What do you do all day with a baby?

All delinquency starts when parents do not know how to play with their babies. DISCUSS

Babies learn how to have fun with another person from their parents.  Over the years, it has become evident that many of the children who find it difficult to conform to school and other group expectations were also troublesome toddlers. I have seen more than a few times, mothers waiting outside school with an infant who is told, “Just you wait until you start school. Mrs Jones won’t put up with your behaviour.”

Fortunately, I loved the early years of all our children and enjoyed their company most of the time. However, this did take some planning and working out and I was helped by my friends and family.

When I was expecting my first baby, Francesca, some of my friends already had babies. Although I saw what they did with their babies when visitors were around, I still didn’t know what life was going to be like when I had a baby  24 hours a day.  The books I found in the library gave lots of advice about how to look after a baby and what the experts said you ought to be doing, but what mothers actually did with their babies, apart from feeding and changing them remained a mystery.

When my maternity leave was coming to an end, I was faced with the decision whether to return to work or not. This was a difficult decision, since I enjoyed my job and missed the stimulation of the work I was used to doing.

My daughter was then five months old. In order to see what I would be missing if  I went back to work, I decided to keep a diary of what I did during the day. I found that I spent more time emptying the airing cupboard, preparing meals and washing up than playing with Francesca. What was evident was that if Francesca was awake, her company meant that I would be talking to her during the washing up or giving her the pegs to play with as I hung out the washing.

Pet shop detour

By meeting other mothers, I learned about different places to go and things to do with my young daughter which gave me the chance to experience her in new ways. For example, I heard about special sessions at the local swimming pool for mothers and babies when the water was warmed up specially during those two hours. Another friend would make a detour to the pet shop after doing the shopping so that her son could watch the kittens and fish from his pushchair. I liked the sound of this, so I tried it and this became something we would do regularly.

When it came to mealtimes, I also found that friends with babies were the best source of ideas. Sometimes they had got ideas from books or magazines or from a television programme. What  interested me was the fact that I was picking up practical and interesting tips which had a good chance of working for me.

There were plenty of books giving advice on nutrition and weaning, but the practical tips such as freezing leftovers as ice cubes or the benefits of different types of bibs came from other parents.

I did go back to work. As part of my work as an educational psychologist, I vsited babies and toddlers at home with their parents. The children were referred to me for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they were not speaking as well as expected for children of their age, they may have had  difficulties understanding and learning new things, getting on with other children, or fitting in with the family. Sometimes the children had disabilities which mean that they would need more help than other children when they got to school.

What the parents of all these children had in common is the wish to do what is best for their child and the need for down to earth practical advice. What they didn’t want was to be told what to do by an expert. I still find that most parents who have a concern about their child value the chance to meet other parents who are in the same boat.

In an article I wrote for the National Childbirth Trust in 2000, I invited mothers to tell me about what they enjoyed doing with their babies aged 0 – 18 months. Some of these mothers work, others are full time homemakers. Some have other children, for others, this is their first baby. A few of the babies have had health problems in their short lives as have some of the mothers.  Some mothers were married, others are not.

Here are a sample of some of the comments which were sent to me.

Rachel wrote:

When I was carrying Poppie I thought that bonding and love took time and in some cases it does but when I first saw her I melted – the love was instant, her smell, the way she looked warmed everything in me and even more when she smiles! It makes all the sleepless nights worthwhile.

 Alison wrote:

Hannah loves to be sung to, from when she was a few days old it seems to calm her, soothe her or change/lift her mood. Any easy sing-along song like the Hokey Cokey, Christmas carols or even Happy Birthday To You. I’ve found now that if there is something which she doesn’t want to do like having her nappy changed if I say we’ll sing a song ( she is now 20 months) she is okay.

 Janette wrote:

For her first two months, Madeline was a crying baby, and often the only way to keep her quiet was to push her in the pram. I talk endlessly to her, even when she can’t see me; about anything and everything we walk past – but you do get some strange looks from passers-by!

I can remember wondering about what to do with my helpless bundle at first. I think I had expected mothering skills to arrive when Madeline did, but they don’t – I’ve just made it up as I’ve gone along.

 

Valerie wrote:

I sing, dance and exercise in front of Bertie – more effective in bright and coloured clothes such as my plastic apron I use to do the washing up in!

 

Micki’s mum wrote:

My husband and I never wanted children and were “surprised” by Micki. I’ve never been around babies much, and always felt a little uncomfortable with them. But as soon as I knew I was pregnant I wanted her very much! And Bryan has become the stereotypical doting dad…he spoils her! Anyway, what I really love to do with Micki is show her new things and help her explore her new world. We’ll go out in the back yard and get up close to a tree or a flower and we’ll examine it together. Her eyes get real wide and she’ll look at the flower, look back at me to get my reaction, and then back to the flower. After she’s comfortable with this new item under inspection, she’ll reach out and touch it. When she checks for my reaction, it’s like she trusts my judgement and knows if it’s okay for me, then it’s okay for her!

 

This is just a sample of the letters and e-mails I received once I invited mums to share their experiences with me. I hope they give you the taste of what joys are to come if you are expecting your first baby.

 

If I have any advice to offer expectant first time mums, it is this: the relationship between you and your baby is unique. It will not be like the relationship between you and your mother, your sister or friend and her child, or anybody else and their child. By all means listen to what other mums say and learn from watching them, but remember to value the uniqueness of your own relationship and enjoy experiencing it develop day by new day.

Photo credits: MHorama    sean dreilinger

This article first appeared in Summer 2000 CoNCepT newsletter of the Herts North Branch of the National Childbirth Trust.

 

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