Are you a mother to a tiny tot? How many times have you heard the statement – “Oh! Don’t carry your child all the time. Kids get accustomed to it and then always want you to carry them. Don’t spoil your child.”? I am sure each one you must have been the recipient of this unsolicited advice at least once. I have been too. It is a ubiquitous notion that carrying a baby habitually is going to spoil the little one.
Firstly, I am not sure if I understand what people mean when they say “spoiling”. Do they mean that the parents would end up carrying around their grown up children in their laps because they did so a lot during their infancy and toddlerhood stage? Or do they mean that the children would be too dependent on their parents for life? If it is the former, then it is such a preposterous thought. Have you all ever seen a grown up wanting to be carried around? What are we really trying to caution the parents about here? If it is the latter, then pray tell me, how does one make a child independent without making them feel secure? In fact, it is the other way round – providing your baby the comfort and security which they need for their emotional growth is only going to make them independent faster than when you try to keep pushing them to become self-sufficient while they are not even ready. They will certainly come into their own sooner or later depending on their environment and personality.
A few weeks back, I was at a friend’s apartment in my neighbourhood. Her son had recently turned a year old. He was cranky probably because he was over fatigued and drowsy, and wanted to be carried by his mother when they came down to see us off. In the lift, there was an uncle who sardonically said to the child – “Shame shame. Mummy se chipke hue ho. Abhi to tum big boy ho. God mein nahi rehte.” (Translated to: “What a shame that you are glued to your mother’s arms. You are a big boy now. You should not be in her lap.”). I was appalled and could not resist myself from blurting out all the parenting gyaan that I could in that one minute. Like seriously what is the big deal in witnessing children in the arms of a parent/caregiver? There is no particular or defined age when suddenly we can expect our kids to stop wanting to be carried by us. It is a gradual process which is influenced by numerous factors that vary from child to child. I was given this “forewarning” when my daughter was around 9 months old. I was told that I would spoil my child as I always attended to her plea for being held. So people think that a 9-month-old should be left to cry because that will make her independent? I strongly believe that showering the little ones with our love in various ways does not equate to “spoiling” them, and this is all the more true when it comes to such a small child. In the initial years, children go through humungous changes developmentally and psychologically. They need all the placating and warmth from us. Asking to be carried is just their way to communicate their feelings to us – the reasons may differ each time but there is always a reason. Ignoring their need to purportedly not spoil them can in fact be detrimental at times and can make them feel even more insecure as they might think they are not being understood or acknowledged.
I have observed that more often than not, parents instinctively hold and carry their child if the situation so demands but it is the people around who keep advising them to refrain from doing so by saying “godi ki aadat mat daalo” (Do not get them used to your lap). Every child has different emotional needs; some may want to be held more frequently than other children and may take more time to feel protected and assured. As a parent, YOU have the right to decide what needs to be done depending on your child’s cues. You don’t need to follow the standard advice you are bombarded with from all around. I know that the “godi requests” can be exasperating at times, especially with toddlers, but if your intuitive response is to lift your child in your arms, please do so without any fret of spoiling them.
I will give you the example of my own child. She has always been quite attached to me and someone who has wanted to be carried around quite a bit even after she started walking. I let her take her own time and always held her whenever she demanded for it barring certain instances when I was exhausted myself and not because I thought I was spoiling her. She has been a pretty independent child otherwise since the beginning and performs all her tasks on her own. She is currently 2.5 years old and I do carry her at times even now. Because she can talk now, she herself states the reason as well for wanting my “godi”. There are a plethora of reasons like “feeling too tired” or “feeling hot” or “wanting to pee/poop and so wants to reach home early” (yes that can be a reason too!). She adjusted in her preschool quite well and now comfortably stays without me with trusted people. She is confident about her own self in many ways and is also gradually weaning off breastfeeding by herself. In all likelihood, pushing her would have delayed her natural curve of growth and might have made her clingier. As a matter of fact, now on several occasions when I offer to carry her, say when I am in haste, she runs away or strongly expresses her desire to be left on her own. Even for selfies, she wants to stand and pose like us, and we have to adjust our clicks accordingly to capture everyone in a frame even if it is a struggle with a larger group. So there – remember, they will only cling to you this long!
Cuddle them a bit more, embrace them a bit more and carry them if that is what your parenting instinct voices out to you – you are not spoiling them, rather you are giving them the confidence of weaving their safety net and providing them the reassurance that you are there for them always.