Saying Yes to Infants

If an infant can't even ask a question, why would a parent say "no"? But some of the first words many babies hear are "No!" and "Don't" and "Stop." Even without the words themselves, if a baby reaches out and the parent pushes his hand back or ignores him, that is a big "no." If a baby cries and the parent ignores him, or puts him down roughly, or leaves the room and closes the door, that is not even nearly in the realm of "yes."

When one of the partners is in pain, the partnership isn't doing very well. And it's not a fifty-fifty partnership; nor is anything in the whole world. In the case of a mother who can walk and talk, access water and maybe drive a car, she can't expect a newborn baby to do half the work. If she gives him everything she can, he will give back as much as he has, not just then, but for years to come if she doesn't screw it up.

What do babies want? They want to learn. They learn by touching and tasting and watching and listening. They learn to be gentle by people being gentle with them, and showing them how to touch hair nicely, and to touch cats and dogs gently. They want to learn which foods taste good. They want to learn how to walk, but you don't need to teach them. They'll want to know how to go up and down stairs at some point. They will eventually want to know how to get things off shelves and out of boxes. They will want to see what else is in the house, and in the yard, and you can help them do that safely.

A baby doesn't want to look at and touch the very same things day after day after day any more than you would want to watch the same movie every day for a year, or sit in the same place in your house all the time. Sing different songs with him. Play different finger games. Change what he can see in the bedroom sometimes.

A rich world for a baby is similar to a rich world for anyone else. A baby is a person. A lucky baby has an adult partner who understands that.


In a comment on a photo of my kids, someone who had known me long before they were born wrote:

Laurie McPherson:
As a non-parent, it fascinates me how much THEMSELVES baby humans already are. So many things change, and yet the essence of personality is there from the start.

Sandra Dodd:
Something people don't talk about much is that the newborn infants are like they were before they were born. Kirby wiggled and fidgeted and had hiccups, and he was that way when he was out.

Marty STRETCHED, just stretched sometimes as long as he could go. Once he was out, and stretched, it didn't hurt me or scare me, but I recognized it!!

If Keith hadn't already felt the other two move, he might have missed Holly altogether. She didn't move much. We learned after a couple of weeks what she had been doing. Her self-comfort was to suck her tongue up flat against the roof of her mouth, and she could unclick it with a LOUD sound, for years. But it caused problems with nursing, because the second she fell asleep, she locked her tongue up high.

(original, if facebook is still there)

"Partners and not adversaries"

Although it might have been standard La Leche League rhetoric in 1986, one statement lives in my head in the voice of Carol Rice who was one of my first two La Leche League leaders. The other leader was Lori Odhner. I credit and thank them frequently for giving me beautiful new tools to use to be a better mother to Kirby than I might have been without their generous and creative volunteer leadership.

Carol said, "Be his partner, not his adversary." She was speaking to the group, but it was like God was speaking directly to me. That was huge. Though the mothers at the meetings were sweet, others outside of there were treating their babies like alien invaders, like enemy creatures, or like evil grubs. Mothers were whining and complaining more than the babies about the cruel trick the world seemed to have played on them because they were "stuck" with this baby.

So what kind of partner did baby Kirby Dodd need? He needed someone to pay attention to him if he was uncomfortable, and to make sure he was safe. He needed someone to help him access the world, to see it, to experience it safely. He needed a quiet, soft place to sleep. Maybe it was on me or on his dad, in a carrier of some sort, or a sling. Maybe it was right next to me in the bed.

Because La Leche League is a volunteer organization, people's experiences with local meetings differ greatly, but I lucked out and had some phenomenal leaders who were also unschoolers. Although I wasn't considering homeschooling when I met them, knowing those families certainly made unschooling an easy choice four years later.

I am still my children's partner two decades later.

Attachment Parenting, and Trust

As no infant is required to be in school, this isn't strictly about unschooling, but there are families in which the desire to unschool comes before the pregnancy or adoption, and so it's worth pointing out a few things.

La Leche League is many people's first intro to attachment parenting, and that has led many people to unschooling. The problem is generally that once a child reaches "school age," parents can justify dropping the attachment parenting idea entirely. Some drop it when the baby weans. The principles, though, are as true of three-year-olds and six-year-olds as they are of infants. And once a child and parent have a close and solid relationship, why dissolve that unless it's unavoidable?

Attachment parenting isn't "an unschooling concept," but it is something many unschoolers consider, although some come to it late. You can find more with a web search or asking at the library. There is an organization separate from La Leche League now, with a magazine and a great deal of literature.

Basically, they advocate holding babies as much as the babies want, letting them be with adults day and night, gently, and sweetly. If people can breastfeed they should do that instead of bottlefeeding. If people can sleep with the baby, they shouldn't use a crib.

From a learning standpoint, when babies are carried they see more, they hear and smell more. If they are given things to touch and taste besides just a few baby toys left in the corner of a crib or playpen, they will learn by leaps and bounds. They will spend less time crying and more time being in the real world.

The parents will know the child better, and the child will know the parents better. They will be building a partnership based on trust.

Benefit of breathing in the scent of the infant's head

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Attachment Parenting