Parenting from the Heart
by Julie A. Brow
When I became a parent, I learned that the shape of my childís life was
public domain. People who were little more than acquaintances felt that
the intimate details of her existence and the way that my husband and I
interacted with her were areas needing their personal attention and
scrutiny. We quickly caught on and revealed as little as we could get away
with. The truth, however, was that we did want advice.
disagreed with much of the common wisdom ("just let her cry it out"), we
were determined to find a philosophy that made sense to us. Little did we
know that as we poured over books, searched web sites, and inquired of
othersí styles, we were becoming conscious parents.
We adults donít
always choose to become parents, but I believe that the souls that arrive
helpless in our arms have chosen us. This is both an honor and a
responsibility, especially in the sense that we must become responsive to
our childrenís needs. This responsiveness must begin even before the child
Part of preparing for any long
journey is to enlist the aid of others both for companionship and for
survival. So find out who you can enlist for help. First, be clear about
what you value. Is it more important to you to have your child in the
comfort of your home in the company of family and friends or to have the
reassurance of emergency support nearby? Decide what you need to feel
comfortable and happy about the upcoming birth. Then enlist a doctor,
midwife, doula, or friend to support your plans.
Attending a class
on childbirth preparation is a good start. Many area hospitals offer such
classes to expecting parents. Be sure that the class is comprehensive,
covering the following topics: a womanís anatomy during pregnancy and
labor, when to go to the hospital, normal neonate characteristics,
cesarean section, intervention techniques (pitocin, epidural, suction,
etc.), and newborn care. These preparation classes may or may not teach
labor management techniques such as Lamaze or Bradley method. If you
prefer what is commonly called natural childbirth, seek out a class that
teaches one of these methods.
If you are planning to breastfeed
(more on the numerous benefits of breastfeeding to you and your child
later), donít make the mistake of thinking that it comes naturally. While
breastfeeding is, of course, natural, it is not instinctual; it must be
taught. Be sure to consult with a certified lactation consultant or attend
a class on breastfeeding before the arrival of your bundle of joy. La
Leche League, International. can point you in the right direction. Inquire
about the availability of breastfeeding assistance should you have
problems while in the hospital and be sure that the baby can room-in with
you. Rooming-in ensures that you can feed the baby as soon as he or she is
Other ways you can prepare yourselves for the
responsibility of a new life would be to learn infant CPR and child
safety, including the proper way to install a car seat, and to join a
parent advocacy organization like Partners in Parenting or North Shore
Parents Network. Such organizations offer many of the classes mentioned
above as well as seminars on child development and new parent support
groups. These organizations offer opportunities to meet other parents,
form play groups, and swap ideas. Relationships with other parents can be
invaluable to the stay-at-home parent, who might otherwise feel isolated.
Having said that it would greatly
benefit your awareness of parenthood to prepare for your newbornís
arrival, nothing can truly prepare you for that mystical moment of birth.
Birth is a perfect metaphor for all of life. It is difficult and messy,
euphoric and magical, both simple and awe-inspiring. As in the rest of
life, we largely forget the difficult and messy parts, remembering only
the power the moment held over us. The amnesia is so profound ó or the
rewards so worth the trouble ó that we are willing to do it over and over
If we are conscious of the beauty of the life we have
co-created with the Divine, then it cannot be a hard task to be mindful of
the sacredness of our children as we strive to parent them. Remembering
that we are blessed with instincts, listening to them assures us that we
are on the right path. This principle seems rather simple, but it is
surprising how often we are advised to ignore our instincts, especially in
the areas of sleep, crying, and feeding of tiny
This is one of the most controversial
areas of infant care. The advice of old was that babies cry because they
are being manipulative and therefore, letting them cry without being
picked up "teaches" them to sleep, to play by themselves, and to be quiet
in their play yard/high chair/crib, fill in the blank. Some, including Dr.
Spock, believed that sometimes babies just need to cry. Much current
thinking, however, is quite the opposite.
In Your Baby and
Child, Penelope Leach argues that newborns never cry for nothing. Your
baby cries because she needs something and cannot stop crying until she
has what she needs. For newborns, wants and needs are the same thing. In
his book, Nighttime Parenting, Dr. William Sears explains that
crying is the only method of communication available to the infant and the
importance of answering every cry as promptly as possible is clear. Sears
asserts that "a restrained response to crying undermines the infantís
Drs. Pieper and Pieper, newly acclaimed authors of "Smart
Love" principles, go even further. They reason that "when a babyís crying
is regularly ignored, his subsequent unhappiness reminds him that help
does not come when he is upset, and the baby learns to respond to
discomfort by crying more intensely and more disconsolately." They warn
that "if a babyís tears donít predictably evoke a caring response,
eventually he will become withdrawn and convince himself that his misery
is what his parents desire for him."
most common question asked of new parents is, "Is she sleeping through the
night yet?" Itís a question asked out of concern for bedraggled parents,
but often, itís more misleading than helpful. It implies that (1) babies
should sleep through the night, and (2) yours is the only baby who
doesnít. In fact, babies almost never sleep through the night. Even babies
who seem to sleep through often wake several times ó but they donít alert
their parents of their wakefulness by crying.
