Having my first baby rocked my world. Used to controlling my own life, my own mealtimes, shower times, working space and appointments, suddenly my life was turned upside down. The question was not when I could shower, but if I could shower. I no longer had the satisfaction of writing appointments in my diary, and being on time to them. Nothing was predictable, and this in itself was a huge change. I often look back and reflect on how hard I found it because my baby and I seemed to be working at cross purposes. Why, I wondered, was she on a different team?
We often hear about new motherhood being a huge change for a woman. But we rarely consider the transition our babies have just gone through. In being born, a newborn has suddenly left a relatively quiet, cushioned space within his mother’s womb. He has never known hunger because he is constantly fed through the umbilical cord. Nor is he ever thirsty. He has never known cold because his temperature is constantly maintained within his mother’s body. He has never known loneliness because he never is without her. When he is tired, he sleeps because he is rocked to sleep in the cradle of his mother’s pelvis by the movement of her body. And possibly he has never known fear because his mother has always been present to keep him safe within her.
For nearly ten months of development, he has listened to the steady beat of his mother’s heart and the rhythmic inhalation and exhalation as she breathes. How wonderfully comforting this must have been for him.
Engaging in an empathetic exercise with our babies enables us to listen more keenly to his efforts to communicate with us. In listening to him, we are invited into our own hearts, where our deepest instincts lie. For example, some popular babycare advice encourages us to feed to a schedule, to lay our babies down after feeds, don’t pick him up every time he cries, never allow your baby to ‘manipulate’ you, don’t let him ‘get used’ to being held, and never, ever sleep with your baby. When you look at it from the baby’s perspective, this all seems like madness. Nothing could be more different to what he expects and is used to.
Treating babies with gentleness and kindness doesn’t teach them to expect it (thereby ‘making a rod for the mother’s back’), they already expect it. They were born expecting it.
The most useful ‘tool’ in my parenting toolkit has been empathy. It helps me to put myself in my baby/child’s shoes and consider it from his perspective. Every time I remember to do this, it throws a whole new light on things. Frustrated that my baby is crying all the time and nothing I do soothes him? He is too. Upset that I’ve been woken again in the night by a toddler who wet the bed? He’s unhappy about it also. Irritated that my one year old needs me to hold his hand everywhere as he learns to walk? Surely he wishes he could just let go and get on with it too!
When I see things from his perspective, miraculously my child and I are back on the same team. We are together in our frustration. Sharing it means that we aren’t working against each other, but rather with each other.
Seeing things from my baby’s perspective inspires me toward compassion for him. Gradually, my feelings change from irritation and frustration to love and gentleness. I feel an overwhelming desire to hold him close and comfort him. We are in this together.
Photocredit: Martin Lyngbo, 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