Despite being firmly entrenched in the humanities—both in education and profession—I have a pretty analytical mind. I’m a little Type-A, and love to feel in control—you can imagine how I reacted to parenting an infant.
I remember crying on the phone to my mom, telling her that I would be OK if my lovely, frustrating baby daughter would pick a schedule and stick to it! It was all that change and uncertainty that was really throwing me for a loop. I can laugh about that now. At the time, though, it seemed like a perfectly reasonable request. To quote Renaissance man Blaise Pascal: “The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.” And I think that sentiment is equally applicable to kids.
Children have their reasons of which adults know nothing.
Thankfully, science is beginning to tease out some of those reasons. Already, hospitals and other organizations are offering classes on parenting infants, that our parents—and certainly our grandparents—never had access to. The hospital where I gave birth offers not only pre-childbirth classes for expectant parents, but also “Happiest Baby on the Block” classes, breastfeeding support groups, and daddy boot camps to name a few.
Ah, if only parenting were as simple as signing up for the right course…
But it’s not just about courses for mom and dad any more. Classes for infants are popping up all over the place as well.
I had some personal experience to draw on when writing “Baby 101” for this issue, because as a first-time mom, I was anxious to launch my daughter’s life with all the benefits my middle-ish class lifestyle could afford her. Music classes? You bet’cha. Baby sign language? As a highly verbal, almost 3-year-old, she still signs regularly. And I relied heavily on mom-and-baby yoga and a stroller club to help me lose the baby weight. But I also worried about stimulating my daughter too much.
Wasn’t there something to be said for good old-fashioned playtime? Parenting and education consultant Hannah Hennig helped me tease out the nuances of baby classes and how they affect our babies’ brains.
Scientists continually tease out more secrets from the neurobiology and neurochemistry that make up the complicated little creatures that are our children. I loved Todd Tuell’s voyage into the totally alien world of little boy’s brains and was fascinated to learn that it’s not just sugar and spice or snails and puppy dog tails that differentiate boys from girls. We really are just wired differently.
The biggest myth that’s been busted for me as a parent is the one that infants have no personality … That they’re malleable and, well, controllable. (If you had any doubt, Ellen Nordberg’s hilarious take on mommy & me classes with twins will wise you up quick.) Science—and loads of anecdotal evidence—has shown that while we can nurture the heck out of our kids and try to mold them into the people we want them to be, nature will have its say. And yes, it would make our jobs as parents a little easier if we could control our children from day one; but part of the joy of parenting is discovering who that little person is from day one.