|Explore Every Avenue
|by Jan Hunt
"I've decided to wean my baby / use a stroller / put my baby in a crib / put
my toddler in his own bed / send my son to daycare / and it's working out fine."
Whenever I hear such statements, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I feel the
need to support parents in making their own choices. There are always many factors
present in every specific situation that I am not aware of. There may be legitimate
reasons for these decisions; and in any case, in a free country parents have the right
to make their own choices. In a world where personal freedoms are not always
recognized or valued, this is a precious right indeed.
On the other hand, in an ideal world, babies' and children's rights would also be
considered and taken seriously. The rights of those who have little voice because of
their age and size can be too easily overlooked and dismissed. Yet their rights are
||When a client tells me that she is considering, or has recently chosen,
to make a change from an attachment-enhancing arrangement to one that puts attachment
at risk, I feel conflicting obligations. To the parent, I need to be supportive of her
feelings and understand and validate the needs that she is attempting to meet. To the
children, I feel an obligation to be their voice, to help the parent see the situation
from their child's point of view, and to offer other possible solutions for meeting
everyone's needs. Because children cannot speak for themselves, we owe it to them to
explore every possible alternative.
I have often helped new mothers through a period of frequent nursing, and instead
of an early weaning, to continue to nurse until weaning was a mutual decision. I
myself was helped in this way by a La Leche League leader when my son was 14 months
old. I still feel deeply indebted to her for this help, as his frequent nursing, which
felt so overwhelming at the time, subsided within days. I have also helped mothers
facing surgery to find an alternative medication that would not require prior weaning.
Similarly, the decision to move a child from a family bed, when fully explored, can
become unnecessary when other solutions are found. Futons covering the bedroom floor
can give everyone more room, and avoid the transfer of motion that spring mattresses
can cause. Attention to food allergies, bedtime massage, and guided imagery can help a
family member to sleep more soundly and avoid disturbing others.
I feel especially encouraged when I can help prevent a move from a family bed to a
separate crib or bed, because cosleeping - the norm for hundreds of thousands of years
- is so enhancing for the parent-child bond. Nighttime separation offers no benefits
to a baby or child, and can be especially stressful when undertaken because of an
impending birth. A child who is about to lose a good portion of his parents' time and
attention to a new sibling needs more reassurance and connection, not less. Cosleeping
provides the emotional reassurance and gentle touch so often difficult for busy
parents to provide during the day.
Mothers who decide to move from babywearing to pushing a stroller may not be aware
of slings designed for heavier babies. If a mother is physically unable to continue
carrying her child, she can still encourage her partner and other friends and
relatives to do so, as long as the child is comfortable with that person.
A parent considering preschool may not be aware of the numerous benefits of
unschooling or of alternative working arrangements that can keep the mother and child
together. More and more mothers working outside the home have been able to bring a
baby to work or to find opportunities to work from home.
|In all of these situations, I see my job as two-fold: to provide
emotional support for the parent and at the same time to be a spokesperson for the
child. In any specific situation, a decision to move away from an attachment-enhancing
choice may appear to be the only choice available. The most important question then
becomes, "Have all the possible solutions been considered?" This is the
question the baby or child would ask, if they only could. The fact that they cannot
ask this question makes it imperative that the parent consider all avenues. When I
explore this question in counseling, it often leads to a different and mutually
beneficial solution that had simply not been considered previously. Alternative
solutions can not only meet everyone's needs in a more fulfilling way, but can also
help parents learn how to find such solutions in the future. It is my dream that all
adults will one day be spokespersons for children and for all those unable to speak
out. Only in that way can the most compassionate and effective solutions be found.
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers telephone counseling worldwide, with a
focus on parenting, unschooling, and personal matters. She is the Director of The Natural Child Project and author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart and A Gift for Baby.
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