It started with pacifiers. I was researching them, trying to figure out if the plastic ones I inherited from my sister are potentially harmful for Teddy. I came across this – Perils of the Pacifier. Here’s the part where I started to bang my head on the table:
Probably the most important reason not to use a pacifier is the message it sends the child. It teaches an infant that we prefer them to be quiet in public and in private, particularly if they might cry. Yet crying is one of the few ways babies have to communicate their needs. Crying alerts us to the child’s discomfort. Is it an earache, hunger or fear? Crying is a signal that a child may be tired, bored, or needs some attention. Putting a pacifier in the mouth silently tells the child to be quiet, that we are not concerned about what they are feeling, and that we prefer silence from them. Sure, crying is annoying and interferes with adult pleasures or work, but it also has a meaning that should not be masked by the pacifier.
Well, that was a punch in the gut. Yes, I was researching safer pacifiers for my child, but I was still the terrible parent that wanted to tell my tiny little baby to shut up and leave me alone.
The really frustrating part is that I disagreed with what the author is saying here. Teddy is a baby, like many, who sucks for comfort. He won’t nurse unless he’s hungry, but he will suck on my pinky when he’s restless and needs to calm down. My pinky, however, is often engaged in other tasks – like driving, for example. So, enter the pacifier. I give it to Teddy because he enjoys it, not because I’m trying to ignore his needs. I don’t know about your kid, but if mine is hungry or wet or otherwise truly upset, a pacifier isn’t going to cut it. I couldn’t ignore his needs if I wanted to.
I disagreed with the writer, but I still feel bad about it. I’ve thought about it every time I’ve given Teddy a pacifier this week.
I brought it up to Liz on a walk to the playground, and she agreed with me that the writer was wrong, or at least that it didn’t make sense to us. But she also understood my distress. She’s felt the same way about using time outs with Ida as a discipline strategy. They work well for Ida. I’ve even seen her put herself in time out if she knows she’s done something wrong and needs a break to move forward. But the sentiments she’s read and heard about how time outs can be damaging to a child’s psyche still ring in her ears.
This pacifier battle is one of only 3,000 mental wars I’m having right now. Another is the balance between letting Teddy play alone and interacting with him. Am I leaving him alone too much? Too little? And also the classic “Am I spoiling my baby by holding him too much or damaging him by putting him down alone?” Although we’re big babywear-ers, you gotta put the kid down sometime. As my husband says, you could empty the dishwasher with a baby strapped to your chest, but who hates their knees that much?
These baby guilt trips pop out at me everywhere. I’m in the middle of a book I picked up at the library about children and TV with tons of research saying how horrible TV is for kids, and in the process, came across this research about how even TV as background noise is harmful for babies. One article mentioned watching TV while breastfeeding in the opening line. Am I harming my child by watching MadMen while I breastfeed? I hesitate to even write this paragraph because I don’t want to give other mothers more things to feel bad about.
I thought about these things today as I nursed Teddy in his rocking chair. There is nothing like holding a sweet, sleepy baby to bring you back to planet earth. It occurred to me that the most important thing I can do for Teddy as his mother is just to be present with him – to respond to his needs, to notice what he’s doing, and mostly just be with him. I think that involves the kind of moment-by-moment decision making that often escapes me when I try to plan out a strategy about how I’m going to parent. Put him down or hold him? Watch TV while I nurse or sit quietly? Give him a pacifier or not? Instead of a big long term plan, I often need to just be with my baby, listening to him and engaging with him.
This isn’t to say I’m not a fan of playing the long game. Certainly, most of parenting is being thoughtful about the fact that you are raising a human being – one that will hopefully contribute positively to society one day and that doesn’t still wet the bed. But also, I want to raise Teddy to be thoughtful and to realize that no one has all the answers. Sometimes, the best we can do is to honestly engage right where we’re at and try to treat people with love and kindness.There’s no hard and fast rules about how to do that. It just requires being present in the world we live in and doing our best, knowing that sometimes we’ll fail.
Still, I know I will forget this lesson when the next news article, baby book or self-righteous parent comes along telling me what I must or should never do, lest I risk raising the next Unibomber. Sometimes I feel like I’m coming to a place where I can trust my own judgment and not worry about there hearsay. I’m hoping more of that is on the horizon for all of us.