The importance of friends & family in your baby’s life

So I’m typing in a comment responding to a query from a gal about her tiny baby being very attached to her and how she can get ready for when she goes back to work, saying “get her used to friends and family holding her and being safe too” when it struck me how poor a job of this Linda and I did with our kids and how that really adversely affected our ability to have a life of our own when they were little.
What’s ironic is that we did exactly the same thing with our beloved dogs too. We got two standard poodles, Jasmine and Karma (well, their breeder names were Dal Cristi’s Crescent Moon and Dal Cristi’s Kona Moon, but we simplified things!) when they were 8 weeks old and we were in grad school, with weird schedules. So what did we do? We never socialized them, they just hung out with us and occasionally met a friend who would come over to our places (we were living in two apartments in the same complex when we got them) to study.
Whenever we’d take them out for a walk (the dogs, not our babies!! 🙂 they’d bark at everyone and be fearful of anything that was at all abnormal. I can still remember how of an evening Karma would slink in terror past trash cans if it was trash day in our neighborhood. Amusing at the time, but indicative of a lack of self-confidence that did rear its head time and again as she grew older with us and wouldn’t stop barking at people.
What strikes me is that in both situations, with kids and with dogs, we were so easily lulled into our own little world that we forgot that being insular isn’t safer, it’s a serious problem for babies and puppies alike.

I’ve shared with many of my friends how my oldest, A-, 13, had such major separation anxiety that the first year we had her in pre-school (a parent co-op pre-school) I spent every single morning on campus for the entire year because she’d flip out if I left.
It started out where I’d have to be in the same space or visible, but then I’d just grab the Wall Street Journal, a couple of magazines, and hang out in an unused classroom, relaxing and reading, while she’d peek in every 10-15 minutes to make sure that her defender, her Dad, was within range and she was therefore safe, even if she couldn’t see me at the moment.
Finally, by the end of the year, I could say “I’m going to get a cup of coffee, I’ll be back in ten minutes” and then pop over to Los Osos Cafe down the street in Los Gatos proper, get a cup of coffee and hang out in my car in the parking lot, reading and listening to NPR.
Wacked. It was in retrospect insane to do that for a year, but it was the only way at that point we could teach her to have the confidence that school was safe, that teachers were safe, and that it was okay to not be within arm’s reach of mommy or daddy every waking moment. I won’t even share our babysitter horror stories, but let’s just say we learned fairly quickly that even our friends couldn’t babysit when she was young.
It worked out in the end, as they say, but looking back on it, we did the same darn thing that we’d done with our dogs: had too few strangers, too few family members, too few friends involved in their lives, and we reaped the inevitable consequences of that with fearful children who had / have a hard time with strangers.
Is it still an issue? Two nights ago a babysitter – a family friend whose younger sister is A-‘s classmate – stayed with my kids while I attended a meeting and when I asked for a report afterwards, K-, 6, had a hard time going to bed and was quite upset around bedtime. At six. With her older brother and sister in the house too.
When I asked her why she’d had a hard time with bedtime she told me that it was because she and her brother had been arguing and that had upset her, but I think it was just bedtime. We have a nice rhythm, a nice bedtime routine at my house, her and I cuddling up, reading a book, and her drifting quickly off to sleep, and we do that every night she’s here at my place without fail.
So is a routine good or is it bad? Jeez, at this point I don’t even know. I will say that I feel like it’s amazing that 13 years into parenting I still don’t have the whole “other people in their lives” thing worked out so that I have more freedom. Sometimes I feel like that’s the dark unspoken side of attachment parenting, actually, and other times I think that it’s lucky for my sanity that I’m now divorced: half the time I have no kids and freedom to have a social life without worrying about the home bedtime scene.
Still, how are you dealing with the balance between attachment parenting, closeness, trust in strangers/family, and your children’s ability to be successful away from you?

3 comments on “The importance of friends & family in your baby’s life

  1. This issue comes and goes for me. The twins (3.5) should be used to me heading out on a regular basis because I used to travel for work, and I have evening and weekend gig’s fairly often since I am a musician. BUT. They never want me to leave. No matter how much fun they have with Grandma, or a friend or their Dad, its often a chorus of howling as I head out the door.
    Usually they calm right down and enjoy themselves, but probably once a month they just whine and pout all evening wanting me to come home.
    When I get home I always crawl into bed with them and whisper how much I love them and cuddle a bit, in case that helps on a subliminal basis.

  2. You know, I think what you’re saying is right as long as the separation occurs before the kids are secure enough to be left with a stranger. We sorta did the same thing with our kids; we’re very close to them and never let them out of our sight. They never stayed with a babysitter or had to be taken to preschool or anything. I’m sure if we had needed to do something at some point without them or if they needed to go to school then it would have been a problem.
    With us, we didn’t have to experience that. The boys, have grown out of that attachment phase and are now, for the most part, secure with staying with whomever. We lucked out because we never had any bumps in the road of attachment parenting. The result is that it’s the best of both worlds. like I said,lucky. In retrospect we dodged a bullet.
    Thanks for the article 🙂

  3. What about purposefully introducing family members and friends into the children’s realm while the parents are around? I have some close friends who have done this VERY well, although I’m not sure that they were fully aware of guiding this security development. They often have close friends and family over in their home (my family has been included in this), and their children have become regularly familiar with us. The result of this is that when the parents need some couple time, or go on a trip alone, they have a handful of trusted family members and friends with whom their children feel safe. (I should also say that I’m giving this example in the context of a healthy & natural emotional attachment between the children and their parents is present and nurtured.)
    On another note – thank you for sharing the dog examples! My mother-in-law’s dog does the EXACT SAME THING, and the most confounding part is that he is a golden retriever! Did you ever come up with a successful way of socializing the dogs, or do you think that that behavior is probably too ingrained in adult dogs? (My chief concern is the dog’s reaction to children – there is no way I’d let my child anywhere near this dog, because of the emotional trauma caused by the incessant mean barking at them.)

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