I have recently read this article on Psychology Today and got really angry about the things books and articles have us believe that our babies need. They tell us that only if we behave in a certain way (meaning in their way) children will be well-adjusted and happy and have a good relationship with us.
So I thought that to counter this, I would write my own article. It would be about what babies really need. As it turns out, it isn’t really much.
1) Food- of course they need food. But whether the food comes from a breast or a bottle doesn’t matter. What matters is that said food comes in sufficient quantities, and in the form that suits you, your family and your baby. Later, it doesn’t matter whether the food comes as a puree or steamed morsels because obviously, the phase where they eat that is short and they end up eating what you eat anyway.
2) Sleep- everyone knows that a sleep deprived baby is just as bad as a sleep-deprived mom. One of the wisdoms of parenting is: “Never wake a sleeping baby”. It is just common sense, right up there with: “Don’t swim in the river with crocodiles”. It is just not done. Yes, sleep does matter. What doesn’t matter, however, is whether the baby sleeps with you in your bed or in his or her own crib (or even in his or her own room). It doesn’t matter if you prefer to get up and breastfeed said baby or train them to sleep through the night. It really doesn’t matter in the long term. Sleep also matters for the parent- let’s not forget that moms and dads need sleep, too!
3) Attention- babies do need a lot of attention, that much is true. But they don’t need it all the time, and they don’t need attention from just one person. And sometimes, they need more attention, and sometimes they need less attention. Taking all this into consideration, it’s perfectly fine to go and take a shower, have a cup of tea or read a book for a while, while baby plays happily by him- or herself or gets a chance to play with daddy.
4) Stuff- many people love to tell you that babies don’t need stuff. It is a lie and funnily enough the same people who say that babies don’t need stuff forget that the sling to babywear and the wooden blocks to play with, that is stuff, too. Babies don’t need stuff, but you do: for entertaining baby. For dressing baby. For diapering baby. For traveling with baby. And even if it’s not extra baby stuff, you still need it: if your baby plays with pots and pans, that is still stuff. Babies need stuff, they just don’t need too much of it.
5) Happy parents- I believe that happy parents are paramount to bringing up happy babies, and later happy children. By happy parents, I don’t mean perfect parents. I mean good enough parents who love their children, care for them and admit their mistakes. Happy parents also have a support network, be it extended family or other parents, educators and doctors, with whom they exchange experiences, ask for- and receive support, and help their babies, thrive.
6) Love- I don’t think there is such a thing as too much love, particularly not where the children are concerned. Babies need lots and lots of love. Sometimes, showing it is easy, with hugs and kisses and laughter. Sometimes, it is difficult, by saying “no” and setting boundaries. If it’s not with a belt or a hitting hand, you’re fine in my book.
7) Freedom- From the very early stages, babies make their personalities known. I think even as babies, children need the freedom to explore, freedom to express their opinions (even if they can only cry and react to simple impulses such as temperature or hunger). From early on, they need the freedom to be themselves, to be cared for the way they need, not what parenting books tell the parents to.
8) Help, support and protection- just because babies need to learn doesn’t make them incompetent or stupid. After all, as adults, even if we’re clever and experienced in one thing, we still need to ask for help in other areas of life. There are many things that babies will learn all by themselves, but for example speaking it not one of them. So yes, children need us to talk to them. How much you talk is a matter of preference, but talk you must. And some children need more help than others and they have to go through therapy. And that is OK if they get the help they need. People say that babies are fragile. They are right. Babies are fragile, but not the way many people think. Having a baby wait won’t break him. One angry outburst won’t break her. But babies do need protection. They need protection from the cold and from the heat. They need protection from overzealous family members who are so keen to hold the baby that said baby doesn’t sleep at night from exhaustion. Babies need protection from diseases, having been born with an underdeveloped immune system- this is where vaccinations come in. And unfortunately, some babies need protection from their own parents. Luckily, in most cases, parents care for their babies really well, so yes, babies need protection, but babies are also strong and independent. They can deal with a less than ideal parent.
9) Culture- yes, humans are mammals, but they are very special mammals. In fact I haven’t heard of other species who would write blog posts about how mammalian we are. Communication is very common among animals, but speech is typical for humans. And each and every one of us is a part of a certain culture. After all a pregnant woman is never in a vacuum, she is a part of her culture. And when the baby is born, he or she also becomes a part of the culture, and thus a member of a community. And babies also need culture in the sense of needing being talked to, read to, fed, put to sleep in a culturally appropriate manner.
10) Be multilingual
Ok, babies don’t really need to be multilingual for survival. For survival, one language is enough. But, as you know, I am a huge fan of multilingualism and think that speaking more than one language is a huge advantage. I may, of course, be biased here, but there are many cognitive benefits to multilingualism, and Adam Beck of Bilingual Monkeys even argues that babies WANT to be bilingual!
I know this list seems hard and long. But I am pretty sure you already know many if not all of these points. I am not telling you how to feed your baby or put her to sleep. Too many parenting books and articles do that but often, instead of helping, they unnecessarily create fear and guilt. I am just telling you about the very basic needs a baby may have, and how you fulfil them is totally up to you!