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Spoiler Alert

Thursday, May 23, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

All the parenting books say that you can't spoil a baby before he or she is three months old. My baby is three months old today. What parenting traps should I avoid so that I don't start spoiling her now? 

Signed,
Spoiler Alert


Dear Spoiler,

I could consult a bunch of parenting books in order to respond to your question, but those are just the resources that got you in this situation in the first place. Plus, I have a newborn sleeping against my leg on the couch and a 2-year-old just barely asleep at her crib, so I risk waking these babes if I get up to do some research. Spoiled, you say? One parent's spoiled is another one's typical Tuesday night. Also, I don't have any parenting books.

After that intro, I'm sure my advice is really going to count for a lot here, so I'll continue. My understanding of that three month cut off is that it stems from the idea that, typically, babies are big enough at three months to be able to go longer stretches of time without eating. Once a baby can go longer without eating, the thinking goes, you don't have to respond every time he wakes up at night. If you don't have to respond to every cry at night, then you also don't have to respond immediately during the day. If you don't respond immediately during the day either, your baby will learn to be more self-sufficient.  If your baby is more self-sufficient, he won't rely on you as desperately for comfort and entertainment. If he isn't entirely reliant on you for comfort/entertainment, then your baby won't end up spoiled. Dayenu.

I have no idea if any of this is true, and my husband and I haven't been compelled to test the theory. Our two-year-old loves us and needs us and knows we're there for her. When we can't immediately pick her up or attend to her, we explain why (I have to turn on the oven, and it's not safe for you to be near it; it's 4:00 a.m., and that's too early to get up; or, more recently, the baby needs to eat now, but I'll play with you when he's done.) We set boundaries, particularly around safety, but when we can attend to her, we do. She's only two, and "spoiled" to me really connotes a five-year-old in the grocery store begging for and receiving candy. Fortunately, we're not in that territory yet, and we don't forsee succumbing to that type of demand.

The older a kid gets, the more you can reason with her, but a three-month-old, or even a six- or nine-month-old doesn't understand why you're not responding, just that you're not. I already see that sometimes my newborn is going to cry for longer periods of time before immediately being picked up, but it feels different to me when it's out of circumstance/necessity rather than to make a point or stave off some amorphous "spoilage." All that being said, as with basically anything about parenting, I think you have to do what works for you. If you are a competant and caring parent, your child will be safe and loved, and the incremental decisions that drive parents nuts in the moment don't matter so much in the big picture. As for more tangible tips, I do agree with the parenting advice that suggests putting your baby down while drowsy rather than asleep (the baby, not you), and I think some sleep training is necessary if you ever want to sleep through the night again, but it doesn't have to involve "ferberizing," and it certainly doesn't have to be at three months old. Yes, those two pieces of advice are about sleep, because that's actually the only thing that matters.

If you want to find a source that confirms or denies essentially anything you want confirmed or denied and you're not happy with your current set of parenting books, try google. Whatever you're doing, someone else has tried it lots of people have opinions on it. Then again, I've also heard that you shouldn't trust anything you read online.

Be well,
Miriam

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