Today my attention was captured by a post on Facebook reminding parents not to interrupt babies when they are playing by themselves, “daydreaming” or quietly reflecting, i.e., are in an “engaged state.” This advice has followed me around all day, prompting me to think deeply about my own mothering.
When my first was a baby, I experienced my mothering job very urgently, wanting to change diapers at the right time, get out of the door on time, and in other ways impose my agenda on my daughter. Luckily, she was a good teacher, and over time, I believe that I became a good learner.
For one, she was an adamant breastfeeder, who reacted to anything and everything – my interruptions, my timetable, any change in plans – by wanting to breastfeed. So, slowly I learned that if I wanted to get out of the door on time, I needed to start early, proceed slowly and with respect, and then also breastfeed along the way. When she was three months old, she decided that she didn’t want me to be distracted by idle chit chat or reading, and so I would take her into a calm space and dedicate my attention to her, or rather, to daydreaming, while she got her fill of sustenance – both literal and figurative.
It was harder for me to adjust to her other needs – such as, for example, daydreaming – and I am sad to say that she had many meltdowns when she was younger. I became very good at responding to these meltdowns with respect and calm. But thinking back I wonder whether – if I had treated her with respect at an earlier stage in the process – I might have avoided distressing her so much in the first place.
By the time my second joined our family, I had laid up a greater store of patience. For example, I let her set the pace from the house to the car, allowing her to notice all the things along her way and arrive at the car in her own sweet time. I would wait for her to be ready to be buckled in, and if she fussed, I would just wait until she was ready. It turned out that by simply waiting, the process of leaving the house and getting in the car took much less time than if I had been struggling with her and forcing her to comply.
Why did she need to sit in the car seat for 45 seconds before she was ready to be buckled in? I don’t know. By the time she was old enough to tell me in words, she was happily attempting to buckle herself in on her own.
Children today get hauled around a lot on the grown-ups’ schedule. Out of bed, to the table, to get dressed, get out the door, take off coats and settle into daycare, get dressed at pick up and leave, get ready for bed etc., etc. Day in and day out, until the weekend comes, when many families have a variety of social commitments and a lot of basic chores to attend to, which also entails a lot of interruptions.
I am wondering whether the distractedness that some adults complain about in children – and blame on screens – might instead or also be a consequence of baby-, toddler- and childhood interruptions? Perhaps it is not the ipad we hand to the toddler that causes her to have a short attention span. Perhaps it is the fact that since she was tiny, her loving mother and father and other carers have willy-nilly hauled her out of her stream of consciousness time and time again.
And this is not a call to adults to empty their lives and sit around staring at their babies. Rather, it is a gentle encouragement to treat them with the respect and consideration that we as adults would appreciate.