What is a child? I know that sounds like a snarky question, but stay with me a moment. A child is a little human being, new to the human experience. The design is perfect. He is born, not on his own in the wild, plopped down as a precocious being to make his own way in the world. No. The design is such that the baby’s parents will have been on the planet for enough years to understand the way things work. They know the ropes, know how to participate in society, know how to get food and shelter. They know how to gas up the car, pay for groceries, ask for directions to the park. The child is a newbie, doesn’t know any of this stuff, and relies heavily upon his folks to intervene in his behalf, keep him fed, hydrated, warm, and well. We can think of the child as a visitor from another, very different country where the customs and culture and language are completely different than here. (This, by the way, is a very helpful metaphor to keep in the back of your mind throughout your parenting career.)
A child has very basic needs and very basic, but effective, communication skills to convey those needs. A biological mom is, in fact, hardwired to get her child’s messages, understand them, and act on them. And, even without the benefit of biology, the more a child and her parents interact successfully in this way, the more facile and refined their communications become.
Interestingly, a baby does not need much: Food, warmth, shelter, love, and all these things can be provided ~ without expense ~ by Mom in her arms. She doesn’t need a crib or a mobile or a swing or adorable clothes, stuffed animals, Baby Mozart, a state-of-the-art stroller. None of the things. Nothing. Just Mom. And, although this bit of information may not be so great for the economy, it is important to understand and pay attention to. A little baby’s well-being is not at all enhanced by the things we buy for her. And, to the extent that they substitute for the attention of loving parents, some of these things can undermine their relationship (as in a pacifier), unless the parent is mindful about enjoying these things with the baby.
And, if that need is honored, that’s how the communication process becomes refined and perfected. And, it can continue on like that for years.
In our society, however, that bond often gets interrupted too soon for a variety of reasons. But, underlying all of these reasons is the lack of understanding about the child’s basic needs, the lack of understanding that what the child needs most is his mom to meet those needs. I believe if this were better understood and supported, much of the illness and pathos in our society might never show up.
And, when the child and his mother are not able to strengthen their communication pathways, what happens next is that their ability to communicate clearly with each other deteriorates. This is evidenced by a child’s employing other, more annoying forms of communication to convey his needs. And, a child can become very frustrated when his requests to have his needs met are answered by things that he does not need (for example, any of those things above). So, imagine, if you will, a child’s frustration at needing to suck at his mother’s breast only to have a lifeless, cold rubber nipple popped into his mouth that yields none of the delicious, nurturing, beneficial and healing properties that he might have been expecting, craving, and needing. It’s called a pacifier, and it is more than that. It is the beginning of the breakdown in communication.
That’s because it is one of the first ways a mother separates herself from her child. And, the more distant she becomes, the less in tune she becomes with her child’s needs, the less she gets his communication, the more insistent he becomes, the more annoyed and frustrated she becomes. Et cetera.
But, it is very important to understand that children are resilient and forgiving, and a mother can at any point reverse the trend and get more present with her child. And at that point, they can continue where they left off, increasing their understanding of each other and learning from each other.