Martha and William Sears
Nobody yet has scientifically tested and perfected a parenting system that guarantees children will turn out okay. Much research focuses on what goes wrong and psychologists have often laid the blame on mothers. Mothers often feel that the stakes are high on everything they do, and the job of parenting seems frightening. Here, some reassurance from Martha Sears -- excerpted from her book, 25 Things Every New Mother Should Know.Mothering in the twentieth century has become a tricky business. We can take our babies' survival pretty much for granted, and in this way we differ from all the mothers who have come before us. Instead we worry about whether our babies will grow up to be happy and productive, a more complicated issue.
Nobody yet has scientifically tested and perfected a parenting system that guarantees children will turn out okay. Much of the research focuses on what goes wrong, rather than what goes right, and psychologists from Freud onward have often laid the blame on mothers. This creates a lot of anxiety, as mothers struggle to raise psychologically healthy children. Mothers often feel that the stakes are high on everything they do, and the possibility of making serious mistakes makes the job of parenting seem frightening.
Do mothers matter?
In reaction to Freud, there's another school of thought that suggests that mothers aren't all that critical to their children's psyches. Children need dependable caregivers, yes, but these are more or less interchangeable, and group care not only is satisfactory, it also makes children independent at an earlier age. Babies do prefer their parents, but they really don't need all that one-on-one attention that goes along with traditional mothering. It's interesting that these theories have evolved at a time when more and more mothers of young children are in the workforce.
So where do you fit in? How important are you, a responsive, nurturing, trustworthy mother, to your baby's development? How do you know if you're making a difference?
In the parenting business, science often fails us. It's hard to study behavior that is as complicated as mother-and-infant interactions, much less relate these interactions to how children behave and feel years later. "Experts" speculate, spinning advice out of tiny threads of evidence, but who really knows?
Parents have the answers
I believe that experienced parents -- parents of children who are turning out well --- have the answers. Bill and I have talked to thousands of wise and seasoned mothers over the years, and while we don't pretend that this is a scientific sample, we do feel confident about relaying what we've learned from all these families. We believe that how you mother your children makes a difference in the kind of people they become.
The mothering advice we give reflects a style that we call attachment parenting. For babies, attachment parenting includes closeness right from birth, responding sensitively to cries, babywearing, sharing sleep, and breastfeeding. The involvement of the father, both directly with the baby and in support of the mother, is also important. These practices together make up a very nurturing style of baby care, one that yields a wonderful sensitivity between mother and child. The mother understands what the baby is thinking, most of the time, and the baby responds well to the mother's care.
Babies who experience attachment parenting rarely need to cry to get their needs met (though they may cry plenty when something hurts or bothers them), because they can communicate in other, more subtle ways. Mothers who nurture in this style feel confident that they are doing the right things for their children, because they feel they can perceive their babies' needs, and because their babies are happiest when they are most responsive. Even high-need babies can be mellowed by this style of parenting into children who are fun to be with.
Respect and sensitivity
There are long-range benefits to attachment parenting. As a baby cared for this way turns into a toddler, he is easy to manage. His mother has a pretty good idea of what he is trying to do or say, so the young explorer is less likely to get terribly frustrated. Since he trusts his mother and wants very much to stay in her good graces, a word of warning or some creative redirection from her is often all that's needed to head off problem behavior.
As children of attached parents grow older, the benefits continue. These kids internalize their parents' sensitivity toward them. They have an inner sense of what is right and are bothered when situations violate their values. They know themselves well and can remain true to their own character in the midst of a crowd going in another direction. They are compassionate and understanding with other people. Having learned intimacy from their early closeness with their parents, they go on to establish and maintain healthy relationships with other people. They bring their parents joy and pride.
So, are you important to your baby? Yes, you are. You as his mother know him best and are the person he trusts most and will look to for guidance in the months and years to come. You are his window to the world and his faithful interpreter of what is going on inside him. Your relationship is built on a long history of knowing each other, a history that begins even before birth. Because this relationship is grounded in love and trust and many small interactions, it can tolerate mistakes and misunderstandings. No single moment is critically important. What counts is the harmony that is developing between you.
So relax and enjoy your baby. This is a special time in your life, and while it's full of worries and adjustments, it is also full of wonder. You have much to look forward to. Being a mother can enrich every corner of your life. Get ready for a marvelous journey.
A note from Dr. William Sears
When you bring home a new baby, remember you are modeling parenting for your older children. Also, you are bringing up someone else's future husband or wife, father or mother. The parenting styles children learn are the ones they are most likely to follow when they become parents.
Here is an example of how modeling affects children: A mother brought her newborn, Erin, and her two-and-a-half-year-old, Tiffany, into my office for checkups. During her examination, Erin began to cry. Tiffany rushed to her mother, pulled at her mother's skirt, and exclaimed, "Mommy, Erin cry; pick up, rock-rock, nurse!" This little child had just described responsive parenting according to her mother's model. When Tiffany becomes a mother and her baby cries, what do you imagine she will do? She won't consult a book or call her doctor. She will intuitively pick up, rock-rock, and nurse.