“You need to teach that baby a lesson!”
Why does everyone seem to think they know how to raise your baby better than you do? If I know one thing, I have my own mommy instincts. I might not be the perfect parent, but my instincts really do tell me everything (well, most of) what I need to know. How come so much of parenting advice goes against what we instinctively know? Or is that just me? (Side note: Mommy instincts didn’t tell me not to get in the bathtub with a baby with the stomach flu. Where is that advice when you need it?)
My biggest beef right now is with “teaching my baby a lesson.” My 10-month-old is just that, a baby. A baby does not need a fucking lesson on anything. Unless you are teaching them how to run the coffeemaker or open a bottle of wine, they don’t need to know. He needs to grow and develop and play. He needs to explore. He needs love. He needs to learn to stop playing in the dog bowl.
Recently, the separation anxiety stage hit our family like a skillet to the back of the head (insert the need for coffee and wine). Just when I thought I was getting this whole parenting thing down, my kid suddenly cries if I — god forbid — even look at the door. It’s exhausting. I’m over-touched and barely have anything left to give. When it was time for our nine-month appointment with our pediatrician, she told us our baby was physically healthy and seemed happy and developmentally where he needed to be. Smiling and cooing at my son, she then got to her questions. Is he crawling? Check. Is he pulling up? Check. The list went on and on as I continued to become more and more proud. We had to be doing something right.
“Is he sleeping through the night?” My eyes widened. I explained that once he finally fell asleep, he stayed asleep, but we often struggle getting our active little guy in bed. It can be a lengthy ordeal. Before I could even finish explaining what we do, she interjected, “You need to let him cry it out.”
I asked her if she had any gentler recommendations. She asked me if we had tried letting him cry it out. I responded that indeed, out of desperation, we did. When we did let him cry, boy did he cry. Fifty-eight minutes later of my mommy instincts making my physically ill, I went back in and picked up a very scared and very sad little boy who was covered in sweat and tears. Never again. She asked if we were consistent and tried again the following night. How could I be any clearer?
“No we didn’t. It was torture for everyone involved.”
Here is where things went completely south. “Well, he won. You need to teach him you are not coming back. You are not going to go to him. If he vomits from being so upset, you just need to matter-of-factly clean it up. It’s normal stuff. He won’t remember. He needs to be taught a lesson. He needs to learn. He needs to learn you won’t give in. You can’t let him win. When you came back 58 minutes later, he won. He got what he wanted.”
Did you just fucking tell me my kid needs to learn I’m not coming back no matter how much he cries? Yeah, that’s not going to work. My goal in life right now is to make sure he does know I’m coming back. I’m always coming back. If he needs anything, you can be sure as hell I’m coming back.
I kindly informed my pediatrician of the research showing babies left to cry have higher cortisol levels that physically change the brain over time. All she could do was insist he wouldn’t remember me leaving him to cry. She couldn’t refute the research. She simply said, “When he is 9 or 10 years old, this will be your memory, not his. He won’t remember.”
Please tell me how that makes it okay? Just because someone won’t remember something, it’s okay? Does that logic work anywhere? Look at our current culture. Justifying doing something to someone simply because they won’t remember is never okay. How is this even part of the discussion? Right now, my babe is at an age where he won’t remember anything. Does that mean I don’t need to care for him? No.
Fast-forward to yesterday. Separation anxiety at its finest. I had to leave him, so I could get some work done. Usually he’s happy to play with others, but not yesterday. You could hear the terror in his cry as I said goodbye and headed for the door — wails. Sometimes it’s inevitable. I had to do my work. I watched the clock tick knowing my little guy was a wreck. Finally, I came back to a baby I could hear screaming from the curb. He refused all meals and bottles. He was exhausted and afraid that mommy left. While I can’t change the need to leave him occasionally, I can fight to change the way others look at this anxiety.
“He needs to learn to be alone.”
“It’s good for him to cry. Babies cry.”
“You have spoiled him. You have given him anything he wants.”
“You can’t pick him up every time he cries.”
“He’s going to be too attached.”
“He will be 5 years old and not know how to play with others.”
The list goes on and on. It’s said this type of separation anxiety begins when babies start learning to walk. It’s biologically appropriate and Mother Nature’s way of not allowing a young mobile baby to wander off too far from their parents. It’s self-preservation. It’s exhausting for caregivers, particularly Mom. However, it’s what they need to be doing right now.
It’s nothing I have done wrong. It’s nothing I caused. It’s a developmental stage.
If this is happening to you, it is nothing you have done wrong, Mama. We need to stop letting the world tell us how we have failed as parents. We need to stop letting the world tell us they know what is best for our babies. You are Mama. You know better. Don’t fight those instincts. You know your baby better. This is not about cry it out. It’s not about self-soothing. It is about you knowing what’s best for your babe because you are Mom.
If you had an older child who was afraid of the dark, how would you combat that? I can be pretty sure you wouldn’t lock them in a pitch-black room and allow them to scream. You would buy them a night-light, show them there is nothing to be afraid of, and slowly let them learn there is nothing wrong with darkness by gradually exposing them on their own terms. It’s a stage they outgrow eventually. Forcing them to sit in darkness would almost exclusively do more harm than good.
I’m afraid of snakes. Is anyone trying to force one in my hands so I “get over it”? No. The best way to help our babies through this time is by teaching them. Teach them you have them. Teach them you love them. Teach them to rely on you. When they are confident they are taken care of, they will slowly gain confidence in themselves. We need to stop “teaching them a lesson.” We need to listen to our mommy instincts more, and listen to the haters less. You do you. You got it, Mama.