Thursday, October 25, 2007

Working on it

I just read a blog post from a woman with twins the same age as Bat Girl, in which she said that after work, when the nanny leaves, she is totally focused on her babies (topic of the post was the old to-work-or-not-to-work). She said that she plays with them, reads and sings to them, "work[s] on their fine motor skills."

Um. I always feel weird when I read things like this. Am I supposed to be working on BG's fine motor skills? Because other than pouring Ch*eerios onto her high chair tray for her to mess with while I get her dinner ready, I don't think I have been.

That's a rhetorical question, BTW. I tend to believe that if you give babies a rich (rich in the sensory sense, not in the monetary sense) environment and interact with them as your instincts direct, they will develop just fine. But we just overthink and overanalyze and, well, overparent. We all managed to learn to pick up raisins and bang toys together and knock over towers of blocks without our parents "working on it" with us, after all.

My favorite example is the whole "parentese" thing. Humans instinctively talk to infants in a higher-pitched, exaggerated way (babytalk). We can't help it. Then research found that babytalk actually helps babies acquire language. Great news, because it confirms that what we do instinctively is good for babies. BUT then of course we have to take it too far and now every other article about how to make your baby smarter advises us to "speak parentese." Do we really need to be told this?

I swear I'm not one of those extreme types who thinks experts are evil and we should all go back to some ill-defined halcyon "indigenous" way of child-rearing. But I do think that as parents, we know way more than we give ourselves credit for. And my baby won't be held back in the third grade if I don't work on her fine motor skills.

Edited to add: I don't object to things like teaching babies sign language (it helps you communicate, after all), or making an effort to read to them regularly, and I admit to spending five minutes in front of the mirror this morning with Bat Girl trying to teach her to blow kisses...but what I object to is this idea that we, as parents, have to invest so much time and effort into helping kids acquire skills and meet milestones that they do just fine meeting on their own.

Speaking of sitting in front of the mirror, this might illustrate what I mean: Every night after BG's bath, I wrap her in a towel and then before we head into her bedroom to get her dressed, I stand in front of the mirror and we "say hi to the cute baby!" BG grins at herself delightedly and I wave to the cute baby in the mirror. Sometimes she holds her hand up in the air like she's trying to wave too. A few days ago, I noticed that she was actually turning her head to study my hand going back and forth as I waved--then turning back to the mirror to try to duplicate the movement herself. She's learning how to wave by mimicking me, which is what babies do naturally. I didn't set out to "teach" her to wave. I haven't been putting any special effort into helping her acquire this skill. I just did what came instinctively to me--waving at the cute baby in the mirror, and when BG responded to that, doing it again and again--and she did what came instinctively to her.

I think it's too easy to get caught up in the "25 ways to make your kid smarter" parenting-magazine thing, and think that you have to be doing something special to help your kid learn (like consciously making yourself speaking parentese, as opposed to just doing what comes naturally), when all a little baby really needs is for you to love them and play with them and talk to them. Which, hopefully, you would do anyway. Am I making sense?

10 Comments:

Blogger Kbreints said...

Yeah- I never have understood parents who "Over parent" Things like teaching your kids sign language is beyond me. I want my child to SAY Thank you-- not Mime it.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

You are totally making sense. Sometimes I find myself feeling guilty because I'm not doing this or the other thing and then I remember my child is just fine. He's meeting all of his milestones and he's happy. I don't need to spend x number of hours per day working with him on anything. I just need to love him and play with him and he will be fine.

4:11 PM  
Blogger The Dunn Family said...

I feel the same way! I come home from work, we feed the kids solids, and then just kinda hang out and play until bottle and bed. I always read about people practicing things with their kids and at first I'm like "gosh, I suck". But I think you are right. As long as they are happy and having fun, they will learn everything they need to learn all in good time!

8:10 PM  
Blogger May said...

Overparenting abounds in my daughter's playgroup. I live in a fairly upscale suburban neighborhood full of older parents, and in my opinion, many of them are guilty of this kind of thing. I, on the other hand, just go my own way, which admittedly involves a fair amount of "Not right now, mommy's reading blogs" which I occasionally feel guilty about. On the plus side, the result is that my daughter is one of the few in her playgroup with any sort of capacity to entertain herself for any length of time without Mommy sitting right there. Parental neglect pays off!! :D

9:21 PM  
Blogger MoMo said...

I always wondered about this. We all turned out okay--and our parents didn't do half the things that people are doing today. I read somewhere that more and more recent graduates are going back home b/c they struggle surving on their own. I think it's okay for our kids to learn on their own.

10:21 PM  
Blogger TeamWinks said...

My husband's coworker is teaching his three year old the presidents of the US. Seriously. Can't kids be kids? I'm with you on this post.

7:31 AM  
Anonymous Meira said...

I'm am so with you. I can remember a feeling when my oldest was under two -- and now with the twins I know of another set of twins the same age, and their mother talks about how they know all this and she teaches them that . . . And I just feel tired. I'm supposed to be working on their letters? Really? Granted, we taught them Sign Language but that was because it made *our* lives so much easier . . .
And then I feel guilty, what if I'm not giving them enough? What if they can't compete?!?
But the deal is their brother taught himself to read by the time he was 6-7 just by being read to and by being in our life, so there's every reason to believe these guys will, too. And my friend Joan would point out something about all the kids who spend their toddlerhoods watching Jerry Springer, or hundreds of years ago: strapped to the dining room table so they wouldn't run into the fire. And put in a larger perspective like that, I'm doing just fine.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

Oh, you make perfect sense. Although I do confess to doing PT-recommended exercises with the kids (which were, let's be real, just different sorts of age-appropriate games dressed up in therapy-speak) because I was so frickin exhausted that I could only stay engaged in any remote way with my babies by following a script.

It's also hard to un-ring the bell. If you know that activities ABC help fine-motor skills, and you catch yourself doing those activities (because really, there's a limited number of things to do with babies and toddlers, if you're not a crazed flashcard parent), you're probably going to be aware, at some level, that you're "working on those fine motor skills."

Or was that just me?

The fact is, six years into this gig, the whole culture of babies and toddlers really does strike me as another world. It's amazing (if irritating as all get out when people go saying it) how fast the time flies.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Meg said...

Oh, I so agree. There's some pretty weird stuff out there, and I get a bit concerned I am too intuitive when the other mums in my mothers group look at me weird for screaming back at Jasper's squeals instead of telling him fimly no.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Eva said...

You make sense. I agree.

10:05 AM  

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