Babies need attuned mothers to form trusting bonds, not ‘experts’
Babies with secure attachments have higher chances of growing up to be socially and emotionally healthy. They carry the message that they are worthy as they are, they can trust others and the world is safe enough to explore.
The other day I was passing by a leading baby store and before I knew it, I had walked right in for a peek. The peek turned into loitering from shelf to shelf, mooning over all those adorable tiny onesies, booties, cradles, cuddly toys, along with a weird sense of what young people call FOMO (fear of missing out) on what I could have bought for my babies when they were little. A little odd considering my kids are 21 and 17 years old now! Yes, pretty bizarre indeed but that is exactly how the booming baby industry is exploiting gullible parents.
No wonder we start filling up our homes with all the exorbitantly priced equipment, enrolling them in trending baby workshops (starting at 2 months), decorating nurseries with colour coded accessories, hiring English-speaking nannies, and strutting them around in luxury labels. Not to mention the ‘must have’ toys which ‘foster brain development’, ‘build cognitive skills’! Which parent can say no to those? If it is best for our kids and will give them a headstart, then we are going to get it. No matter how.
Except that it is not. Whatever the baby industry might try to sell you, babies do not need or care for any of that stuff. All it does is create more stress and anxiety in parents of not doing enough for their babies. What we need is less ‘doing’ and more of ‘being’.
I have observed a baffling trend in early parenting. While the West is waking up to the wisdom of our early child-rearing practices, we Indians are in a frantic rush to lap up all things Western. So when the latest Western research is highlighting the benefits of going the natural way — be it home birth, mother and baby “rooming in” after birth, prolonged breastfeeding, “baby wearing”, co-sleeping and community nurturing — we are rushing around in circles and tying ourselves into knots over absurd stuff.
In our struggle to keep up with the latest parenting craze we have become completely blind to the wealth of our own traditional wisdom. I am not denying that we have gained a lot from Western sciences, however, we need to make sure that in all our zeal, we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater (sorry for the violent metaphor).
What I have learned as a mother and as a child therapist is very simple – babies need mothers who are available for emotional attunement. Have you observed that some mothers have a knack of tuning into their babies acutely, almost as if they shared a unique emotional space which nobody else had entry to? Every look, cry, smile is decoded at a cellular level and responded to immediately. As if there was a deep, pulsating, positive energy bond connecting their hearts together. That is attunement, a quintessential element for forming mother-baby attachment where the baby is nourished, protected, and which is crucial for the baby’s growth and, at times, even survival.
Research in the area of attachment clearly indicates that responding to babies immediately helps them build trust in their mothers and use them as a secure base as they grow older. Babies with secure attachments have higher chances of growing up to be socially and emotionally healthy. They carry the message that they are worthy as they are, they can trust others and the world is safe enough to explore.
On the other hand, babies who are not able to form that attachment through attunement due to emotionally unavailable mothers carry a high risk of carrying the message that they are not worthy or loveable and that the world is too unsafe to explore. These are deep-seated pre-verbal (even before language skills develop), erosive messages of rejection that can end up impacting their sense of identity, choices and even relationships for the rest of their life. At times, early disrupted breakdown of attachment can also lead to mental health difficulties in adolescence or later life.