The image accompanying this blog is one taken of me and my children about 18 years ago! The questions I ask in the following are those that I imagine I might have asked at the time I was raising my children and the answers are the responses I think I may give myself from where I am now. It shows my growth and learning from my trainings as a Counsellor and a therapeutic play worker but also I have learned much from books and speaking to other Mothers. None of the following is a prescription for any parents out there, nor do I wish to pass any judgements on myself or others as I believe we get enough of that already. Everything is meant purely to offer food for thought and perhaps start some interesting conversations.
1. Question: If I pick my baby up too often will they become spoilt?
Answer: You can’t spoil a baby! If a baby is crying then they need you; a new born does not have the mental capacity to wind you up or to punish you by crying, even if you may feel or think they are doing this. They are feeling something and need it to be soothed. Babies are born with the need for relationship and human touch; it is a primary need and not an attempt to deprive you of rest or sleep. Who’d have guessed?
2. Question: How do I teach my infant to be empathic?
Answer: The pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain where we feel empathy for another and gain a feeling of the world being a safe place, develops according to the amount of nurture received, a baby who does not get enough love, care and safety does not develop a healthy pre-frontal cortex and lives in constant fear of not being cared for or, worse still, a constant fear of attack; there is much more to this and there are many books and lots of research to back this up. If you would like to find out more I recommend Why Love Matters by Sue Gerhardt
3. Question: Does my infant have the mental capacity to think about how much they are demanding from me?
Answer: Babies and toddlers are NOT little adults; they cannot think the way we do and do not cry out for the sake of it, even a toddler or child, (or an adult who has not experienced safety in caring), who is ‘acting out’ is crying out for attention they need.
4. Question: Can I cuddle my children too much?
Answer: All children need cuddles and reassurance! A child who is hugged and cared for is able to grow and become a person with a sense of security, growing up knowing that their basic needs will be attended to. They have a secure attachment and are able to engage in healthy ways with the world around them, with other people and with the tasks that life entails. Wrapping up children and not allowing them to experience the world for themselves is not healthy and not the same as offering age appropriate love and support.
5. Question: Do my children need to do as I do or do as I say?
Answer: Children are not complicated or out to get the better of you, they are trying to learn about the world and themselves. They try things out and test the rules to see if they are true. They need consistency and loving firmness NOT attack. Please explain to me what makes us think that hitting a child for hitting another child will teach them not to hit? Does this just teach them that adults can do as they please to others but children cannot? If it is wrong to hit then why do we insist on hitting to teach this?
6. Question: Should I set boundaries with my children or let them do as they please?
Answer: In order for the world to work and for things to be achieved we have to set boundaries and limits. For the sake of safety and being ‘civilised’ certain behaviours are unacceptable in particular environments or perhaps not at all. It takes time and effort to work out how to set these boundaries and limits and isn’t easy at times, but time and effort spent when the children are young saves on therapy later in life! Sounds dramatic doesn’t it and it is! In therapy a child receives the acceptance and safety to become who they really are. As parents we aren’t taught the skills and if we did not get ‘good enough’ safety and acceptance when we were growing up it can be difficult to know what it looks like. Luckily these skills and experiences can be learned at whatever age we are. Recommended reading: Setting Boundaries with your Adult Children by Allison Bottke and Carol Kent, Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen and Why do I have to? By Laurie Leventhal-Belfer.
7. Question: How do I learn to do things differently to how I am doing them?
Answer: Learning new skills and changing old habits is hard work, not for the faint hearted but from experience I can share that it is so worth the energy spent learning! We can ALL grow and become less fearful through the safety of accepting and loving relationships with others. In fact we are made to thrive through connecting with others and are born with the instinct to form these connections, this is called attachment. A baby needs to attach to another human to survive. Look how helpless and dependent we are as new-borns. Recommended Reading: The Interpersonal World of the Infant by Daniel Stern
8. Question: Will I love my baby straight away and will it stay the same through all their phases and stages?
Answer: Sometimes an ability to bond/attach to our children is made difficult for a multitude of reasons and support is needed to assist this to happen. It takes a whole community to raise a healthy human who is whole; there is NO SHAME in asking for help. There is NO SHAME in not being able to bond to our child straight away nor when we recognise that at different stages parenting or bonding becomes difficult. Hey who said this little person that arrives without an instruction book is going to be whom or what you expected? Who said it is all fun and love? Who says that we can be a perfect parent at every age and stage? Though the image of being a forever giving and totally doting parent is the image we most often see, this is not reality and personally I found particular ages and stages much more difficult than others. I thought this made me a bad parent but now I know it made me a human being! Learning to love this little stranger we are a parent to is sometimes instantaneous but sometimes it takes time and effort. If you are struggling to attach then there is help and support out there, if not family, parents, grandparents then health visitors, doctors, therapists and organisations….if you think of others drop me a line and I will add them!
9. Question: Will all my children like the same things at particular ages?
Answer: Every child we have is different and has different levels of need. We cannot compare one child to another because they are a whole different mix of hormones, genetics and chromosomes’. Why do we believe siblings are alike when we know we are all different? Getting to know each of my children as individuals is a process I am still in and my eldest is 30 years old! I do NOT treat all my children the same because they are NOT the same! There are lots of reasons for this and one that I found interesting was that birth order can make a difference. Think about it though, if you are the second child you are going to want to be different from your other sibling because you want to stand out and get what you need. If the eldest is quiet then perhaps you will be loud to ensure your survival, not a conscious choice but a primitive need. Recommended Reading: The Birth Oder Book by Dr Kevin Leman
10. Question: Why are my children so cheeky to me? Why do they fight with their siblings?
Answer: If we want our children to stand up for themselves in the world out there then surely this is a skill they have to learn in safety with those they love first, namely us as parents or Carers. Too many times I expected my children to show me respect and not speak back but then I learned that this was not teaching them how to debate, disagree or communicate what they were feeling or needing. Fighting amongst them was how they played with the limits and boundaries around relationships to discover those that were healthy and those that were not. Obviously I was there to referee if things were getting out of hand and it was most irritating to me when every five minutes another argument would erupt (that’s what happened because I had five children of different ages and stages). These days if a child I work with or am related to feels safe enough to share their anger or their sometimes not very flattering opinion of me then I am honoured; children have to feel pretty darned safe to risk upsetting an adult!
Do you have any questions that you would like to ask me now? Or do you want to share a different view point to that which I have shared above? You can do so by messaging me at firstname.lastname@example.org or in response to this post.