Last night around 4am, as I held a week old baby boy in my arms, a thought came to mind that I shared on Facebook: “Newborn babies speak a language more sophisticated and complex than any other. We are born wise.” I thought about how this baby, brand new to the earth, can communicate his needs so effectively to me. I thought about his immense capacity to absorb information. I watched his hands as they spastically, but curiously explored his own face. He and I locked eyes in the dim light of early morning, and I was reminded, as I am with each baby I work with, how remarkable human beings are.
Long ago it was thought that babies were born blind, deaf and with no knowledge. Sadly, remnants of this belief still permeate a lot of people’s thinking about babies. Babies may have a short range of vision, but it’s perfectly designed so that they can see from mother’s breast to her face. Babies are truly built to bond. Babies seek connection, comfort, closeness, and warmth. Yet, the American model of raising children still insists that babies can be spoiled by too much affection, and should be kept in isolation. Here’s something that may shock you (NOT!): babies are FUTURE ADULTS. Children are FUTURE ADULTS. The way humans are treated as infants has a direct impact on who we become as adults. Yes, there’s the whole nature v. nurture argument, and certainly both come into play, but until the majority of us remember that babies will some day be grownups, we’re going to keep creating a lot of un-attached humans.
Lately Attachment Parenting (AP) has become quite trendy. The thing is, this model of parenting is practiced all over the world. The basic principles, as I understand them, are to keep baby close (by babywearing and co-sleeping), respect baby in all areas (respect baby’s body, feelings and needs by attentively responding to her cues), feed baby (or child) the most nutritious foods (with an emphasis on exclusive breastfeeding for as long as both mama and baby like), incorporate baby into the life of the family (take baby with you, continue doing activities you love with baby in tow, speak to baby about what is going on, ask baby questions), create kind and compassionate strategies for dealing with challenging behaviors (in children, i.e., no spanking, constructive consequences, etc.), honor/normalize expressions of emotion, etc. For many of you, this type of parenting comes naturally, for others, not so much. We have to have either been raised in this manner, or we have to seek out and educate ourselves if our parents did not take this approach with us.
Our culture tends to view infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and elderhood as cordoned off stages of life that have little to do with each other. Why? We live in a culture that values adulthood. Adulthood is the goal. Get a job. Grow up. You know the drill. Disagree? Look at the way we (publicly) educate our children (systematized, standardized… no funding for art or music… teaching the test…) and “care” for our elderly (some abused, neglected, isolated). I’m about to cry even writing this. These models do not reflect that we value these other stages of life. Other cultures value childhood and elderhood in big, ritualistic, cultural, and/or institutional ways. But not here, not in America. We deem that “society” at large is made up of adults, and that children and old folks have little, “appropriate,” or no place in it. Fundamentally this needs to change. Children become adults. Adults become elderly. Why do we ignore what we were and we will become?
When I am an old woman, I hope to be surrounded by my children, their children, and the love of my life. (And dogs too.) I see this vision of my elder self because I feel that, at the core, humans crave and seek connection. We thrive when we live and work together, communicate, and create cultural products (ritual, art, music, etc.). I’m not denying any need humans have to be alone or secluded, but I do believe that isolation is harmful for us, physically and emotionally. When we include children in our daily lives, rather than keeping them at home, occupied by “baby” toys, videos, bassinettes, we deny them the opportunity to learn and grow. Babies flourish when they are able to interact with children, teens, adults and elders. We thrive in so many ways when we interact with people at all the stages of life. The young ones learn from those older than they, the adults remember their childhood and see their future in the elders, and the elders share wisdom and memories from their past. All benefit from this mutual exchange.
I can’t change the dominant ideology by myself. But I can teach new parents to honor their birth and their babies. And isn’t that a good place to start? If we honor our babies, they will honor us as elders, and, in turn, they will honor their own babies, and so on. Maybe I’m waxing poetic here, but do we not come to this earth to love and be loved? Isn’t that what it all comes down to? Yes, there are so many other wonderful reasons to live on this earth, but at the core, I believe we arrive here ready and willing to connect.What did I come here to write about? Oh yes, honoring our babies. Our beautiful, intelligent, curious babies. It is our job as parents, teachers, doulas, healers, to show them how people can be in this world: compassionate, inquisitive, questioning, honoring. The more of those kinds of people we have around, the better, I say.