television programmes we watch all reinforce these expectations. It is when a baby does not match up to these high expectations that we demand solutions: dummies to silence crying babies; hungry baby formula for babies who insist on eating too frequently; controlled crying for babies who refuse to sleep alone through the night. Again, the list goes on.

Yesterday morning, I became all too aware of the clash between expectations and reality. I am usually wary of recounting tales of people I know because their lives are private, but in this case I hope the mother in question will not mind, because she struggles to change society's attitude to babies just as I do. This woman is the mother of quite a difficult baby, much more demanding than my daughter, and like me she has become an attachment parent without really planning to. While I am fairly happy to follow a slightly different path to most of the mothers around me, she is very conscious that she is not following the "normal" rules of parenting. I sense that she struggles to reconcile her motherly instincts, which tell her to keep her baby by her side all day and night, with her expectations of how a mother "should" interact with her baby.

So, back to yesterday morning. My friend has worried before that her ten month old baby "should" be independent enough to spend a few hours away from his mother. A quick aside to this topic: I have read in a mainstream parenting magazine that it is "unhealthy" for the mother of a nine month old not to have left her baby with babysitters at some time. Well, call me unhealthy. I am downright sick. The longest I have left Cave Baby was for an hour and a half, with her grandma, while I had my hair cut. Look at me, I'm a bad mother, I'm giving my baby far too much attention, I'm making a rod for my own back!

Right, finally, yesterday morning. I was attending a meeting with my friend; we both had the option to put our babies in a creche or keep them with us. I do not think my daughter is ready for a creche but, with the weight of society's and her own expectations, my friend decided to try her son in it. Around five minutes into the meeting, I needed to pop into the room where the creche was being held. There I saw my friend's son, distraught, crying his eyes out for the simple want of his mother. The creche supervisors were doing as they had been told, trying to comfort him but not taking him through to his mum. I could have wept. I could have scooped him up into my arms and nursed him right there. I felt my breasts tingling with the need to suckle him as I did my best to turn my back and get out of the room as quickly as possible. I just could not be there. The physical need I felt to comfort that baby was unlike anything I have ever felt for any child but my own; a feeling that I had never felt before I became a mother. I was bursting to tell my friend, "Go through and get your baby. He really needs you. He doesn't need to learn to be without you; he'll get there by himself. At the moment he just needs your love. Please help him."

But what did I actually do? I sat down, lips sealed, behaving as I was expected to, disregarding an infant's needs in favour of those of a adult. Thankfully the poor child was brought into the meeting twenty minutes later, still screaming, with swollen red eyes. He calmed down on the breast but sobbed quietly for another half hour.

Too many of our expectations are not baby friendly. Just imagine if you could be stripped of those unrealistic Victorian expectations of children. Would you think that it was desirable to leave a ten month old to cry in a room full of strangers? I certainly would not. And to my friend: if you read this, I hope you do not mind me telling this story. You are a great, long suffering mother and I know that you have turned your life upside down to do the best for your child. I hope your story can help other people to feel that it is OK for their babies not to fit the standard model.

I am off on holiday for a fortnight now so thanks for reading and I'll be back soon!


Earthenwitch said...

Gosh, that's very difficult. I felt similarly recently when a friend brought her baby son, aged four months, into visit what was her team at work (I'm back part-time while Quercus looks after the witchling; so far, so good, but oh, I miss her). She passed him around and then apologised when he cried, as if he was being totally unreasonable. I really felt for him, and longed just to hand him back to her. I hadn't realised that the cues I feel from the witchling would make me more sensitive to other people's babies too...

willow81 said...

We've always brought Monkey out to restaurants with us but I remember feeling quite torn when she has cried; part of me longs to just sit it out and ignore the looks from other customers, she's a BABY after all, but the self-conscious part of me usually wins and I scoop her up and take her outside. Babies are fine to be seen but not heard. I've only ever left her in a creche once, we were at a friend's child's christening and at a certain point in the service the children are invited to leave and go to the creche for half an hour. My friend got up and motioned to me to bring Monkey, which I did, almost unthinkingly. It was only when I sat back down in the pew without her that I suddenly thought, what have I done with my baby?! Fortunately she was absolutely fine, charming the creche volunteers.
In terms of stifling a wish to intervene on behalf of a child, it's the ones who are being yelled at, sworn at or even smacked in supermarkets that really get me. Sadly I'm too chicken to do anything.
Have a wonderful holiday.

hillary said...

