Before I had kids, I had a very vivid picture of what I assumed parenting a newborn would look like.
In the mornings I would get my baby out of her crib, and bring her into my bed to cuddle. After a few minutes of cuddling (she’d be cooing the whole time, of course), she’d close her little eyes and drift back to sleep.
Come 10am, we’d both pull ourselves out of bed, and she’d sit in her bouncy seat while I made breakfast and got myself ready for the day. We’d play a bit, maybe cuddle on the couch for a while, both of us wrapped in a fuzzy, warm blanket.
When she’d start to get sleepy, we’d move to her room, where I’d swaddle her up, and gently rock her. She’d yawn, look up at me with her beautiful blue eyes and give me a huge grin before closing her eyes and nodding off to sleep.
So long as I made myself available to her, day and night, she’d be OK. As long as she could see me, smell me, have me hold her, cuddle her, rock her, she would never need to cry, except on the rare occasions she was sick or teething.
If willingness and intent were what it took to be a good mom, I was going to be GREAT. I was going to be a full-time stay at home mom, and give my baby whatever she needed, and because of that, things were going to be just fine.
Remember, that was my DREAM of what motherhood would be like.
And when you read it, don’t you almost believe it’s possible? That if we make ourselves available to our kids, no matter what they need, that everything will go smoothly?
Here’s a more accurate account of life with my firstborn (who’s now 8):
Aliya was a bit colicky during her first few months. Not nearly as colicky as many babies though; She’d have a few evenings a week of inconsolable crying, and would eventually fall asleep around 11pm and be out for the night (I know, rough, right?).
She wasn’t excessively fussy most days, thank God. She would have stretches of being content, and usually put on a good show when friends and family were around.
She would sit in her bouncy seat in the bathroom while I showered, sit quietly in front of Baby Einstein DVD’s while I made dinner, and could generally be distracted and entertained by some basic adult interaction. I can’t really complain.
So what’s the problem, you ask? Well, remember my dreams of cuddling in bed, rocking my baby to sleep, etc, etc.?
Aliya would have none of it (apparently we didn’t share the same dream).
Sitting on my lap? Maybe. If we were sitting in front of the TV.
Rocking her to sleep? Ya, I tried that for a while. Problem was, it got to the point that I’d be rocking her madly for 45 minutes and she’d only become more and more agitated. She’d be squirming, kicking, fighting out of my grasp, fussing.
Cuddling with her on the couch, wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket? HAHAHAHAHA (do I need to say more?).
Having her lay her little head on my shoulder while I carried her? Not on your life. There was absolutely no way in hell she’d allow that. It was facing out, or nothing. Those were her terms. She needed to see what was going on around her at all times.
Holding and comforting her when she was upset? Try laying her on the floor when she was upset. THAT was what calmed her.
Before I had kids, I assumed that all babies were cuddly. Isn’t this what we’re taught? Isn’t this what we see on TV?
Don’t we assume that holding, cuddling and rocking are the ways our baby will feel loved by us?
Maybe instead, it’s the way we WANT our babies to feel loved by us. Or maybe it’s the way WE feel loved by our babies. I don’t know.
Don’t get me wrong – All babies need cuddling. All babies need to be hugged, held, soothed, carried.
But some babies can’t get enough. It’s their ‘love language’. As long as you’re holding them, they really ARE OK most of the time.
But what do you do when your presence doesn’t calm your baby? When holding him doesn’t seem to help? When he prefers to be in his crib or on a blanket rather than your arms?
- Grieve over the fact that this isn’t how you thought parenthood would be. Then, accept that this is the way your baby is, and don’t try to change him. Not all adults are cuddly, not all kids are cuddly, so why do we expect all babies to be cuddly?
- Don’t stop cuddling. All babies need cuddling, just maybe not in the way we imagined. For instance with Aliya, she loved being carried, as long as she was facing out. That wasn’t nearly as much fun for me (I would have preferred her to snuggle in with her little face buried in my neck). But I did it anyway, because that was how I imagined she felt loved.
- Value your baby’s strengths. Sure, Aliya wasn’t cuddly. But she was sure independent, and I believe those went hand-in-hand. She was highly alert, aware, and bright. Those same traits that were visible in her from 3 weeks of age are still there: She’s fiercely independent, social, always has to be in the middle of the action, and still doesn’t seem to ‘need’ cuddling the same way her brother does (There is hope though – she’s become much more cuddly as she gets older).
When she was a baby, I didn’t get to show her that I loved her in the way I WANTED to show her.
I did, however, show her by taking care of her needs, playing with her, making her laugh, and most importantly, by giving her the freedom to be a bit independent when that’s what she wanted.
And I think that if you’re doing that, THAT’S a great mom.