Playing with your baby when there are grown-up things to be done, trying to look at things from her point of view, adapting to changing needs and moods, responding to every gesture and sound: it all adds up to a lot of attention. Should your baby have so much? Is it loving or is it spoiling?
That’s an argument most parents have with someone, even if it’s only with each other or themselves. You need to work out what you think and find the confidence to behave accordingly yourself, and convey clear expectations to anyone else who cares for your child. If you don’t, you will always be vulnerable to the charge that you are “spoiling” her; in fact, as she grows older, uncertainty about “discipline” may become your Achilles’ heel as a parent.
The specter of a “spoiled child” hangs over many parents almost from the moment their first baby is born. The baby is fine and healthy, but if they are not careful they will “spoil” her. What does that mean? “Spoiled rotten” makes children sound like pieces of beef, made disgusting by being carelessly left out of the refrigerator past their “use by” date, but children are not meat. Neither the definition of “spoiling” nor the preventative action to be taken is agreed upon, yet the concept causes endless misery—and not only to the children. For fear of spoiling, mothers who only want that hurting noise to stop deny themselves relief and leave babies to cry alone; fathers who pant home from work but fail to arrive before “bedtime” deny themselves, or are denied, hugs; grandparents are denied the pleasure of giving “too many” presents, and whole families ration their attention and therefore children’s joy.
Your charming baby will not become a selfish, demanding, bratty four-year-old because she gets “too much” of any of that. There isn’t even any risk that your miserable, colicky baby will get spoiled by all the extra carrying and rocking she’s getting. In fact, there’s no such thing as too much attention and comforting, play, talk and laughter, too many smiles and hugs, even too many presents and treats, as long as parents, or whoever is in charge, give them because they want to rather than because they feel they have to—willingly rather than in response to blackmail. That bratty four-year-old (or forty-year-old) may have been indulged earlier on, but such individuals sometimes turn out to have been notably underprivileged as children. Indulged or deprived, though, what is certain is that people who become spoiled get most of whatever they do receive as young children by bullying it out of parents and others against the adults’ better judgment.
Getting “spoiled” does matter. Young children who will “not take no for an answer,” and older children and adults who remain self-centered and insensitive to the feelings of others, thinking only of their own gratification and giving no thought to anyone else’s needs, are spoilers of everyone’s pleasure. Each child does have to learn that “she isn’t the only pebble on the beach”; every adult does have to be aware that she or he is not an island.
Excerpted from Your Baby and Child by Penelope Leach. Copyright © 2010 By Penelope Leach Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. . All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.