I hate this argument.
I mean, I do believe that happy parents make happy babies. Babies pick up on our emotions and will react to them. If we are stressed, they will be stressed. If we are sad, they will be sad. If we are happy, that will be happy. As a human being, our emotions and what we project will affect the people around us. Depressed people will bring others down and happy people will lift others up.
However, this argument is something that comes up often in parenting discussions and most often it comes up to justify a parenting choice that puts the needs, wants or expectations of the parent, over the needs of a child and that is where I have a problem.
When we choose to become parents, we choose to accept that there will be differences in our lives and that there will be some of our needs, and definitely some of our wants, that are put on the back burner. Is it about being a Martyr? No, not at all. It is about being a parent. An infant is helpless and they simply cannot meet their own needs. As parent we must meet their needs for them. It is that simple. Of course there are times that our needs may come second, but we should be mature enough to accept that we have to wait sometimes.
So now I hear it:“Exactly, which is why we have to “teach” our kids that sometimes they don’t always get what they want right away”. No! this is not the way it works. It is actually the opposite.
If our needs have not been met, then it has been ingrained inside us to do everything and anything to get our own needs met now, because if we don’t do it, it won’t be done. But, If our needs have always been met, then we have the trust that our needs will come to be met even if we have to wait. This includes not only the physical needs but of course, and maybe more importantly, the emotional needs as well.
So to learn that we can wait, we need to have our needs met.
For an infant, or a young child, that does not yet have the capacity to meet their own needs (physical and emotional), If we do not step up and meet their needs, ALL of their needs, their needs will simply not be met, and that, is not acceptable.
Also remark that by putting our needs on the back-burner, it does not mean ignoring them or disregarding them completely. We do have needs but they may not always be done in the way that would want. We have to eat. We have to sleep. We have to go to the bathroom. In these cases, it becomes essential that we find a way to meet everyone’s needs and this is when the scale needs to be balanced but can easily be tipped. This is when we often need to make compromises with what we “want” to then meet every one’s needs.
The thing is, the more we meet our children’s needs, the more they will know they can count on us and the more independent they will become, because they always know there is someone to fall back on. This is the one of the fundamentals of a secure attachment and this type of attachment will flow into all of the stages of childhood until a child becomes an adult and is ready to be on their own and will make it easier to parent. (read my post on Discipline and how non-punitive parenting works) This is the exact opposite of what mainstream parenting practices which is why it fails and why so many adults have trouble putting others first when it counts.
Our society has unrealistic expectations. Babies are expected to sleep through the night, they are expected to not breastfeed as much as the need to, they are expected to sleep alone, they are expected to willingly and happily go with other people other than their parents, they are expected to adhere to a parental schedules. There are so many expectations. However, societal expectations are not congruent with biological needs. They are not natural and they are based on a point of view that has been manipulated and skewed over the years in favour of parental wants over biological needs.
This is when that instance of parental wants often supersede a child’s needs. This when the argument “Happy mom = happy baby” often comes out to justify the favouring of a parents want over a child’s needs.
The thing is, parenthood is not always easy…
A mom should be happy, but happiness is also a frame of mind. You have to be happy within what is handed to you, even in the worst of times and you must have realistic expectations and meet a child’s needs and understand that they’re the ones that know best what they need. And, no, I am not talking about giving kids everything they want, I am talking about giving then what they need. A cookie is a want, food is a need. Going to bed with the pink blanket and not the green one is a want, Going to sleep cuddled or nursing is a need.
And before it comes up, I do think moms need to take care of themselves and keep healthy to be an optimal parent. That is very true. But it is a choice on how that is done. Babies are only dependent for a short time in their lives and their needs are actually quite basic. The need to eat, the need to sleep, the need to be cuddled, the need to be loved and feel secure. Meet those needs now and there will be little tears, and pretty soon they grow up and can make their own breakfast while you get a few extra zzzz’s. They will even start making yours.