The Aware Baby. A New Approach to Parenting
Here is a genuinally unorthodox approach to parenting. It's not liberal or conservative; it's not angry or euphoric; it's a feeling, open discussion of real issues that occur in the relationship of parent and baby. The big difference with this book is the emphasis on feelings both the baby's and the parent's.
Solter claims hers is an "entirely new approach to parenting" (p.2). Her inspirations were Re-Evaluation Therapy, Parent Effectiveness Training, Primal Therapy and her own experience as a mother of two. Her book is a contribution to:
a definite trend towards more aware parenting than ever before, and a focus on the needs of the child, p.1
Four basic assumptions underlie the work:
* human beings are born knowing basically what they need
* human beings are born with a potential for both good and bad behavior, but how they are treated determines how they will act
* experiences early in life can have a profound and lasting effect on feelings and behavior patterns later in life
* the effects of traumatic experiences are completely reversible: babies can recover from the effects of the hurtful experiences by really feeling the hurt pp. 2-4
The unorthodox ideas in this book center around Solter's conviction that babies normally do not get to cry enough in order to "discharge" their hurts. Too often, babies are soothed or distracted away from their feelings of tension. She cites the following reasons: parents are unable to deal with memories of their own infancies that are triggered by their baby's crying; because of their repressed feelings, parents cannot take care of all the needs of the baby, and, in fact, project their buried, unfulfilled need onto their baby; or parents are afraid of "spoiling" their baby, thinking that if the crying is reinforced, the baby will cry more and more.
Solter recommends that parents respond promptly to the baby each time the baby cries. The baby will develop a basic sense of trust and powerfulness. If the baby's crying is not for a "present need," she encourages parents to help him/her to continue to cry. It is not simply a matter of holding them and allowing them to continue crying, however. The parent must give the baby "undivided attention," holding the baby and giving verbal support for as long as the baby needs it.
Throughout the book, the issue of crying to release tension comes up again and again, and each time, Solter has a new perspective to offer. The one early need of a newborn that is usually overlooked, she says, is the need to cry. She makes this point:
It is extremely unlikely that evolution would have spent millions of years perfecting a process that is useless and purposeless. Frey (William) points out that none of the other excretions from the human body are purposeless. Exhaling, urination, defecating, and sweating all serve a definite purpose, so why wouldn't the excretion of tears? Crying would simply not exist as a reaction to distress unless it served a definite function enhancing our well-being and survival, p. # 51
Solter thoroughly and thoughtfully examines the ways the parentchild relationship manifests itself during a normal day's activities. She suggests numerous subtly different interpretations and possibilitiesdifferent because of her constant attention to feelings. She deals extensively with "control patterns" that the baby may be using to keep from releasing hurtful feelings. These can range from excessive nursing, to security objects, to thumbsucking or clinging and whining. When these become a habit (or, preferably, before they do) the parent should help the baby to feel what is behind the defense.
These are not easy issues to deal with. Those people associated with pre- and peri-natal psychology might be wondering about the possible effects of birth and prenatal trauma. She deals with both possibilities. A study by Bernal (1973) of 77 babies found that "those who were most likely to awaken at night were those who had had problems at birth." She says that "if allowed to cry at night, such babies will eventually "discharge." (p.93)
Doesn't this all sound like parent's feelings will be stirred? She expects they will, and an important part of the book is a series of questions at the end of each chapter to help the parent explore their own feelings, preferably with another sensitive person. Though perhaps over the heads of many parents, those who are in therapy will find the exercises helpful and those in the helping professsions can gain much insight from the approach. A highly recommended book for anyone interested in "aware babies."