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The Tiny Adjustments of Parenting

11/07/2016 14:42 | Updated 11 July 2016

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I've read a number of parenting blog posts recently that have infuriated me - they talk about a child's emotional needs, and how there are certain things you have to do from birth in order to raise a well-adjusted child.

Now, don't get me wrong - there are plenty of things that you can and should do from birth to aid your child's emotional development. Expressing love and affection never goes astray and being responsive to your child's needs is also helpful. But certain disciplines to do with consent and sensitivity are, to be blunt, overkill when you're talking about a newborn baby.

One article I read advocates asking your child for permission every time you touch them, in order to teach consent as soon as they can understand questions. Now, whether or not you agree with asking consent for every touch - I don't, as I believe spontaneous touch is an important part of human relationships - the part I find frustrating is the assumption that all ages of child function in pretty much the same way. If you ask a toddler for permission every time you want to change their nappy, well...good luck with that once they hit the "no" stage.

With touch, we naturally follow a path of separation from our children. Babies are touched and held constantly until they express a desire to be on the floor, rolling around and kicking. As they grow older and older we touch them less - my older child is 7 and spends much of the day physically detached from me, but still appreciates cuddles at bedtime. I imagine as he grows further, the physical contact will dwindle still more until we're just hugging to say hello and goodbye or in times or crisis. That's OK. And it's natural and self-regulating. At some point, we stopped holding hands when we walked everywhere. I have no idea when that happened but instinctively, we both knew to stop doing it. I still hold hands with my 4 year old everywhere we go but at some point, she too will separate. Respecting your child's physical boundaries doesn't need to be a formal thing of permission asking and consent - it can be a mutual understanding that you touch them according to their stage and needs.

As a side note - I understand the theory behind teaching consent but it's not the way I'll be choosing with my kids. My daughter just jumped up on the sofa and put her head on my arm as I type - I don't want her to feel like she has to ask permission to do that. How we actually teach consent is something I haven't figured out yet...but that's a conversation for another day.

Another article I read talked about how you shouldn't laugh at your children or discuss them in front of them. Again, I agree for older children - when the 7 year old very earnestly shows me his new dance routine, I would never laugh at it - but for babies? If you can't laugh at a BLW-ed baby fashioning themself a new hat out of a houmous pot then really, what joy is left in parenting? I've shown the picture above to the now 7-year-old in question and he agreed that it is, indeed, very, very funny.

As for discussing your child, it is again an instinctive change that comes with age. A friend and I have kids in the same class at school and there have been some issues lately that we needed to talk over. We let the boys go ahead a bit on the way home from school, so that we could have the space to do that but it was an instinctive move - we recognised that, at seven, they are sensitive to these things in a way that babies simply are not. The more AP-type mothers tend to be with their babies 24/7 for the first year or so - if they follow this advice, it means they can never talk to anyone about any of their frustrations with newborn-mama life. Does this really seem like sound advice?

I see parenting as a bit like driving (and forgive me, this is not the first time I've used a driving metaphor). As you steer, you make hundreds of tiny adjustments to your direction without having to think about it - after a while you don't even notice you're doing it but all the tiny adjustments can lead to you pointing in an entirely different direction. So it is with parenting - you make these tiny adjustments without even thinking about it and then one day you realise that something has changed. The 7-year-old is starting to show signs of wanting more privacy when he gets dressed - eventually that'll lead to needing an unsupervised bath and wanting to lock doors on us, but we will get there through tiny adjustments. The 4 year old has started putting her own shoes on and I didn't even notice, but it's these tiny adjustments every day that help your children grow and develop. Quite simply, you don't need to overthink. There are habits that you don't need to set from birth - they will naturally develop as your child does. If you've read something that makes you feel guilty for that newborn-sleep-deprivation-rant you had to a friend over coffee the other day, please don't. The last thing we need in parenting is more guilt.

So do what feels natural and don;t worry too much about what your baby or small toddler is processing or not. They probably just want more milk/Organix carrot puffs/marker pens anyway. As long as you tell them you love them, you'll probably all be OK.

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