There are many reasons why a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting is unhelpful for many mothers and babies, but one of the most critical is that every baby is different. True, there are some basic needs that every baby has: the need to be held, loved and nourished; the need to be near their mothers; the need to feel secure and safe. But as individuals, babies will also have some variance in their other (perhaps) not-so-basic needs.
It’s easy to forget that just like adults, babies vary in personality, temperament and preferences. I think we sometimes mistakenly believe that babies are like a blank canvas onto which we will paint all of the qualities we most value… and the logical (but mistaken) conclusion is that ‘good’ babies come from ‘good’ parents.
Some babies are highly sensitive. They startle easily, are harder to settle and calm; they seem to need to be held, rocked and cared for in a more intense way than other babies. They might prefer not to be passed around to various adoring aunts and uncles and cousins, and they might be fussier in general. In most cases, this has very little to do with parenting! Other babies are more laid back, sleep for greater lengths of time and don’t seem to mind sitting in a bouncy chair or being held by Aunt Vera, in spite of her surprising, gregarious laughter (which might startle a more sensitive little soul).
Each baby has his own needs, and it is a mother’s joy to discover the intricacies of her own baby’s personality. It took me a while to get to know my own sensitive child. Once I did I found that I had a sense of pride because I knew her so well that I could easily predict how she might react in certain situations. Anywhere with loud noises was a no-no, television programmes where there was an ‘evil villain’ character were too upsetting and were to be avoided, I would need to thoroughly prepare her for any transitions and change.
I found that I became my child’s advocate, her knight in shining armour. Other people would say, “why are you wrapping her up in cotton wool? She’ll never get used to these things if you don’t make her just put up with it!” (or words to that effect) When my father was a child, his friends thought it would be funny to throw him into a pool and that would ‘teach him to swim.’ Since then my father has had a fear of water and has never been able to swim. He is now in his seventies. It seems that plunging in at the deep end wasn’t a good strategy after all.
For my senstive baby it was my job to ignore the naysayers and do what she needed me to do. My daughter relied on me to know the complexities of her personality and the depth of her needs. She trusted me to listen to her and take seriously her need for security, predictability and calm.
Though it obviously makes sense, it came as a complete surprise when my second child showed very different needs. She resisted my attempts to treat her in the same way as my first daughter. We parented her in much the same way as our first, but she repeatedly showed us that she wanted to furrow her own path. Though we slept with Iona between us, and she needed one of us to be touching her at all times, Eilidh wanted to sleep spread-eagle in her own space (incidentally, my space! I ended up curled up in the crib connected to my bedside!). As they grew, the differences became even more apparent: while Iona likes to be talked through every change and transition, and wants time to think about it, Eilidh says an impatient, “Yes, I know! Stop going on about it!”
Some might say it’s birth order. Others might argue that we were different parents by the time we had our second. The bottom line for me is that a great challenge and joy of parenthood is to learn to decipher our own child’s secret code so that we can tap back our response… tailored completely to that child’s unique needs.
Photo credit: LironArt via Wikimedia Commons.
About Lisa Hassan Scott
Lisa Hassan Scott is a stay at home mother of three little ones, age 2, 6 and 9. An American living in Great Britain for over 15 years, Lisa is a Yoga teacher certified by the British Wheel of Yoga, and a La Leche League Leader. She blogs about mothering, breastfeeding, Yoga and the mind at http://www.lisahassanscott.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter: @lisahassanscott