Dearest new mother who needs unsolicited advice,
Let me tell you something about babies these days. They always want their mothers. It’s unheard of and unnecessary. Now, if you want to keep any bit of your sanity, make self soothing a priority. Get that baby used to a stroller, teach him to sleep in his own bed, and show him that he can play alone.
A baby who cannot be alone is a baby who will suck the life right out of you.
Your well-meaning friend/mother-in-law/stranger you meet on the street while wearing your baby
Most new mothers have heard this schpeel. Independence is the golden standard. Independence will save you. And it’s very important that your baby learn it. Now. It’s now or never, people. And it’s all on YOU!
Geez, no pressure, right?
But can I please just illustrate the obsurdity of “teaching” self soothing, which is essentially just letting your child figure things out on his own without any sort of preparation or tools in his toolbelt.
Imagine that your partner comes home from work upset. His colleagues completely misinterpreted a proposal that he spent hours working on. They laughed at him and made light of his work. He feels misunderstood, angry, sad, and confused.
So you say, “I hear you. I will stay close by. But you really need to sit with this and figure out your feelings on your own. I’m not going to hug or coddle you because you are completely capable calming down without me. I am doing this for your own good. You need to realize that this stuff happens to millions of people all over the world every day. There will be lots of times that people don’t understand you. More than you can count. You need to get used to it. Actually, maybe we shouldn’t sleep in the same bed tonight either. That will really teach you. Don’t be upset with me. I’m doing this because I love you.”
Wouldn’t that be confusing and maddening for your partner?
Or, imagine that your BFF needs to talk. She comes over and sits on your couch and cries. It’s been a difficult couple of months and she feels completely alone.
You realize that this is a perfect time to let her try out self soothing techniques. You tell her that you can’t touch her but she is free to stay on your couch for as long as she needs to. Sooner or later she will calm down and thank you for teaching her that she is a strong, competent woman.
We know it sounds crazy, so why do we do it?
I think that we ALL know deep down in our heart of hearts that times of distress are not a good time to teach anything. We instinctively go to crying or hurt people and help them or reassure them. But something has happened in the last century or so. There is something that is clouding our instinct.
Somehow, somewhere in parenting history, we have decided that there is one demographic that should be the exception to the rule when it comes to offering reassurance. The exception is the babies. The babies need to learn how to be alone. The little ones. The ones with immature brains and bodies. They need to learn how to brave it alone. Sleep alone, travel alone, play alone. At least some of the time.
Why are the babies the unlucky ones?
I’ll tell you why.
Mothers are tired.
Crisis moments with partners and BFFs happen a few times a year. Crisis moments with babies happen every hour, day and night.
We are struggling.
We are drowning.
Some of us suffer from anxiety and depression and we’re figuring out how to deal with it alone.
Mothers need space. Parents need sleep. We need help.
And this is a modern problem.
Back in the day, tribal mommas didn’t say, “I cannot deal with this crying anymore! You need to learn to self soothe!”
No, she would say, “I cannot deal with this crying anymore! You need to go hang out with one of your 53 cousins!”
Actually, she probably wouldn’t even arrive at her breaking point because three of the cousins were probably with her all the time.
Modern society has changed..
Fast forward a hundred years or so, or simply step into the western world, and parents are alone. We do what we have to do in order to survive, and letting our babies cry sometimes is a necessity. Sometimes we are at the end of our rope. Babies learn self soothing because we just can’t physically do it all.
So basically, as modern society has shifted away from tribal life and into nuclear family life, parents have gotten a very bad deal. And somehow we have convinced ourselves that the babies are the ones who have to adapt. They need to get over themselves and self soothe, because momma is tired.
Please let me know if you disagree when I say that being left alone in distress is not good for anyone. It’s not good for grown men and women and it’s certainly not good for babies. Here’s an idea. Instead of changing babies, can we try and change society? We ARE society by the way. We can be the change we want to see.
I just watched The Lorax with my kids and I have to say that Dr. Seuss said it all when he wrote, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
So the next time your neighbor asks you, “are you ALWAYS holding that baby?” Ask him if he ALWAYS has Saturday mornings free and if he could empty your dishwasher for you or take out the trash. We need help! Not advice. Babies haven’t changed. Our society has. Let’s try to stick together a little bit more. For our babies and for ourselves!
What do you think about babies learning to self soothe? What have you found works for your family?
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