When my baby turned 6 months old, my mother showed up with a potty chair and the clear implication that it was “time.”
“Mom, she can’t even stand up yet!” I objected.
But Mom had been dispatching advice since Kiah was born. The gist was that by the time Kiah was a month old, she should be nursing on schedule and sleeping through the night, and I was supposed to be showing her who was boss.
“You’re spoiling her!” Mom scolded me regularly.
The irony was that she had raised me on Dr. Spock’s advice, which often boils down to: Pick up your baby — she’s crying for a reason. It seemed that Mom was trying to undo her “mistakes.”
Apparently, the concept of the indulged infant recurs with each new generation. “It just breaks my heart,” says Loraine Stern, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a private practitioner in Newhall, Calif. “Grandparents, aunts and uncles constantly tell young parents that they are spoiling their babies by picking them up too much.”
This is documented in a recent poll by Zero to Three, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that promotes healthy child development. A broad range of American parents and grandparents were surveyed on a number of child-related issues, including spoiling. It turned out that much of what parents didn’t rate as spoiling, grandparents did — including picking up a baby whenever she cries.
Holding and comforting a new baby each time she cries is essentially correct, Stern says, but very few young parents possess the self-confidence to understand that their impulses are right. You have to be strong to buck criticism from your parents and older friends and relatives — people who have been through it all before.
It’s been a long time since most experts urged parents to let tiny infants cry. Psychologist John B. Watson, Ph.D., the first influential modern baby-care writer, wrote in the 1920s that parents could start molding babies into obedient children by regulating their eating and sleeping habits, as well as other aspects of their lives. Then came Benjamin Spock, M.D., with his famous book, Baby and Child Care, in the late 1940s, urging parents to relax and enjoy their children. Parents of baby boomers responded with relief and a less structured approach to raising their kids.
Dr. Spock later emphasized that while babies should not be disciplined, older children need limits. Today’s baby docs tend to follow Spock’s original thinking, particularly for infants. For example, pediatrician/author Penelope Leach urges parents to comfort crying babies by picking them up and talking to them. “The fear of spoiling a baby is a tragic one,” writes Leach.