In fact, wakefulness
and crying are so often united in the minds of advice-mongers that
sleeping and crying advice are often given in the same sentence. One
common piece of doubtful advice is the self-serving suggestion to
"drop-and-run." Its advocates will tell you that when you put your baby to
bed, you should never pick him up again, no matter how much he cries.
While even the most humane experts have varying ideas about how to improve
your babyís sleep habits, none of them include the above
Both Dr. Leach and the Piepers support the idea of putting
your baby to bed when she is sleepy, but not yet asleep. If she cries, go
back. Pick her up, comfort her, and put her back in her bed. Do this as
often as is necessary for her to feel okay about being separated from you.
Both recommend that you always answer cries in the middle of the night,
regardless of whether or not you think the baby should be hungry.
According to the attachment style of parenting that Dr. Sears
recommends, the issue shouldnít even come up; he argues that the ideal
place for baby to sleep is with you, especially if you are breastfeeding.
While some babies sleep best in their own beds, many others need the
warmth and comfort of their parents to be able to drift off to sleep. Itís
true that when mother and child share sleep, breastfeeding during the
night is easier. For one thing, you donít have to get up. For another, the
levels of the mothering hormone prolactin rise because its release is
triggered by the frequency of suckling and touching your baby.
Some researchers think co-sleeping may reduce risk of SIDS. I have
heard parents explain that they think their constant joggling of the bed
can ameliorate sleep apnea. Others theorize that the motherís breathing
and movements help to regulate the babyís breathing and sleep patterns.
Co-sleeping often works best with high-need children; however, it doesnít
work for everyone. As The Tao of Parenting, by Greta Nagel, Ph.D.
advises, "The Way is real but elusive; intuition leads." If there is trust
between you and your baby, follow what he is telling you works for him ó
and be prepared for it to change six months down the
The American Academy of
Pediatrics recently released its statement that mothers should breastfeed
their babies for at least the first six months of life, and longer if
possible. There is no question that human milk is uniquely suited to the
optimal development of human babies, from specific nutrition for rapid
brain growth to immune factors for human illness. Breastfed babies enjoy a
reduced occurrence of ear infections, reduced risk of becoming diabetic, a
lower likelihood of being sick or admitted to the hospital in the first
year of life, and a lower statistical likelihood of contracting
meningitis. Breastfed babies are statistically less likely to develop
juvenile cancers or asthma, gastro-intestinal or urinary tract infections,
Some of these statistics may lie in the fact that in the
United States, it is the more affluent and educated mother who tends to
breastfeed her baby. Yet itís true that the protection given by immunity
factors in motherís milk has not been replicated in formula. In the United
States, formula has the added disadvantage of coming from suspect sources.
Currently, no dairy-based formula promises to be BGH-free. And although
Gerber has just promised to eschew genetically engineered baby foods,
soy-based formulas are not, as of this printing, organic. Thus, the
bottlefed baby is exposed to pesticide-laced and genetically engineered
ingredients that the breastfeeding mother can avoid.
also offers immediate benefits to the mother, including decreased
hemorrhaging and easier postpartum weight loss (breastfeeding uses up to
800 additional calories a day), decreased risk of breast cancer and
osteoporosis, and breastfeeding amenorrhea that can last up to two years
depending on how frequently the baby is nursing. (Use birth control
anyway; you never know when your first ovulation will occur.) In addition,
because breastfeeding triggers the release of prolactin, the "mothering
hormone," it can actually help you cope with the stresses of a new baby.
The Older Baby and Child:
At six months of
age, your babyís digestive system has matured enough to be able to handle
the introduction of solid foods. However, if you want to be able to detect
and avoid the development of food sensitivities and allergies, Martha and
David Kimmel, in their book Mommy Made (and Daddy too): Home Cooking
for a Healthy Baby and Toddler, advise introducing foods one at a time
in a systematic fashion and never giving her the same food for more than
three days in a row. Of course, because children are more susceptible to
the effects of pesticides and hormones added to foods, organic baby food
is best, especially when you make it yourself. The same principles apply
to older children as well: organic whenever possible and variety is the
key to balanced nutrition. Remember, too, that childrenís nutritional
needs are slightly different than an adultís. They generally need more fat
in their diet, some of which can come from "whole" versions of milk
Mommy! Daddy! Where Are You?
