Am I “Enjoying the Moment” Enough? A Note to New Parents

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I am writing this while my young daughter naps. I think to myself, “Type! Type faster… Hurry!” However, my thoughts and feelings about being a parent race faster than my fingers can move. Motherhood is so much more than a word. It is a feeling, an identity, and a way of life. People say when you have children your own life is on-hold, your individual identity gone. But, no; with parenthood, life is expanded. As a psychologist and parent, I integrate professional knowledge with personal experience. Most importantly, I apply the information in a way that makes sense for my daughter and me. I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I remain conscious of our individual relationship as it evolves day to day. This blog is a glimpse into my process.

When you first bring your child home, you may still be in a daze that you now have a little person with you. Each day you gain insight about who this little one is and what your unique rhythm will be. I come from a large family, so I was fortunate enough to be comfortable with babies. However, when it is your own child, there are different feelings, responsibilities, exhaustion, as well as a noticeable decline in the ability to retain information. (The other day as I worked on my computer, I noticed the battery was depleted. Determined to charge my computer before it shut down, I ran to the kitchen. A few minutes later I sat back at my computer with only a chocolate chip cookie in hand…no charger in sight!) I know in the first few weeks I felt overwhelmed with love and also just plain overwhelmed. I didn’t always know what my daughter needed, everywhere I turned there was a new “break-through” theory in parenting or a must-have baby product. Not to mention, I was crying at any news story, good or bad, about a child. Advice could be found on every subject ? food, products, schedules, pediatricians, shots, sleep, classes. I could go on and on.

There is a wealth of information at our fingertips; what a benefit! On the other hand, it can be a distraction or substitute at times from following our own intuition. There can be an internal conflict such as, “This is how my mother did it and I survived,” versus applying the findings of current professionals. I know as a psychologist I have been exposed to multiple sources of information, but have learned to look first at my own daughter and then see how a parenting approach fits, rather than shape my daughter to fit the advice.

I imagine the relationship between infant and parent as a dance. This dance includes the concept that when your baby has a need, you respond accordingly. The needs will change and so will the dance. This allows a child to develop a sense of trust and safety and confidence that their basic needs will be met, which is so important during this first year. This equates to the idea of attunement. Attunement is this dance, reading your child’s cues and staying aware of what is communicated, while maintaining flexibility yet consistency in your response. Creating a stable, enriching environment assists your child in an essential task of development: being able to self-regulate emotionally and cognitively. This means that a child is able to maintain a sense of control even when something is uncomfortable. For example, a hungry infant will cry but as this child becomes older, when he feels hungry he stays calm, knowing that dinner is about to be served.

Many parents struggle with the question, “Am I doing enough each day to facilitate healthy development?” Creating a stimulating environment enhances the senses and is achieved, for example, through play, music, healthy touch, and through mirroring, such as by repeating the sounds or expressions your baby makes. Each day I give my daughter a short massage, promoting relaxation, healthy physical growth, and bonding. In addition, it is important to allow your child room to explore. This can mean sitting back at times, encouraging self-exploration, and even just being outside and listening to the surrounding sounds. All of these different types of interactions allow a child to make sense of his environment, and, in turn, an infant’s brain develops to reflect his environment. A soothed baby whose needs have been met consistently, develops healthy neurological patterns. I understand that there are circumstances out of our control; traumas can occur that we never anticipated. The hopeful part is that cognitive development is malleable or impressionable. Healing can occur as well as healthy neurological growth. As parents, we have a part in this. What an amazing responsibility!

I am told on a weekly if not daily basis to “enjoy the moment because soon she will be a teenager.” We are left with the question of how to enjoy the moment. For me this has looked like slowing down at times and just watching my daughter, taking in her little facial expressions and nuances. It may just be listening outside of her door or practicing the massage with her. It comes in the form of sharing her new developments, no matter how minuscule they may seem to an outsider. For instance, the other day I called out to my husband to come quickly, and when he ran into the room I proudly stood back as our daughter was saying the word ‘poop’ for the first time. Ok, so enjoying the moment may not always be glamorous and momentous, but it means I have little glimpses and memories into her first years of life that I can look back on and smile.

Sara Abbot Edrington, Psy.D. moved to Los Angeles, CA to attain her doctorate degree from Alliant International University’s California School of Professional Psychology. She has worked as a psychologist with underserved families at an outpatient crisis center, women’s shelter, and clinic for children, teens and their families. She is Co-Founder and Associate Director of the Family Resource Counseling Center in West Los Angeles as well as Pacific Psychology, where she provides therapeutic services for children, teens, and adults. Recognizing the importance of forming strong connections in early life, she is certified in infant massage instruction, providing classes for parents and caregivers on healthy physical, cognitive, and emotional development. In addition, she has collaborated with local as well as international schools and community based programs, providing educational seminars to promote mental health.

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