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Nurture Without Spoiling

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

News flash for new parents: You will never spoil your newborn baby by loving her too much. You will not spoil her by responding to her needs or calming her fears. Later—much later—you can protect her from spoiling by allowing her to experience the realities of life. All behaviors have consequences. In the beginning, though, you can relax as you freely give all you have with no danger of over-indulging.

As a baby begins to interact with her world, she will encounter consequences that occur logically. While nursing, baby bites and Mom pulls her breast away. “Ouch!” instinctively comes out of the mother’s mouth. Knowing the baby is too young to conceive thoughts about hurting others, Mom gently adds, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.” Mom does not need to scold as she protects herself. Acting instinctively, Mom returns the breast.

This experience initiates the beginning of teaching a baby which actions will not be tolerated. In a short time, the quick removal, followed by an opportunity to start over, becomes meaningful. The baby’s understanding about behaviors and consequences has started.

Even though you want to get off to a good start, reality will influence every choice. For example, following birth, fatigue sets in. Sleep deprivation clouds thinking. An aching back or sore nipples can affect your patience. Although your new role will demand more than you imagine you have to offer, here is more good news: you will discover a strength that allows you to meet all challenges. Nature programs you for this task. In fact, your baby’s survival depends on nature’s programming.

After living snugly inside a womb for many months, your new baby will undoubtedly feel frightened by her unfamiliar new environment. She will cry, which is her only means of communicating distress. Use this opportunity to comfort as a bonding experience. Hold her snugly, swaddle her tightly, talk to her, sing to her, and provide as much skin-to-skin contact as possible. When your infant cries, she’ll have a good reason. Your job will be to discover her reason and make the correction. Her diaper may not feel right, she might be hungry, or she may simply need your arms around her tiny body.

The more love, time, and safety you can provide, the stronger the foundation will be for later lessons in life. Whether day or night, use these moments to communicate love to your baby by holding her close to you, looking at her, talking to her, and meeting her needs with quiet patience. Yes, the time will come for guiding her through the trenches of consequences. Initially, though, your parenting job will be to keep her comfortable and safe. Love, in its purest form, will likely overflow as you begin the most important task of your life. Giving birth or adopting a new baby place you squarely on holy ground. Showing love through skin-to-skin touch, gentle talk, smiles, and responses to her needs will be your greatest gift to your baby.

Story: Good News for New Parents

Shortly after my son David’s first baby came home from the hospital, David called with a question. “Mom, we’re totally exhausted. We need a good night’s sleep. The guys at work tell me that getting up through the night with our new baby, Lane, will spoil him. They think we should let him cry himself back to sleep.”

I replied, “Of course you are tired. Sleep deprivation and new babies go hand in hand. This will pass as Lane gets a little older. In the meantime, he needs your touch, your gentle voices—and some milk. He is doing exactly what he needs to do as a tiny baby.”

David: “But aren’t we encouraging bad habits? We don’t want him to grow up thinking that every time he cries, we’ll come running. My friends at work think he will be a spoiled brat—a crybaby.”

Mom: “There are many loving ways to parent a new baby. Please allow me to share some of my personal thoughts with you. Your baby wakes up at night because he needs something. He is so small that his tummy can’t take in enough milk to last more than a few hours. He’s hungry. He needs to eat. He could even feel frightened. Life, as we know it, feels strange to him. He needs to be held, talked to, and comforted. Providing care and comfort at this time will pay off later. You are not creating a spoiled brat.”

Pride of parenthood sometimes becomes an obstacle to admitting frustrations and fears that are totally normal, making it difficult for many new parents to ask for help. In addition, beginners sometimes fall prey to a myth that good parents come with natural instincts. In some cases, fear of being criticized halts a willingness to seek information from others. No one wants to feel inadequate. Although life with a new infant is one of the most demanding jobs anyone can face, in most cases parents soon feel successful. Many of those who gain confidence do so by getting help from people and ideas, such as in the examples below.

Caring Family and Friends

A knowledgeable and loving relative, friend, or grandparent may be available to help when a parent needs a break. Keep in mind that most grandparents yearn to be involved with their family and with a new baby.

If anyone you ask declines, you can graciously accept their response with the assurance that genuine reasons restrict their ability to assist you. Never feel like you are imposing. Those who cannot or do not want to help will be honest with you.

A book I recommend, which focuses on the benefits dads bring to birthing and supporting new moms, is The Birth Guy’s Go-To Guide for New Dads by Brian Salmon and Kirsten Brunner.

1 Comment

Great article! Thanks for the shout out at the end. - Kirsten

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