Babies Are Mirrors

July 19, 2009 By: erik Category: Musings, Offspring 136 views

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One interesting phenomenon I’m noticing as a consequence of spending a large part of each day with a baby is that, because babies are unable to communicate their discomforts and desires, we adults project upon them how we feel. For example, there are some people that are always cold, and some people that are always hot. Well, not always, but they are the first to complain when the mercury goes up or down. My wife, for instance, is the first to complain of the cold. She can lie happily under the duvet while I am out on top sweating like a pig. What can you do? Some people are exothermic. Her mother and sister are like this. Her father and I, on the other hand, are the first to start sweating and complain about the heat. So what happens around my infant daughter? The cold folks are the first to suggest that she needs a blanket, and the hot folks are the first to suggest that it be removed because she must be uncomfortable in this heat!

The same goes with social situations. The extroverts are certain that she must be lonely and need attention, and the introverts are the first to suggest that people just back off and let her breathe. I, for one, can’t stand to have more than one person touching or hovering above me. So when I see 17 women crowded around my daughter making goo-gaa sounds and poking her, I vicariously feel very uncomfortable. I just spent an entire weekend feeling vicariously smothered.

My daughter spent Friday night, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning unhappy and cranky.1 Coincidentally, she also spent all that time with grandparents and aunts and uncles hovering over her, each positive that their own particular way of talking to her was going to make her feel better. I resisted as much as I could, so I probably only suggested leaving her alone 15 dozen times. It remains to be seen if she ends up being introverted or extroverted, but the results so far are skewed towards the former.

As I think the above paragraph, my logical left brain is suggesting that such overwhelming contact is good for her, and that, if she can just get past the initial shock, she’ll be better off if she can handle contact with many different people like what she’s been experiencing. Yet my emotional introvert right brain remains unconvinced.

Frankly I can’t wait until she can actually express preferences of her own and settle the debates. Until then, she remains a mirror in which everyone sees themselves.

1As a result, Saturday night she shattered all her sleep records by sleeping soundly for ten hours straight! Neither of her parents were conscious during those ten hours either, but still, that’s one tuckered out almost-four-month-old!

 
  • http://simonlitton.wordpress.com simon

    Can’t stand to have more than n person at a time touching you, eh?
    Good to know.

  • http://www.smattery.com/blog andrea

    You’re right, I’ve experienced situations just like this one and I fall into to back off category. You have more restraint than I do, though. When people get in Eva’s face too much I have a tendency to be a mama bear and swoop in and rescue my daughter.

    But hey, if it gets the baby to sleep through the night, maybe it’s worth the smothering!

  • Josh

    Erik, I’m afraid I think that you really missed the boat on this one. (Isn’t the internet great, you can have some guy you don’t know, critiquing your parenting style from miles away.) After spending a large part of each day with Nora, you can’t possibly think that she is “unable to communicate their discomforts and desires”. Surely you’ve noticed the range of noises and expressions she makes. The problem, then, is interpretive. Just as she has the current goal of learning one or several common languages, you have the responsibility of figuring out what she’s trying to say.
    It strikes me as strange that someone, as much a spokesperson for rational thought as you, would defend such an ecclesiastical position as projecting one’s subjective, faith-based opinion on objective realities. Independent of your personal response to stimuli, Nora will have an equally empirical reaction. You job, as father, is noting and interpreting her reaction. There is far more to communication than mere language can convey.
    Re: social interaction and limits thereon, I really don’t have any better (unsolicited) advice than what I’ve already written. I don’t know if, in the long run, it is better to shelter or to stimulate a child. Depends on the child, I suppose. This will probably be a long term quandary. My personal inclination is to listen to my daughter, and let her be my guide, but that will be ever so much easier once she can do so vocally.

    • http://www.erik-rasmussen.com/ Erik R.

      Josh, I apologize that I haven’t yet responded. Yours was the last comment the night before the big Redesign of ’09, and got a little lost.

      It strikes me as strange that someone, as much a spokesperson for rational thought as you, would defend such an ecclesiastical position as projecting one’s subjective, faith-based opinion on objective realities.

      It pleases me very much that you should try this “for a smart guy, you’re being dumb” derogatory tactics. I need people to do that to me. But you’re also wrong. If I feel cold, and I’m dressed similarly to you, and I care about your wellbeing above my own, I’m going to be concerned that you are probably cold too. That’s not “faith-based opinion”. The same is true for social discomfort. If I see someone doing something to you that I wouldn’t like them to do to me, and I care about your short-term comfort, I’m going to try to make them stop. My post was just that it’s interesting to see the different concerns that different people have, and how it reflects more on themselves than on the baby.

      Of course I acknowledge that “range of noises and expressions she makes”, and I’m developing my own system of mapping them to feelings and levels of discomfort. I develop this mapping by developing hypotheses (e.g. “she’s crying because she’s hungry”) and testing them.

      But, like a good scientist I cannot be certain that my mapping is correct. It’s only ever an approximation. Absolutely nothing about this process is objective.