Have you ever felt guilty about wanting to put your baby down?
When I had my first daughter, I felt this guilt. I loved my snuggle time with her, but I was noticing myself feeling “touched out.” All I wanted was to put her down for a quick minute so I could drink my coffee. My mind raced as I thought about how everything I had read told me how important it was to hold and snuggle my baby.
“Is it wrong that I want just a minute alone?”
Fast forward a few months, and this feeling of guilt was getting worse. Now she interacts with me. I could make her coo and smile, and I worried that if I weren’t constantly singing to her and cuddling with her, I would be holding her back from some opportunity to grow or develop.
Even though all my brain wanted was a stimulating podcast or book, I spent my days singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Baby Shark to my six-month-old. Though some of these moments were magic, I felt myself slipping away into this role, and I missed myself.
At this point, I knew something had to change. I went back to my training in infant mental health, and I remembered the words of Alison Gopnik, who talks about the importance of giving infants a chance to “just be”.
Building a secure relationship comes from showing up
To build a secure relationship with our infants, we need to consistently show up for them, be there for them when they cry out for us, and show them that their needs are being met. However, this does not mean we need to hold them and play with them 100% of the time.
I have worked with many parents over the years, and I have heard about this same guilty feeling numerous times. I can almost feel the sense of relief enter the room when I talk about Dr. Alison Gopnik’s concept of babies as “blue-sky thinkers”.
Your baby is a Little Scientist
“Blue sky thinking” is often used as a business term for brainstorming with no limits. If the sky was the limit, there were no consequences, boundaries, or judgments – where would your imagination take you?
Babies are the natural experts at this. Everything in their world is new and wondrous. Everything is worth exploring and trying, from the fan on the ceiling to the blocks they put in their mouths. It’s healthy for our babies to spend time exploring and being curious on their own.
When we need to put them down and have a break, we can use this as time for them to explore the world around them.
Blue sky thinking is the key
There is often a misconception that gentle parenting means spending all of our time and energy focused on our little ones – holding them close and giving them everything they want. The truth is, gentle parenting does involve supporting our children and making sure their needs are met, but it also involves being gentle on ourselves. We can’t take care of our little ones if we aren’t meeting our own needs as well.
In my parenting course Parenting Little Kids, the very first tip I share for building a bond with your baby is to take care of yourself. We can’t talk about building an attached relationship with your child without talking about the importance of taking care of yourself. Many parents, myself included, don’t feel an instant connection as soon as their baby is placed on their chest after birth. This connection can take time to build, and it can be overwhelming to think about how we will build this connection.
When we have these overwhelming feelings, it’s important to remember that sometimes we need to care for ourselves before we can bond with our babies. This might look like making sure we don’t forget to eat, moving our bodies at least once a day, talking to someone we trust about how we are feeling, and allowing ourselves to receive support.
Taking care of you is taking care of them
Remember, sometimes we need to have a few minutes to ourselves. We need to put the baby down and grab a coffee, tend to our other kids, or read for a few minutes. We don’t need to feel guilty about this. By putting our children down, we are giving them a chance to get curious and explore the world around them. A baby’s work of looking at the world around them and noticing new things is significant!
You are not a bad parent if you are giving your infant time on a mat: you are providing your child opportunities to discover, think freely, and be the little scientist they were meant to be. Take this time to care for yourself – grab a hot coffee, spend some time with our older children, sit and read your book, or do whatever you need to do to care for yourself!