Have you ever had a well-meaning mother (or mother-in-law) scold you for picking up your baby too much? Have you been warned that if you respond too quickly, you will spoil her? Has the sage advice “let him cry it out” been leisurely thrown your way?
Yeah. Me too. It’s hard to escape, it’s so ingrained in our culture.
If you’re like me, that advice just never settled well in my heart. It went against everything my instincts were telling me. Now, we find out, there is a good reason it sounded so wrong.
It was wrong. It defied your rightful instincts.
In a culture bent on assaulting human nature, mothering instincts were among the first targets. Now, we can fire back with more than just our “feelings” that are so easily dismissed.
New research, due to be published in the journal Applied Developmental Science, will confirm what God has written on the hearts of mothers since the beginning of time: picking up babies today creates happier, more mentally stable adults in the future. Notre Dame professor of psychology Darcia Narvaez and two colleagues surveyed more than 600 adults and found that you can’t spoil your baby. Period. In fact, we do our children harm by not picking them up. Kissing your baby truly does heal and picking up your crying infant is critically important.
From an interview with Narvaez at WSBT-22:
“Sometimes, we have parents that say, you are going to spoil the baby if you pick them up when they are feeling distressed. No, you can’t spoil a baby. You are actually ruining the baby if you don’t pick them up. You are ruining their development,” says [Darcia F.] Narvaez.
“Part of it is following your instincts because we as parents want to hold our children. We want to keep that child close,” she says, “follow that instinct. We want to keep the child quiet and happy because the cry is so distressing. It is on purpose, so you don’t let it happen. So follow the instinct to hold, play, interact, that is what you want to do.”
In Ghosts from the Nursery, authors Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley explain that a central lesson being learned in infancy is self-soothing, or what is also known as regulating strong emotions through chemicals in the brain.
The authors explain that when a mother soothes a crying baby by holding, talking softly, or rocking, the chemistry of alarm that was flooding the baby’s brain subsides, and comes back into balance. The infant feels better and associates the calm feeling with his nurturing mom. This pattern of stress and calm is repeated countless times, creating what the authors describe as a “map” in the child’s brain. Later it will enable him to soothe himself.
Conversely, when a child is left to “cry it out” or their distress is met with unpredictable behavior, no creations are made.
Who would have ever imagined that some of our finest work as mothers—the most powerful and lasting impact you will ever make in your child’s adult life—will be the days you spend cuddling your child and kissing your infant?