Thursday, May 21, 2009

Baby Boundaries

I have a bunch of drafts about boundaries that I have had bouncing around. I'm trying to shape them into something and I thought I would start with this one.

Boundaries can mean different things, but at the bottom they are about knowing what is ours and what is there's.

So think about a baby whose care is your responsibility. In the beginning practically all of the baby's needs are your responsibility, well, hopefully there is another adult sharing the load. Still, if the baby has a need, the adults need to take care of it.

As the baby gets older, and I don't want to get into child-rearing theories about when this happens, some things start being the baby's job -- like soothing herself when she is feeling grumpy. Even if we don't believe in letting a baby of whatever age cry herself to sleep, most of us at least give them a little more time to cope as they get older. More things become their jobs and we don't help them by trying to figure out how to do it for them. We can't make babies learn to crawl, stand or walk. We can make it more difficult for them to learn by never giving them the opportunity to try.

We help them mostly by not carrying them. We provide the opportunity.

Andrew started crawling early and then took him time learning to walk. I talked to the doctor who said he was physically fine, just doing it his own way. I probably could have slowed him down even more by carrying him all the time, but there wasn't anything I could do to hurry him up. Should I have decided that I was going to invest a great deal of energy teaching him to walk all I would have accomplished was frustrating us both. My job was to get out of the way and let him do his job. That didn't mean that I never carried him. Sometimes he needed me to.

There were two things that I could do that would have done nothing but slow him down: carry him all the time or try to make him walk.

Imagine trying to help a friend who didn't get that. Periodically she tries to make her one-year-old walk. She demonstrates, moves his legs in the proper motions, and encourages. Other times she carries him because, after all, he doesn't know how to walk. You try to explain that what her kid needs is for her to back off. You tell her to put him on a blanket with some toys and just let him be. She comes back to you a week later and informs you that it didn't work. She put him on a blanket with toys every day for a week and all he did was play with toys!

In some ways parenting doesn't change much.

Kids get older and they don't do what we want them to do, so we try to teach them or do it for them. We go back and forth, banging our heads on the wall because no matter how much energy we put into it they still aren't doing what we know they should be doing. We decide that this isn't our job and we decide to back off, but we are really watching like a hawk from the room. We give it a certain amount of time and then we get frustrated because leaving them alone didn't work either.

Nicole suggested that I or someone collect all the things we've learned about foster care. So here's a start. This is something I have learned.

1. Sometimes kids and teens genuinely need us to do things for them that they cannot do themselves.
2. Sometimes kids and teens can profit from instruction and and guidance from us. (As a rule, this only works if the kid is open to it).
3. Sometimes what the kids need is for us to get out of the way, and when it is one of those times we don't get to decide how long it should take, or even it will happen at all.

Now this is what I haven't learned: how to figure out when to take which approach.


  1. lisa40118:36 PM

    Great post, just when I needed to hear it. Thank you.

    The number one thing I've learned from foster care is that doing the right thing rarely ever means doing what is easy.

  2. This is a great post and I'm going to think on it as I have my coffee this morning. Thanks for sharing your insight and wisdom. :-)

  3. Anonymous7:56 PM

    Good post, but a funny thing -
    some people who live in the Amazon rain forest slow down their children starting to walk until close to age two (too dangerous to roam around that forest alone). In parts of Africa, children walk quite early - different care and encouragement from parents.
    So, the environment can influence when walking starts (on average).

    I love your blog. Not too many of our generation blog regularly! I read regularly, but almost never post comments.
    (Sorry to be anonymous, but I don't remember my password right now.)


  4. Yeah, that is the hard part. But you are a great example of lassiez faire parenting. Good advice.


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