This isn’t what I’d planned to write today, but I’m learning that blogging isn’t always about what we want to write. Sometimes it’s about processing what’s making it impossible to concentrate on anything else.
My focus as a parenting teacher and coach, and the underlying theme of every post I’ve written, is respect for babies and toddlers. Everything I share on my blog is intended to evangelize one basic truth – all of us are born real and whole people. The sooner parents understand this, the better chance their children will have for emotional health, happiness and success.
When respect is deeply understood, parenting is ridiculously simple. Even when the day-to-day is not so easy and fun, we can make sense of it, because we can always relate to our child’s needs on a human level. Respect is our beacon.
As I’ve expressed in other posts, I was once oblivious to the real meaning of respect. Of course, I thought I respected babies, but I really didn’t until the day I observed my infant lying on her back on the floor and for the first time saw her — a unique person deeply occupied with her own thoughts who deserved to be treated as I would expect to be treated.
Once respect is understood, we see our children through a new lens.
Respect is a sensitivity that some might be born with, or perhaps develop early on because parents treat us respectfully. Many will never quite get it, though, unless our cultural perception of infants and toddlers shifts dramatically.
The depressing truth I learned this week is that there is no point trying to explain respect to the in-the-dark majority. Like love or music or ice-cream – you can’t possibly understand if you’ve never experienced it. So, I found myself in a quagmire of inane arguments over something as obvious (to me) as whether or not we should enjoy photos of a child in distress…
Toddler’s cry all the time for ridiculous reasons, don’t you know? It’s funny! Don’t you have a sense of humor? And it makes us so happy to see him upset over nothing because our children cry over stupid things, too. We feel less alone! The child should learn to laugh at himself. Why are you so uptight? Party Pooper!
Although it seems utterly futile and a little masochistic, I’m going to attempt (one more time) to explain my intense objection to these photos. Would we laugh at a senile granny in anguish for seemingly ridiculous reasons? Would photos posted without our permission of us in tears be hilarious? How about whimpering animals — is their misery disturbing or just plain funny?
Assuming the answer to those questions is, “well, no, but…” then consider this: Are pre-verbal children sub-human cartoon figures? Why is a crying baby funny?
We don’t suddenly become people when we start to toddle, speak recognizable words, respect our elders, vote or get married. We are all there from the beginning and waiting, hoping to connect with someone who can really see us, the person. We have a powerful instinctive need to understand and be understood, and we trust our parents to show us the way.
Psychologists have long known that in these formative first years (while our brains triple in size) the interactions we have with our loved ones, especially the manner in which our emotions are received and responded to, are internalized as “self”. Meaning, how we are treated is who we become, and psychotherapists know this deep sense of self is difficult, if not impossible to shake later on.
So the early years are the most dangerous and potentially damaging time to scoff at our children’s feelings. In fact, it is during this brief period that we have our very best shot at positively affecting our child’s future happiness, relationships and self-worth. The choices we make will matter for all the years to come. Kind of scary. Certainly the time to be extra careful.
For some reason, though, perhaps because they are accepting and can’t object, babies and toddlers are the people we’re most inclined to dismiss, manipulate, objectify, ridicule and generally disrespect. Could this compulsion to trivialize early childhood stem from core feelings of self-disdain we’ve internalized? I wonder…
“When we help a child to feel secure, feel appreciated, feel that “somebody is deeply, truly interested in me,” by the way we just look, the way we just listen, we influence that child’s whole personality, the way that child sees life.” – Magda Gerber
(Photo by jerryfergusonphotography on Flickr)