Empowering infants as people

by Miriam Katz on December 16, 2010

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So many of our parenting practices, I realize, have to do with treating our baby (6.5 months this week) like a full-fledged person, with the same rights and preferences as her parents. While it may seem weird to the masses, drawing harsh lines between adults and babies doesn’t give our babies enough credit.

For example, we practice Elimination Communication (EC). The philosophy underpinning this practice is that infants are aware – from birth – of their need to eliminate – and prefer to do so in a way that keeps them dry and comfortable, as do we.  This understanding ultimately gave way to the stay-dry disposable diaper, but a much simpler solution is available. We simply monitor our child carefully for signs of needing to eliminate, as we would for signs of hunger. Thus, dd gets to go to the potty, just like her parents do.

Another example – sleeping in a real bed alongside family members. One might argue that asking a baby to spend the night alone is asking them to be mature beyond their years. Personally, I don’t enjoy spending the night alone, and I’m in my 30s. Why should my newborn have to do it?

Another way we resist infantiaizing our infant is baby-led weaning. While many of her peers are being fed bland “enriched” rice cereal and mashed foods, our baby is making choices between the foods her parents are eating, within reason. We acknowledge dd’s limited capacity to chew by providing foods that are soft enough for her to manage – roasted vegetables, hummus and fruits. For me to tell her she needs to consume – much less finish – a food that I wouldn’t touch seems absurd.

Finally, there’s discipline. Who decided that little people have less right to dignity than their elders? This idea is so dominant that I find myself retraining myself and dd’s caretakers – not to tell her to stop crying (it’s our job to soothe and assist, not repress), not to tell her what to say, even in the context of learning essentials like basic vocab or please and thank you, etc.

Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle, but the benefits are enormous. In respecting my child’s dignity and humanness, I reaffirm my own. I find I have greater access to compassion as a result of these practices. And I have my daughter to thank for that.

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Miriam Katz (20 Posts)

A Boston-based WAHM who sees parenting as the most challenging career path she's ever chosen. In her spare time, Miriam is co-author of The Other Baby Book and works as a career and life coach to GenX women and moms.

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