Mixed feelings about your baby

Dear Kerry,
What advice or comment do you have for a first time stay-at-home Mom with a 10-month-old baby? It feels at the same time both incredibly interesting and terribly boring. Sometimes I feel very blessed to have a baby and am totally engaged in being with him and seeing/helping him develop new skills. Other times, and these are the ones that I worry might be damaging to him, I feel resentful at being disturbed from my adult tasks and may have an angry/frustrated look on my face while attending to him. I know he can sense this because he is more difficult to comfort or dress, etc. at those times. I would like to increase the amount of time I can stay really engaged with him, as when this happens it is a real joy and one of the best things in life — we have a lot of fun and laughing then.
GM, Ohio

Dear GM,
How lucky for you and your baby that you are able to be with each other and are enjoying so much of your time together! The good moments are indeed a “real joy.” Thank you for your honesty about the conflict between your pleasure and wish to do well by your baby, and your adult needs. It shows you have the emotional muscle to face the reality of your feelings inside. The dilemma that you describe so vividly is probably shared by all moms and dads and caregivers who spend long days with infants and toddlers, and I think that everyone in that situation worries about whether there is something wrong with having mixed feelings. However fascinating the little ones’ development is, it is hard to be alone, without adult conversation, stimulation and input for hours at a time.

First let’s go to the science of it all. There has been an explosion of research over the past 30 or 40 years about infant development and the role of interaction between babies and parents. From the early discussions of attachment and attunement to our more recent understanding of how soon babies can be active players in their experience, and how sophisticated they are, we now know a lot more than we used to.

One of the side-effects of all this research, and the way it has been translated in the media, is that parents can’t deny how important they are to their children’s development. That is wonderful, but it can also become a burden. If you are so responsible, what if you do it wrong? If you aren’t totally in tune with your baby 24/7, will this harm her development? Will she grow up unable to relate to others, or unable to control her behavior, or not do well at school? Will she have friends and be a nice person? No wonder you worry that your angry face will harm your little one, or that your distraction at times will spoil his early experience.

But the research also offers us a truly important and reassuring finding. Even in the best-functioning parent-child pairs, where development is proceeding optimally and everything seems just fine, parents and their babies are attuned about 30% of the time. Think about that – our attention and stimulation and emotional connection are so rich for babies that even 1/3 of it fuels them more than adequately. So you don’t have to feel guilty that you aren’t always totally zeroed in. Being a “good-enough” parent is good enough.

What the research also shows is that the really important thing is how we move back from a distracted or negative feeling state with our babies to a positive connection. The reconnection is what matters. Our method of getting back in touch is what teaches babies how to deal with feelings and reach out to others.

Clearly we want to maximize our togetherness, whether we are able to be with our babies full-time or part-time. We also want to ensure that, if others are caring for them, they too are paying attention to our children as well as they can. There are lots of ways to meet your baby’s needs and also your own.

10-month-olds are very, very busy learners, with their bodies and their minds. They usually have several words in their vocabularies and lots of sounds that mean something to them. They are actively crawling, often cruising, and some of them are already walking. They are busy exploring particularly the relationships between the objects and people in their world.

This is the time when they want to be able to make something happen with their toys. Containers are often the most fascinating playthings. You can supply literally hours of play with Tupperware and wooden spoons, small blocks that fit inside, stacking and nesting cups, a wine bottle carton with paper towel rolls to fit in the inserts – your baby will take them in and out and move them around for a long time! Small wooden cars that can be pushed, or walking toys to lean on and trundle around the house, give these older babies a sense of agency that satisfies their growing need to feel in charge of themselves.

And what about your needs? It will enhance and enlarge your baby’s experience if you play music that you like while you spend time together. Introduce your baby to bluegrass, r &b, string quartets, fado, sitar music – you will feed your soul, your baby will feel your pleasure, and her brain will lay down expanded tracks for sounds and rhythms. Now that she is 10 months old, she can keep you company while you do the laundry, cook the supper, weed the garden.

Most public libraries have story times for little ones. Be sure you get out to spend time with other parents and children. If there isn’t a playgroup or parent-toddler program at a local preschool or community center, you can start a Round Robin group with three of four other parents with children the same age. If you meet once a week in each other’s houses in turn, your children will have social experience and you will too. Plus you will develop a group of trusted friends for support, as well as people your child knows, so you can trade babysitting or rely on each other in case of emergency need.

These are precious months – enjoy the good parts and relax in the knowledge that you are already offering your child the very greatest gift — time with you.

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94 Responses to Mixed feelings about your baby

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