I’ll admit, bonding with a person who doesn’t speak and who doesn’t maintain eye contact for very long can be challenging … and I’m a talkative person! I bond by talking. I can chat for hours with any of my closest friends. HOURS.
But talking to my newborn daughter consistently and thoughtfully was more challenging in the beginning than I’d expected.
First, I was tired. Being a new mom is tiring! Nurturing a little one who wakes every two hours to nurse is tiring! Let me say immediately, though, that I wouldn’t change a thing. Baby’s tummies are tiny. Breast milk is easily digested. I would never, EVER, force my baby to change by trying to make her sleep longer just for my convenience, just to make life easier on me. She’s HUNGRY! She’s a BABY! She’s supposed to wake. She’s supposed to nurse. And I’m the Mama. I’m supposed to be there for her and feed her. Fact. Moving on.
The second thing is I’m a bit of an extremist. When I’m slow, I’m like a sloth. I’m beyond slow. I’m sluggish. Lethargic. But when I’m fast, I hustle. I get things done. I also get impatient. It all has to be now now now now.
Babies need something in between. In the beginning, I wasn’t so good at the in between.
Magda Gerber, author of “Your Self-Confident Baby” and founder of Resources for Infant Educarers, wrote:
“Slow down, and then slow down some more. Indicate, and tell even a child who doesn’t understand verbal communication yet, ‘I’m going to pick you up.’ And then comes my magic word. If people only remember that one word: Wait. Then you wait and the child gives a signal, most likely. It depends on the age. And then that means, ‘Aha. the penny dropped, I understand. I’m ready.’ Then you pick up the child.
Very few people do that. Most people grab, and they pick up very fast as if they are picking the child up out of a fire. Everybody always rescues. I tell the mothers, ‘Imagine a giant comes who is much taller, stronger, bigger, and grabs you and you don’t even know what will happen to you. It’s scary. So, slow down. Give yourself time. Tell your child what you are going to do. Wait for a little response.’”
Slow down? Indicate? Wait for a response? Are you kidding me?
But then it occurred to me – she’s absolutely right. This child is a fully-fledged human being with thoughts, emotions, and preferences – not what someone once referred to as a “screaming meatloaf.” This child a person whom I love and who deserves that kind of respect, that kind of patience.
My baby girl deserves to be warned when I’m going to yank her off the floor four feet into the air.
She deserves the dignity of being spoken to about, and invited to participate in, things like bath time or the changing of her clothes or her diaper, not being mindlessly manhandled by the person who should be showing her tenderness and love (and I certainly don’t EVER want to teach my young daughter she has no control over her own body).
She deserves the respect of being spoken to as if she understands (albeit, I speak more slowly and use simpler words).
She deserves the kind of patience that waits for a response, because I want her to know that she’s worth waiting for and that her feedback matters to me. However long it takes her to express herself, I will wait.
Once all these thoughts really sank in my relationship with my infant daughter changed. I see her cues more now. I honor her needs better. And, funny enough, she’s more responsive. She behaves like she feels she’s been heard.
Because I finally began to behave like she truly matters as a valuable human being.
If you haven’t tried it yet – slowing down, speaking to your infant child with respect, and awaiting a response – give it a try. You know how good it feels to be seen, and to be heard, by someone you love. Wouldn’t you love to give that gift to your young child?
For the inspiration behind this post, check out “2 Simple Things You Can Do to Support Baby.”