Pay Attention

When my little girl D was about two weeks old, I noticed something strange while I was nursing her. When I would focus completely on her, anticipating any issues that might arise with our new feeding dance, things went smoothly. But when I allowed myself to get distracted, letting my mind wander to things I wanted to get done or reflecting on my day, she would invariably pop off, requiring more effort from both of us to continue the feeding session.

Why this happened, I’m still not sure. But as I came to this awareness, I heard two words punctuating the constant stream of chatter in my head. “Pay Attention,” they advised.

The voice was not my own, and I don’t believe it was my daughter’s either. Wherever they came from, these instructions have never failed me.

When D is having a rough time, I am able to soothe her much more quickly by tuning in completely. I’ve noticed that the quality of my presence is more important in addressing D’s needs than any other factor.

As time passes by and I learn D’s patterns and preferences, it’s easy to take for granted how well I can meet her needs. But it is precisely in those minutes that I switch to autopilot where something gets lost. I invariably find myself soothing an unanticipated upset or playing catch up in some unanticipated way. Afterward, I remember those two important words: pay attention.

Our baby girl is growing so quickly, blossoming into a person in ways I couldn’t have anticipated just a short month ago. It’s easy to miss even her milestones – her first roll, her first crawl. Paying attention helps me to appreciate and record the important moments we share together.

Above all, the more I pay attention, the more I can appreciate just how lucky I am to be her mom.

Empowering infants as people

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.

Good and Bad – what’s in a name?

As a new parent, I’ve begun to notice interesting terminology used by parents and other observers of children. Today I was given a compliment – “you have such a good baby!” Translation: My baby sat quietly during our moms group meeting, looking around contentedly and smiling at babies and moms in the room.

While I’m pleased that my daughter was able to bring joy to those around her, I also reject the premise of the compliment.

Why? To say that a baby is good when she’s happy implies, also, that she’s bad when she’s unhappy.

What our culture begins to communicate, from the first day of life, is that “positive” emotions are acceptable and welcome, and “negative” emotions are unacceptable and unwelcome.

Very few of us are immune to such judgments in our ‘civilized’ society.

How do these judgments affect us?

Many of us have learned to keep “negative” emotions – anger, resentment, frustration, jealousy, discontent – bottled inside. Some of us have become such experts at this practice that we are unaware of the nature or depth of our authentic emotional state.

Many outwardly successful members of society go through life seeking to please others, choosing paths perceived as acceptable in order not to fall out of favor with others.

This pervasive practice of people pleasing (for short, the four p’s) is a recipe for disaster. Not only are we doomed to fail at a life whose goal is to satisfy others – whose minds we can’t read – but even if we were to succeed, we would be failing ourselves.

Takeaways for parents?
Be aware of our language. Even by praising our children, we may invalidate their right to ‘negative’ emotions. Our children are healthier when we enable them to experience life’s highs and lows – with proper support and guidance, of course. Pretending the lows aren’t there doesn’t make them go away; it just sends them deeper underground, doomed for explosion or implosion.

Takeaways for the rest of the population?
We are not good when we are happy and bad when we are down. We are simply experiencing the natural spectrum of emotions as part of our human experience. When we take the time to appreciate all of our experiences, they will have far less power over us, thus increasing our capacity for true joy and contentment.

My Diaper Free Challenge

Today, I tried an experiment. Inspired by my application for a mentor position with the international organization Diaper Free Baby, I embarked upon a diaper free challenge for the day with my 4.5 month old baby.

I’ve been avoiding doing much diaper free time, although I’m a huge believer in the benefits – and practice – of Elimination Communication (EC). We’ve been pottying little D since she was 5 days old, holding her over the sink at first, then graduating to plastic potties once she reached 11 pounds and our arms began to ache.

Still, while a major reason I gravitated toward EC was its environmental benefits, I’ve been going through 5+ disposable diapers on an average day. And just because they say Seventh Generation on the package doesn’t mean I’m doing right by my descendants by using them (the principle upon which seventh generation was founded).
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