Oh that is really hard. I think it differs for every baby parent combination too. There just aren't rules like: At 10 months a baby is ready to do this or that. At 10 months a baby might be ready to be with friends for an hour or two and a week later not.

I notice child development to be very one step forward and two steps back looking for mom. My children always get very independent for a bit pushing me away, only to spend the next few days, week or even months going back to a behavior others might call "regressing". I think it seems so normal. They tried something out, felt pretty big in life and then needed to return to security before reaching out again.

Joxy said...

I find it very difficult when I see mums with young babies in pushchairs, particularly forward facing ones that are crying and the mums are ignoring them. I just want to scoop the babies up and cuddle them. I don't of course, but oh it does make me feel terribly uncomfortable.

Hope you enjoy your holiday :)


Loukia said...

I am not one of those moms who will let her baby cry - I have even pulled over while drivng and stopped in gas stations to take my babies out of their car seats, to walk around with them, to comfort them, before driving away again. I can't see them crying like that - usually a few hugs and comfort will calm them down and we'll be on our way again. Same goes when they cry at night - I rush into their room to comfort them, to sleep with them. If my baby is crying at church, or in a restaurant, I take care of him. I don't care what others think, and I have nothing to apologize for!

Cave Mother said...

Earthenwitch - yes, it's amazing how motherhood has made me more sensitive to other babies. No surprise that Gina Ford has none of her own.

willow and Joxy - I know what you mean, there are so may occasions when you want to rescue a baby from its unfortunatesituation. But as Earthenwitch said, I've only noticed it since I've been a mum.

hillary - that summary of your childrens development is very interesting. Actually it's good to read because when you're on your first child it can be a bit worrying of they don't seem to be developing at the "right" pace. It's nice to hear some words of wisdom.

Loukia - I so agree with you, and it's lovely to read this sort of thing from an experienced mum.

Darcel said...

I am the same way. I feel for those children who are screaming for their mothers.
I love Attachment Parenting. I like the point you brought up about how a mother "should" act towards her baby. There are so many misconceptions about that statement.

Even at 2, my youngest has been by my side constantly this week. Helping me with everything and just wanting to be with me.

Amanda said...

We don't just have unrealistic expectations of our babies, but of ourselves, too!

And I'm with you all....I hate seeing babies screeming while their parents' completely ignore them. When I was still breastfeeding, my boobs would go nuts!

My husband had a fit when I made him stop on the highway median late one night when my son wouldn't stop wailing. After a little consolation, he was back in his seat and we had a much more enjoyable ride home.

allgrownup said...

I've given a little award to your blog on my latest post x

cartside said...

Gina Ford has no children? That is shocking.
Not that I've ever been a fan of hers.
My daughter never settled in a creche, with strangers. Who would blame her. I don't really feel like leaving her with complete strangers.

I've tagged you for Recycle Week. Hope you can join in.

Melodie said...

Been there, felt that. Heart breasking isn't it? I find it hard especially when moms leave their little ones with me as their daycare provider and their little ones just want to be with mom. Some days I just want them to take their wee one home. Actually once I had to fire a client whose 12 mo daughter cried constantly unless I was holding her for 6 weks straight. I had hoped her mom might just decide to take a leave of absence from her job as I did because of my own high needs baby (we worked for the same company.) She thanked me for trying but went and found a new daycare provider. I always felt so sorry for her daughter who just wasn't ready to be away from her mommy. Oh, and no the family didn't need the money. Mom worked because SHE wanted to. If only everyone could put their child's temperment/needs before their own. sigh.

TheOrganicSister said...

it is so hard to witness a baby in need of his mama and not be able to give it to him. i watch something similar with certain family members and it breaks my heart.

but i know i didn't get it when my son was little. i was so drawn to AP but had no support and much discouragement. even after making some choices i am not proud of, i've been able to find my way back to instinctual parenting.

there is hope for everyone, as long as we all remain supportive and in the open with our choices so that others may see a different way.


Jessica said...

I'm with Loukia - I don't think I ever drove anywhere for the first 6 months without having to pull over to check on the baby.

And everyone else, too. For example, in the grocery store, it's heartbreaking when I see a tiny infant squawling and its mother ignoring it and checking out the beef prices instead. How easy would it be to be wearing her little one or just pick him up?

I'm not trying to be judge-y, either, it's just babies cry and babies need our attention. It's just sad to expect that they won't and don't.