In some western cultures, like the United States, there exists a big push for independence early on in children’s lives. Expecting independence at six months old is unrealistic, and yet common. Many parents expect their children to sleep, unaided, through the night at six months. Many parents expect their children to play by themselves from an early age. Many parents believe forcing independence on young children or babies makes them more independent later in life.
In my experience, children become slowly independent, and independence occurs much later than six months. At six months old, my Monkey Man was taking three to five naps per day, was constantly held, and was always in my presence, even during play time. If I did not lay with him while he slept, he woke up much more frequently. Even today, at fourteen months old, he wakes up three times as frequently, and only sleeps half as long if I am not laying in bed with him while he sleeps. When he wakes up during transitional sleep periods, and he sees me there, he feels safe enough to roll over and keep on sleeping.
When he was six months old, he still loved being cuddled constantly. If I put him on the floor to play by himself while I was cooking, after five minutes, he would start calling for me. He needed me there. So many American parents do not believe that a six month old baby needs its mother nearly constantly. But, if we look back at how the majority of our existence looked like, we would see that it was, in fact, imperative that a baby as young as six months be constantly held or otherwise in the presence of its mother. There was a constant threat of other predators, or even something as mundane as ants might kill the baby while the mother is away.
Babies cry so much for a reason. It gets our attention very effectively. Why so many American parents decide that crying is not communication, but manipulation, is beyond me. Babies as young as six months are not truly capable of manipulation. At that age, their wants are synonymous with their needs.
If provided a safe place to explore from, a child will become independent. When Monkey Man was younger, I used to sit on the floor and play with him much more than now. He would bring a toy to me, and we would play together for two to three minutes, then he would strike out on his own in the rest of the room for five minutes, and return for two to three minutes, etc. As time went on, he would explore for increasing amounts of time on his own, and would venture out farther.
At ten and a half months, he started walking on his own without any assistance and decided he needed fewer cuddles and less help from me. He started pushing me away when I would hug him on a whim, as where before he would welcome any and all physical touch from me. I grieved for two days because I realized my baby was becoming his own person and needed me less. Granted, it was not much less, but it was a change that I knew would blossom into his own independence and would increase with time. My baby was not a baby anymore!
When a child is allowed to form their independence when they are ready, a child will become confidently independent. When parents try to push independence too early on a child, a child often becomes insecure. One would think that after a few decades of seeing children grow up to be insecure adults, often experiencing mental illnesses, parents would change their tactics. This does not seem to be the case.
In America, parents force independence on small children and babies, and when the children become teenagers, the parents deny them any responsibility, so that when the teenagers turn eighteen and are kicked out of the house and told to fend for themselves, they often fail. How could anyone think that these parenting techniques would produce confident, capable adults? Growing up is a slow process for humans and happens gradually. When a child is allowed to take on responsibility for themselves gradually, practice skills in the safety of Mom’s arms, or their loving home, they then naturally tend to implement those skills independently outside of the home and become confidently independent.
Confidence is everything – it is how we secure mates, jobs, and resolve problems. Without allowing children to become confident by providing a safety net from which to explore, practice, learn, and grow, we create dysfunctional adults.
So it really is okay to hold your baby when he wants to be held, to sleep with him when he needs your company, to cuddle with him when he feels scared. To all those mothers out there who are being told you are spoiling your baby, have confidence in yourself because you know that in meeting your baby’s needs now, you will create a strong, healthy, independent human being who you will be proud of when they make steps as an adult to become successful, happy, and mentally healthy.