Independence. It’s a word we’re all highly familiar with. In fact, it’s everywhere around us, isn’t it? In the States, we’re raised learning about the Declaration of Independence. Our parents strive for us to be good independent members of society. A lot of new parents sneer at the mere idea of Attachment Parenting, as if it’s the worst possible way to raise a child. After all, it’s been drilled in our heads over and over again that we must have independent children.
What does it mean to have an independent child in any case? I’m left pondering this question after many a discussion – with online commenters, with my sister and my mother, and with other friends of mine. Although I used to say with pride that I wanted to raise my children to be independent, I now wonder what it is that I actually meant? I’m starting to think that I just said that because it was the “thing to say.”
Does being independent imply that you must make all of your decisions by yourself? Does it mean that, when you are upset, you must be able to deal with your emotions on your own? Does it mean that you must make your own path in life, proudly by yourself?
If that is what it means, then it is not my intention to mold my child into an independent being.
We live in a highly individualistic society. Part of that HAS to be a good thing. You have the freedom and liberty to make your own choices and your own path in life. People emigrate from all around the world to live the American Dream (or the Canadian one for that matter) – to live a life separate from what is expected of them, to make their own fortune and success. Perhaps being seen as Independent with a capital I is a central trait necessary to achieve this North American Dream… or is it?
In our individualistic culture, I believe that we have lost a lot of our sense of community. Granted, it is still there, but more often than not, you have to actively go out searching for a community to identify with and live within.
A lot of us have a difficult time asking for help from others when times are tough or we need a hand. Hell, even asking parents seems embarrassing to most! Shouldn’t we be able to figure things out by ourselves? It takes a huge amount of humility and courage to ask for mental health services and to find someone to talk to who won’t judge or moralize us. If other people try and help discipline our children, we write a blog about it, stating that everyone should mind their business when we’re just trying to raise our kid. We have to wonder – how early does this sense of isolation start? I’m starting to think that it starts pretty damn young…
Okay, maybe I’m painting a pretty extreme portrait of Individuality. But I myself do feel a certain amount of disconnect with the people around me, something I do not wish upon my own child. Until very recently, even relating to my sister was a competition. I would never ask her for help – are you crazy? I can’t be that weak!! I’m a strong, independent woman, just like Beyonce told me to be!
I learned a lot from raising my daughter (don’t we all?!) Before holding her in my arms for the first time, never would I have ever imagined co-sleeping, baby-wearing and not putting her on a schedule. But, life tends to give us what we need, and so I inherited a little cuddle bug. She prefers being held, she mostly falls asleep if we hold her and then is able to sleep in her own bed. If you let her cry, she only gets more and more upset instead of calming down. And I love my child for it.
And so now I have a child and society tells me that she must become independent as fast as possible. Doctors and family members told me when she was four months old that she had to learn to self-sooth by crying it out. People are aghast at the fact that she doesn’t have a bedroom and sleeps next to us at night – she has to learn to sleep in her own room! She can’t nap in my arms, she needs to get used to her own bed ASAP. And all I can ask myself is…. Why is this so important?
Why does a four-month old have to already learn to be “independent”? Why is it that, so young, she can’t fall asleep in my arms, sleep at my bedside, be reassured when she cries at night? What is it that is so important about being independent at such a young age? If I hold her close to me right now, does that mean a lifetime of impeding doom for both she and I?
My child is now six months old. She started to crawl the other day (yay!), but it was a long process for her to get to that point. For two months, I was convinced that she would figure it out at any moment. I waited and waited…
My daughter is the type of child that gets highly frustrated when she doesn’t succeed at something within the first few seconds of trying (like a lot of babies out there, I’m sure). And so for two months, being on her belly basically meant that she would almost immediately start screaming because she obviously wanted that toy. You know the one – the one that’s just out of her reach?
Being on the floor became tedious. Where I used to be able to set her down on her play mat to sit down and drink my coffee for half an hour, I now got five minutes of I was lucky.
But, every time my daughter would start screaming, I would wait about a minute to see if maybe she was just passing gas, and I would go pick her up. You see, letting her stew in her own frustrations for five minutes (which to a baby is a lifetime) wouldn’t teach her anything, in my opinion. It would reinforce the fact that developmentally, she wasn’t at a point where she could crawl (not having the coordination and strength), and that when she got frustrated and upset, mom wasn’t there to help.
However, it’s not because the situation was frustrating to her that I avoided the situation altogether. Where some parents might just decide to just not put their babies down on the floor and keep their babies in their arms 24/7, I still put her down as much as I could so that she could get used to having to move around on her own.
Perhaps some people would argue that I held her back, and that she could have learned to crawl much earlier. Considering that she managed it still pretty early for her age, I don’t feel as though I inhibited her in any way. In the end, I
- gave her a massive amount of opportunities to try it out and to figure it out, and
- was there to help when she was having a hard time.
She was able to learn at her own pace, without the pressure to do it on my timeline, and without associating the floor with frustration. She now scrambles all over the floor, giddy at the fact that she can finally decide when and where to go. Although most of the time, it’s toward me, sometimes she also decides to go see the cat ;).
When my daughter is older, we’ll help her navigate frustration and anger and sadness, and help her learn how they come and go like the tides of the ocean. But in the meantime, does a six-month old really have the capacity to learn that so young? I honestly don’t think so. Rome wasn’t built in a day… To me, pressuring an infant so young to already get a hold of their emotions is a little too intense for my taste.
I want to raise my child to be interdependent. I want her to be confident, and unique. But independent just doesn’t seem all that appealing to me, in the way that I understand the word.
When my child is down, I want her to be able to reach out to the people around her for a helping hand and think that it’s actually normal to ask for help when it’s needed (whether that be me, her other family members, friends, and caring professionals). I hope that my child will feel surrounded by a community of people whom she loves and cares for. I hope that she will be able to easily work in a team. I hope that she will learn empathy and generosity before learning to tie her own shoes. And I hope that she will be able to make her own choices, but also be able to ask what other people think and take it for what it is.
This doesn’t equate to being clingy, insecure and afraid. Clingy, insecure and afraid children have a low amount of trust in the people surrounding them. They learn that, when they are not doing so well, the people they love won’t be there to help sooth them, and so they cling on to them. I believe that what I’m doing is actually the opposite.
Throughout her life, I will be needed less and less. I don’t intend on making sure that she stays dependent on me. In fact, I truly believe that, by being there for her early on in life (by not letting her cry it out at such a young age, by picking her up when she’s crying, by having her sleep beside my boyfriend and I for the first year – or more – of her life), I’m setting up a strong foundation of trust that will serve her all throughout her life. It’s by trusting that I (and others) am there, that she will build the confidence to explore things, by herself and with others. It is by knowing that I am there to help that she will know when she doesn’t need that help.