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The Mindful New Parent

Seven things every baby needs to thrive.

From the moment our babies are conceived, parents are bombarded with messages about buying their wholeness. But the well-being of children has little to do with purchasing the newest bouncy seat on the market or dressing them in adorable outfits that will impress friends on social media. Healthy, happy children are raised that way by caring, attentive parents. This means giving children our attention, energy, and love, not merely showering them with material things and documenting their most adorable moments.

Children need our presence more than they need our presents. Just as a vitamin or mineral deficiency can lead to problems later in life, parents need to focus on fulfilling the basic needs every baby has from birth onward to raise happy, confident children. And babies are not the only ones with needs. Every person on the planet longs to experience these seven feelings from the day they are born until the day they leave the world. By identifying the desires you have in common with your baby, you can become a more mindful parent.

1. A Solid Sense of Security

Every baby needs to feel wanted. A child’s future ability to manage tension will be affected by how secure he feels during the first years of life. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children must have a sense of security in order to develop healthy self-esteem in the future. A baby needs to feel his primary caregiver is taking care of his every need. And if childcare is needed, a secondary caregiver needs to give as much quality attention as a parent. Even so, a parent may wish to invest extra affection after work to re-bond.

Every parent feels insecure sometimes, but it’s important that parents work toward staying grounded themselves as well. The key to doing this is to know how to manage tension when it happens. Have tools on hand that help you quickly and effectively lower stress like taking a walk, meditating, or taking deep breaths. Remember, your goal is not to become a perfect parent; your goal is to have enough support to feel secure, so you can pass the quality of rootedness on to your child.

Baby Bill of Rights

Every baby deserves to feel:
  1. Secure
  2. Heard
  3. Valued
  4. Loved
  5. Responded to
  6. Guided
  7. Connected

2. A Natural Flow of Emotions

Allowing your child to feel the way she feels begins at birth. Every baby expresses a range of feelings. If only positive feelings are allowable and negative feelings are discouraged, your baby will lose her natural emotional equilibrium. Your child’s future ability to experience pleasure, intimacy, and create healthy relationships hinges on her ability to get her emotional needs met in infancy and beyond. When we are older, so much of our ability to experience joy depends on our ability to process grief in a healthy manner.

No one is asking you to be emotionally perfect, parents. But try to process your emotions, so you feel emotionally available for your baby’s ongoing needs. Find someone to talk to about the feelings you have while parenting. Other expressive outlets might include journaling, doodling, painting, or any other type of artistic practice that helps you channel emotions. If you are expressing your feelings regularly, you will have an easier time responding to the ebb and flow of your child’s emotions. An emotionally calm parent is more likely to have a happy, relaxed child.

Two moms kissing baby
Photo: iStock.

3. Feelings of Worthiness

Even though infants don’t do much more than eat, sleep, and get their diapers changed, every baby needs to feel valued. According to therapist Tamara Hill, children develop their identity based on feeling valued, loved, heard, and respected. From birth onward, your child needs help developing the foundation for his future abilities. This is why parents spend so much time encouraging little ones to do things like roll over, crawl, and walk. Your child might not appreciate his own progress as much without you positively mirroring it back. So, go ahead and cheer for your child’s latest, age-appropriate accomplishment. You are not spoiling your baby; you are motivating him to tackle the next developmental challenge.

Of course, parents need encouragement, as well. You will have your fair share of exhausted moments while parenting, so make an agreement with your partner to encourage each other. If you focus on your relationship as a partnership and your family as a team, life’s many challenges will fall into their rightful places. Try laughing about how exhausted, overwhelmed, and under-assisted you feel, instead of taking it out on each other. Watching funny sitcoms can be comforting, especially when they reflect where you are in your parenting adventure. We all want to feel confident and in-control of our lives, and keeping a sense of humor can help us feel worthy of support during challenging times.

4. Giving and Receiving Love

To love and to be loved makes us human. Our ability to experience compassion for others, create harmony rather than strife, and cultivate a peaceful life on earth happens when we learn to love and be loved during babyhood. This is why every baby needs to feel loved, and will happily love you back, when her needs are met. So, don’t ever worry about spoiling an infant because according to medical professionals, it’s not possible. Infants are not sophisticated enough to purposely manipulate adults. They only express themselves to get their needs met, and they will grow up to be better communicators when they do.

The tone of your relationships matters, parents. Try to set as moral, empathetic, and peaceful a tone as possible in your home. If you and your partner love the baby but struggle to love each other, get help from a professional or join a support group. Plan around your baby’s schedule to make quality time for you and your spouse. Try an earlier bedtime or make the most of weekend nap times. Many couples experience turbulence while adjusting to parenthood. Couples that make time to connect have more harmonious marriages than couples that don’t.

5. Ability to Self-express

Babies make noise. They cry, squawk, gurgle—and this is only the beginning. Before you know it, they will be chanting ma-ma-ma, da-da-da and imitating the sounds that go with specific objects. If you don’t teach your child the basic building blocks of communication, and repeat words back over and over, he won’t learn as well or as quickly. Get a head start by communicating with your baby as early as in the womb. A 2013 study at the University of Washington showed that babies begin absorbing language as early as 10 weeks before birth.

Baby talk can get tiring for parents, though. So, connect frequently with adults who have either been in your shoes or who are going through the same baby stage. Consider joining mom-baby playgroups or exercise groups to meet up with like-minded parents. You can also find online discussion groups, write letters by hand, or send email messages as a way of reaching out to other parents. If you honestly express your thoughts and ask for what you need from adults, you’ll be more available and willing to converse in an age-appropriate manner with your developing baby.

6. Access to Intuition and Imagination

Babies are born whole with their own temperaments, thanks to genetics. Our job as parents is to nurture children so they can blossom into the people they have the potential to become. Personality emerges starting at birth from a continuous interplay between biological disposition and personal experience. Studies suggest that imagination kicks in around 18 months. As child development psychologist Alison Gopnik points out in her TED Talk “What Do Babies Think?,” parents think more like caterpillars and babies think more like butterflies, because babies are much more willing to experiment and explore mentally whereas adults are more habitual in their thinking.

Imagination helps foster cognitive and social development in children, but don’t expect growing children to think like adults. Parents need access to their flights of fancy, too. If you feel like you spend too much time in the real world dealing with adult responsibilities, why not let your child’s imaginative play lead you places you might not otherwise go? As your child grows, he will invite you into worlds where you can remember the power your own imagination once held. Even if you are not the fun parent in your partnership, you can likely still find playful areas of interest with your children as they grow, if you let them lead the way.

7. Development of Spiritual Connection

If we want to honor children as empowered individuals, we have to remember that they will make their own choices once they are adults. We should not imagine, as we introduce our children to our values and reinforce them, that we are cinching their future choices.

Until children can think like adults, parents may wish to turn over the reins little by little as they mature. Part of being a parent is recognizing the limits of our influence. If we want to inspire our children to follow in our spiritual footsteps, we can inspire them with our example, and then let them choose what works best for them with our heartfelt support.

The saying goes, there are many paths up the same mountain. As parents we need to prepare for the inevitable day when our child climbs the mountain by herself without needing our assistance. As portrayed so well in the timeless musical Fiddler on the Roof, the day will likely come when children seek our blessing rather than our permission. When we can look at parenting as a process of doing our best and then letting go, everyone’s growth goes more smoothly.

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