As your infant
becomes an older baby, youíll find that sleep issues change ó but they
donít go away. The sleep of an older baby and child is more like that of
an adult but itís still disproportionately REM sleep. So your two-year-old
may go to sleep more peacefully, but you may find him tugging at your arm
in the middle of the night. While newborns usually awaken due to physical
and environmental disturbances, older babies and young children are more
susceptible to emotional disturbances, such as nightmares.
final goal might be to get your child into bed for the night, but youíll
find that you get there with less trouble if you break that goal down into
steps that appeal to your toddler. Form an initial objective to help your
child wind down. Happy children naturally are loath to let go of playtime
and your companionship, so develop pleasant rituals to ease the transition
to bed. Some classic winding down activities include: a bath, story time,
a favorite, soothing CD. Keep some books and bedtime cuddlies nearby.
Then help your child let go of the day and surrender to sleep.
Talk over the highlights of the day just ended or introduce some plans for
the next morning. Sing your child a song or say a prayer. Repeat yourself,
using a single endearment or goodnight wish that your child knows he will
hear each night. If you create special moments your child can anticipate,
and you leave her and your bedroom doors open, bedtime may be one of the
familyís best times. And remember, bedtime for your little darling also
means down time for you. The more pleasantly it begins, the more you will
enjoy your evening free.
Crying and Tantrums
newborns, older babies still cry to express their needs. As they grow,
however, they may also cry out of frustration or even anger. If the
frustration and anger escalate, they may devolve into tantrums. According
to Penelope Leach, the most important thing to remember when your child
has a tantrum is not to allow the tantrum to affect your behavior toward
the child, either positively or negatively. If you were going to take your
child to the zoo before the tantrum, go ahead and take her to the zoo
after the tantrum. It does no good to withhold the pleasure of the trip as
a way of punishing your child because she canít help herself. Conversely,
if you were not going to buy him a toy at the store before the tantrum, do
not buy it afterwards.
Many parents trip over the suggestion that
they can avoid tantrums by keeping their childís frustration level to a
minimum. Some think they need to cave to their childís every whim; others
think they need to construct a clear reality, but with rigid boundaries.
Pieper and Pieper point out that neither tack is particularly effective.
Children need to know that they are safe, and that their parents are in
charge, but they also need to know that their needs and desires are heard.
To achieve both ends, the authors advise that "your child will better
accept your occasional need to interfere with her wishes if you honor her
requests whenever possible."
In short, they suggest you treat your
child like a person rather than a possession. Try not to give your child a
false sense of freedom; avoid asking questions unless you really mean to
offer a choice. Avoid long discussions about things she canít understand.
And when you canít allow your toddler to have what she wants, help her
find an alternative.
What Pieper and Pieper suggest you offer your
chid is the same thing youíd want if you were powerless: a positive take
on the situation and acknowledgement of her feelings. Put yourself in your
childís place, and the most appropriate, loving responses will
Still, the need for discipline will
arise, as it arises again and again in our lives. But remember, discipline
does not mean punishment. Instead it is more akin to learning, or
discipleship. It is a way of teaching your child how to behave. While many
parents use the timeout method of discipline ó they remove the child from
a difficult situation and allow him to "cool off" before reintroducing him
ó and it only works well if it is used properly and not excessively.
Additional methods of discipline can help you tailor your response to the
situation at hand and your own childís needs.
Leach lists the
following principles as guidelines: Treat your child as you would like to
be treated; be sure to reward good behavior (with attention) and do not
reward bad behavior; be specific and clear, as well as positive; except in
emergencies, always give a brief reason for why your child should behave
in a certain way; and try to keep "donít" to a minimum.
of Parenting, has the following to offer: do not be authoritarian; be
cautious, reserved, flexible, sincere, and honest; teach by example; use
few words; and discipline yourself before trying to discipline others.
In practical terms, all this means that you create for your child
an atmosphere of safety and a world that, as much as possible, makes
sense. Then you help your child discover and explore that world. As
parents, we are guides and teachers meant to protect our children from
danger, mentor them in their exploration of the world, and provide a
loving atmosphere in which they can develop their unique
Parents Care and Share of
Illinois offers several self-help support groups for parents throughout
Chicago and suburbs free of charge. For suburbs, call Susie Kline at
630-837-6445, for city, call Roberta Gonzalez at 847-424-5168.
Community Counseling Services offers Positive Parenting classes, 6:30 pm
on Tuesdays. Call 847-424-5170 for more info.
Family Circle of
Libertyville offers many services and programs, call 847-367-5991 for more
Parent and Child Education Society has branches
throughout Chicago and suburbs, each holding educational programs and
lectures. Call 630-916-3190, or visit their web site for a