I had a really sweet first time mother write in and ask me about her older baby who wants to be held all the time. Do you all remember that stage with your very first child? When there were no other children around?
Her question involved another aspect as well: that of parenting alone for long hours on end and how to get that break when, as the parent, we are just about to lose it. I think many of us have been there, and I wanted to provide some encouragement. Perhaps you all have your own experiences to add in, if you can remember that far back to your first child and that sort of mobile and needy one year old stage.
Dear Sweet Mama,
I think it is really common for an infant of birth through even three year of age to want to be held frequently. In some cultures, infants don’t even touch the ground until the baby turns one year old. In our society, many parents use slings, particularly putting your older infant on your back, as a solution to this dilemma. I am a huge fan of slings, particularly wearing an infant or toddler on my back so I can go about my own work – which is work around my home or garden. Some families are really lucky and have a lot of other adult family members around. But in American society, most of us are not that lucky. Often we are the only ones home alone with an infant for long stretches of time.
So, this leads to another point….
Attached infants can also learn to be happy and not be held 24/7,if you work in short spurts and think ahead about the environment you are setting up for this. For an older infant or child who is used to being held a lot, it takes time to know that this is a rhythm, a pattern and an okay place to be. Sometimes tying it to some particular task you are doing can be successful for the little one who is truly not used to it. So, maybe you would like to start with putting your infant down whilst you unload your dishwasher. Take the silverware out in case your older baby can pull up and get into the sharp silverware and set them down on a blanket whilst you are unloading the dishwasher. Sing to them heartily! Smile at them! Think about distraction and including them whilst they are down there. Or, set them up to play with a small tray of water on a sheet or in the sink whilst you unload the dishwasher or in the sink. You have to think of distraction, and also be cheery and confident they can survive without being held for ten minutes so long as they are safe.
You can also get down and play with your child on the floor, but I think what most parents are striving for is to have their hands free for a few moments and have their baby not be wailing.
As far as what to do when you are ready to lose it….We all have moments like this in parenting, especially I think with the first child. If your infant is in a safe place where they cannot hurt themselves, you can set your baby down. Your baby will cry, you may cry too, but again, if your baby is safe and you are nearby, they are not going to die by crying. Sometimes too, just changing the scenery by going outside together, setting your baby down in the grass, or taking a walk together, can also diffuse the moment.
The bigger issue is to think about prevention, and also to have that plan for what you are going to do when those inevitable moments happen. Think about and plan within your family’s schedule what breaks you need throughout the week, make sure you are eating and sleeping well (nap when your baby naps! for the whole first year or even the whole first two years if you can get it!) think about who you can call to talk you off the ledge at that moment, keep reminding yourself what is normal for that age so you are not expecting too much, love your child, get outside, form a community, pray and develop yourself through your own inner work (religion, spirituality, whatever you call it and whatever it is to you) and enjoy your baby. We were not meant to take care of a baby all alone for hours on end – I don’t believe. Community is so important!
Again, make sure you have someone you can call in the moment – a friend, a family member – who could come if you called or you could at least call any day or night. And communicate with your spouse – parenting is hard work, and it is important you have at least some time to yourself each week for a few hours, if not a period of time each day. Parenting with a partner should be just that, working to create a family culture together.