Though Valentine's Day has already come and gone, the whole month of February always seems to me to be dedicated to love. It gives us a fabulous excuse to reflect on what love really is and to assess our growth in love.
I teach Baby Care classes at an area hospital, and one of my goals is to help parents to understand the fundamental relationship between responsiveness and trust. It's a cycle that begins from the very first moments after birth and continues...well, frankly, I don't think it ever ends. The basic premise is that responding to your child's needs -- expressed through cries in the infant stage and through gradually more sophisticated modes of communication as the child grows -- builds a strong foundation of trust, which leads in turn to security and happiness. I stress to my expecting families that you can't spoil a child by responding to his legitimate needs.
There are some parenting methods out there that emphasize the good of the schedule over the child's needs. Yes, children need structure. But what is the good of structure if they are hungry, or tired, or neglected? Without love, discipline misses its mark. Discipline is simply a means to an end -- a well-behaved, considerate, generous child -- not an end in itself. Denying a child's legitimate needs simply for the sake of a routine or a schedule isn't love. I'll just say it again: you can't spoil a child by responding to his legitimate needs.
I'll even go one step beyond that. I don't think you can spoil a child with love. Period.
It might sound like a radical claim, and in many ways it is. But let's first recognize what love truly is. Love always desires and works toward the good of the other. This good might be physical -- the baby needs to be fed or changed or held. It might be emotional -- the child needs encouragement to try again after running into challenges. Or it might be spiritual -- comfort in the time of grief or a prayer before bed to extinguish fears.
Thinking about it this way, it's clear that "love" and "spoiling" don't even belong in the same sentence together, much less in a cause/effect relationship! Spoiling, by definition, is yielding when you should stand firm -- an indulgence of the child's desires that eventually will actually work to the child's harm, not her good. Love often requires us to frustrate our children's desires, because we "know what's best" and we love them enough to say no. But if you've spent time fostering the relationship of trust that comes from meeting her needs on every level, the child might be mad at you at that moment, but she knows deep down that you will take care of her and do what's best for her.
So don't worry about spoiling your child with too much love. You can't spoil them by meeting their legitimate needs or by working for their good. Shower them with love, and watch them thrive!
About S.K. Valenzuela
S.K. is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and teaches childbirth and baby care classes at a major Dallas hospital. She also enjoys freelancing about writing and all things mothering. Her book, Mothering the Mother of Many, will be released in 2013. She also enjoys writing fiction, and her second novel, The Lords of Askalon, is now available. For more information about her current projects, please visit her at www.skvalenzuela.com and follow her on Twitter at @skvalenzuela. She and her husband and their six beautiful children live in Dallas, Texas.