Our role as mothers, and as parents, is one that can surprise us, and the worries that we end up having in supporting our baby’s development can be intense. Who would have thought we’d be so interested in the minute movements of our babies, from chest rising and falling as they sleep, to watching their tongue stick out in imitation of us, to the shape and colour of their poop! Although I talk a lot about infant development (it’s been my focus professionally for over 20 years), we don’t often talk about how our baby’s development is woven into the fabric of our own development as parents.
OFTEN OUR CURIOSITY AND DELIGHT (AND WORRY!) ABOUT OUR BABY’S DEVELOPMENT TAKES THE FRONT STAGE:
When will they roll?
When will they crawl?
When will they eat solids?
When will they say their first word?
When will they sleep through the night?
Underneath these questions, though, are more uncertain ones:
What can I do to make sure my baby grows and thrives?
If my baby has trouble (crawling, managing solids, sleeping) is it my fault?
What toys do I need so my baby can develop the way they should?
How do I get this “right” so I help my baby develop?
Why does so much of what I read conflict with each other?
How do I know what to do?
Somewhere under the questions, the curiosities, and the concerns, is a deeper truth: your parenting role matters more than what usually gets appreciated. And yet not always in the way you expect.
YOU ARE THEIR WORLD, AND YOU ARE ENOUGH
There is no such thing as perfect parenting, or the perfect environment. What there is, however, is the possibility of deep joy and curiosity about who your baby is, what amazing skills they will express next, and how to keep “caught up” with the incredible speed at which your baby is changing.
I see one of the most powerful roles we can play as mothers is simply to establish a loving, safe, and simple yet stimulating environment for our babies to develop skills at their own pace. By focusing on the relationship (and our secure attachment) with our babies we are in a better position to make decisions about what our babies need, and can take greater joy in watching their development emerge.
So, as your baby grows in the coming months and years, remember that you are growing too! Keep your eye on the biggest priority of all — the one that keeps your baby’s world secure and fascinating: your relationship with them. Which means that while you feel like parenting is all about your baby, it’s worthwhile flipping that idea over and reflect on parenting being all about you:
The world you create for your baby helps them feel safe and secure. And this supports babies in being confident and curious, calm and playful.
The simple yet nurturing relationship you are working towards having with your child will do far more to support their motor, cognitive, and emotional development than any toy will ever do.
What can you do to support your own development? Here are four ideas to reflect on:
1. Self-regulation: by focusing on your own feelings and needs, and your ability to regulate your reactions, you are able to process information better and make decisions that align more with your priorities as a parent.
2. Growth of your own priorities, traditions and values. The perspectives you had before becoming a parent might start feeling kind of outdated! And although there are traditions and values that hold deep value for you, there may be new parenting perspectives that you are developing that feel at odds with what you expected. Approach the shift in your role and your identity as a parent with flexibility and self-forgiveness. Change is hard, navigating new roles can include grieving the loss of old ones, but your personal growth as a mother can also feel powerful.
3. Holding space for big feelings (your own and your baby’s!): After reflecting on your own big feelings, it is naturally easier to accept and hold space for your baby’ feelings. Baby-hood can be frustrating! And a young mind cannot yet regulate these big feelings without support. By staying as calm and soft as possible, you are helping your baby manage their own big feelings through co-regulation.
4. Mental wellness and emotional well-being. Parenting can be anxiety-producing, and many mothers feel overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed. Finding ways to fill your own cup (self-care), feeling sustained emotionally and mentally (rest, connection, and community), and getting skilled support from a mental health professional are three ways to support your own emotional development as a parent.
Although your baby’s development in the first 3 years is profound and incredible, so too is the development you are undergoing. Parenting is an extraordinary and significant journey filled with big ups and downs. And so, as you worry and delight in the transformation you see your baby undergoing, know that your transformation as a parent is just as extraordinary.
To explore infant and parent development further, see heatherboyd.ca/infant-development-circle
Heather was also on the Joyful Mud Puddles Podcast talking about Infant Sleep Development
Connect With Heather
Family Sleep & Development: www.heatherboyd.ca
Grace Under Water Environmental Health: www.graceunderwater.com