Queer Brown Girl Trying to be a Parent: The Foundation of Love
As a privileged person, I was able to access many resources during my Maternity Leave to learn how to be a better parent. And, I accessed those resources. Like everything in my life, I achieve by learning so it was no surprise that I took full advantage of the City of Toronto’s Public Health departments parenting resources.
For one, I started with the online prenatal classes, and, I was able to take 2 more Mom’s groups where I learned different and vital parenting skills. The first group, Living and Learning with Baby, was about caring for a baby and baby basics like feeding and sleeping your baby. The second, Make the Connection, was about bonding, attachment and teaching your baby through love, communication and learning.
It was in these groups that I came to internalize a message that was an important learning for me. And, that is the focus of this blog this month.
One of the facilitators said to us new moms in the group something like this: Every mom worries about their baby reaching her milestones. Is she walking yet? Has he cut his first tooth? But all babies will eventually reach their milestones. What all babies won’t get is ‘believing in themselves’, loving themselves and feeling self-confident and self-assured. It is up to us to instill these ‘skills’ that will take a lifetime to cultivate. Every baby will eventually reach those common milestones; what we need to do as parents is build a foundation of (self-)love by breeding an environment of love, safety and trust with our babies.
That profoundly hit me.
The other day I was at an indoor playground with Adli and a woman who was staring him down abruptly asked me how old he was. When I answered she sorta scrunched up her face and didn’t say another word. My guess is that she was comparing Adli to her baby as Adli started to walk ‘early’. (There are time frames that are given with each milestone. For example, most babies learn to walk between the ages of nine months and a year, with some babies walking after a year old).
In my short experience of being a mom (especially among white, hetero, middle class moms as that’s the dominant demographic that lives in my neighbourhood) people compare their babies, even if they don’t want to or mean to. I partially blame capitalism and lookism. People compare themselves/their lives all the time, and have rigid standards of what’s ‘normal’ and what’s acceptable. People also project productivity on their babies from the very start. That is, they want their baby to move fast in reaching their milestones as if it is an indicator of whether or not your kid is advanced (which, scientifically it is not). I get why people do it but comparing our kids doesn’t breed positivity or self-love for our kids or ourselves.
As mentioned, most babies will figure out how to eat with a spoon or learn to crawl in their own time, while it might worry or frustrate a mom for whatever reason if her baby isn’t doing this in the ‘normal’ time frame (standardized by the Western medical model), the importance of when this happens is fleeting.
What takes a lifetime is building confidence in our selves and a foundation of self-love and self-worth.
How do we teach our kids to love themselves? How do we teach ourselves to love us? How do we role model self-love and ensure a strong bond with our babies, kids, and loved ones?
There is no real formula or recipe but here are some concrete ways I learned to facilitate Adli (and myself!) - investing in his self-worth and feeling loved and secure.
With Adli… 1. Every night right before I lay him down for his final sleep, I whisper in his ear that he is important and special. 2. I read him books like “Wherever you are, my love will find you” and “The Crown on Your Head” (both) by Nancy Tillman and “I am so happy” by Alberto Agrasso and Mony Dojeiji. 3. I look in his eyes and tell him ‘I love you’ many times a day. I often touch him or embrace him (touch being very important to bonding with babies) 4. We do age-appropriate activities to build his confidence and encourage him. I spend time following his lead and being interested in what he is doing 5. I talk to him lots, tell him what’s going to happen next and share information.
Some people have actually said it is silly to do some of these things, because Adli is just a baby and he won’t know the difference, or that too much of any of these things will spoil him. On the contrary, Adli feeling that I am there for him and feeling like I am interested in him builds a strong bond between us resulting in a smarter, more communicative baby, who also feels safer with me. He also feels confident in knowing what is going to happen next (i.e. a routine and explaining stuff) and he can explore and discover safely feeling protected.
With myself… 1. I put up a sign that says ‘I love myself’ and say it every day, especially when I am not feeling that way. 2. I focus on all the great stuff I did to be a good mom this year and don’t even mention the stuff I don’t feel great about. 3. I give myself time limits on self-hate or getting down on myself. For example, if I feel guilty about talking on the phone while Adli is awake, I limit myself to complaining about it to only one or two friends, or thinking about it negatively for 2 hours and move onto a distracting activity. 4. I role model self-confidence. For example, when with other moms I try to be humble about how I parent Adli but also share the tips that have helped me, speaking only for myself. 5. I read stuff that is empowering for me and validates my experience. 6. I try and have as much fun as possible and do as much self-care as possible. It is important to show myself (and others) that I matter and I am important, too.
It’s always a challenge to love ourselves, especially when life makes us feel like we are unimportant. I often need to take extra time out of my day, especially when I have so many others to care for, to show myself some appreciation, rejuvenation or self-care.
It will take a lifetime to fully bond with my baby. It will also take a lifetime to really believe in ourselves and feel like we are worthy. But, if we start strong, the road won’t be so uphill - hopefully, we can build a foundation of (self-)love and self-worth in ourselves and the kids in our lives so that when life does kick ‘em, it will only be a bump in the road and not a full-on crash!