Sunday, August 28, 2005

Is It Instinct?

When I first became a mom, I was amazed and awed by the power of the urges that I had to do what was "right" for my baby. If baby cried, I ached to find a way to help her feel better. In fact, I remember once when I was having a checkup at my own doctor's and had left the little one (about three or four weeks old) in the company of a trusted nurse while I went down the hall to have my blood pressure taken. The baby started to wail as babies often do. And even though I KNEW that my baby was safe in the hands of someone I knew and trusted, my blood pressure went through the roof on the spot. We had to wait until I got the baby back and had soothed her before we could get an accurate blood pressure reading that truly reflected my normal state.

Other urges came quickly and strongly, too. Right after the baby was born, I wanted to hold her. I wanted to snuggle her up close and keep her right there on my chest. Since this was nearly twenty years ago, the doctors and nurses actually didn't allow much time for that. They sort of snatched her away to do their tests, and even turned the little thing upside down to measure her length. My husband said that she found him with her little eyes and gave him a look of complete dismay as in "how could you let them do this to me??" While I find it very doubtful that she could've truly focused on him some twenty feet away at that point, the story is poigniant and touching. And I was ever so glad when I had the second and third babies that the medical team was much less harsh with my girls, and I got to snuggle with them just as soon as they had assured themselves of their wellbeing, in a matter of seconds instead of fifteen minutes.

These strong feelings of what to do with my girls kept coming, mostly in times of crisis. "Motherly instinct" took over numerous times across the years. It guided how I spoke to the infants, how I responded to their hurts, how I reacted when they were disobedient, and how fast I ran to see what they were into based on the noises I was hearing. It was almost as if my nerves and muscles knew more about child rearing than my brain, and it was a real pleasure to watch.

Those motherly instincts are still operational, even now that my kids are nearly grown. I still can tell who's speaking the exact truth and who's telling a little bit of a fib. I still know just when to check on things, even though the things I'm checking on have changed from toddlers clearing out drawers to teens trying to kiss covertly. I know when to hug and when to scold. It's a nice system, because I think there are fewer mistakes when I trust those instincts.

So now that you've got a baby in the house, try to pay attention to your parental instincts. And yes, I think fathers have them too, though many dads don't practice and develop them as thoroughly as moms do. Listen to your heart and you will find a lot of information there about what you should be doing to and with your baby. It's not as complicated as it seems at first, and people have been successfully parenting young children for thousands and thousands of years.

Make sure they know they are loved. Hug them and hold them and rock them and cuddle them. If they are frightened, comfort them. When they hurt themselves, do what you can to fix it. If they are hungry, feed them. Give them a drink when they are thirsty, and change their surroundings when they are bored. Change them when they need it. You are their source of comfort and security, and you are the one (or two) constants in their young lives.

And when they get old enough to have volition and do things on purpose, it's time to add a little bit of discipline into the mix. Don't let them walk all over other people's rights. This is the time when they start to learn to be decent human beings, and it will be very tough to let them get away with murder when they are six months old and then change your style when they are three. My dad gave me a wonderful piece of advice: if a behavior is wrong or annoying when it happens the first time, correct it no matter how funny it may seem. It will become very unfunny if it continues for years because someone started out laughing at it.

Follow your instincts. You'll do OK with this parenting stuff. You know what to do-it's already in your heart.

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