A couple of weeks ago, I got to visit a seven-day old baby, complete with Mom, Grandma, and Aunt in attendance. (Daddy was working.) The baby snuggled, being held by waiting and willing arms. As a breastfed baby, who had been born with the skills of a midwife, this little one had arrived in the world cocooned in as much gentle love as possible.
After napping and being exceptionally quiet, the baby finally began to fuss for Mom and breast. Mom did not make her baby endure the need for food. She readily complied with the need, left the rest of us to share a few moments of nurturing alone time with her new baby.
After she left the room, Grandma said, “What a good baby.”
Everyone nodded their agreement.
Then she said, “Mom could manipulate the baby, but she doesn’t.”
No one said anything. I wondered what “manipulate” meant in this case. It was not a word I would have chosen to describe a relationship between mother and infant. This terminology bothered me greatly. When I returned home, I got out the dictionary and looked up “manipulate.” I read through the variances and settled for the definition: “to control or play upon the artful, unfair, or insidious means esp. to one’s own advantage.”
I could get into a very philosophical one-sided discussion about “manipulation as applied to infants/children/adolescents” but I will decline to do so. That subject is for a book, or series of books. What I want to do is talk about infancy and meeting the needs of both caretaker and infant.
I did not leave Grandma and her “manipulation” statement without my own comment. I guessed as to what her meaning was and offered, “A calm parent often has a calm infant.” I don’t know if she heard me. I believe she was so involved in her own memories of parenting that she was closed to advances in infant caring. Infant attachment. “Baby Glue.”
We are beginning to realize the importance of early onset of meeting baby’s needs. When a baby cries, it has a painful need. The baby may be responding to a physical need for dry and clean diapers/body, an empty tummy, or a body position that is uncomfortable, cold or hot. The baby will also alert us through crying when she needs a sense of safety (being snuggled, making eye contact, wanting the comfort of the known, such as mother’s smell or voice). All these needs get expressed through crying, for that is the only language the infant has.
When the baby’s caretaker responds quickly in a consistent manner to meet the needs of the baby, the baby learns SAFETY and TRUST. These are two absolute FOUNDATION blocks that will serve the baby for an entire lifetime.
I do not believe that there is any avenue for “manipulation” in a baby’s life that offers the rewards of internalized SAFETY and TRUST. We must all become aware of the need to build these crucial blocks for a FOUNDATION that will serve the baby and community for the next eighty years (give or take).
In returning to Grandma’s statement, I believe that the myth of baby’s being able to “manipulate” their caretakers needs to be addressed and changed. As long as we subscribe to the need to “teach lessons” to our infants, babies, children, and adolescents through the use of adult superior manipulation, we are actually teaching about the use of power and control; thus promoting defiance, subtrafuge and decit. There is not a lot of TRUST and SAFETY in having to protect yourself through devious means.
In short, if we are to build a FOUNDATION that rests upon TRUST and SAFETY, we need to act with tempered grace, understanding and giving. (For everyone who is concerned with teaching about rules and respect—hold on, we’ll get to that part.) For now, we are building upon our baby’s future. Upon our future as a world community.