Raising a Happy Baby
By Helen Zelon
Happiness is the Holy Grail of parenthood: Every parent wants their child to live a happy life. For help, parents often turn to experts, consultants, and parenting books, looking for ways to insure their child's happiness. Baby Mozart for brainier kids? Monitors that echo mother's heartbeats, for more secure babies? Attachment parenting? Cosleeping? There's so much advice out there that parents can feel overwhelmed -- and like they'll never get this 'parenting' thing right.
But child psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, M.D. -- father of three, founder of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Children and Adults in Sudbury, Massachusetts -- takes another, revolutionary, approach. His advice? Relax. "The most important thing is not to worry about 'doing it right' -- and have fun with your baby."
Hallowell's book, The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness (Ballantine Books, 2002), outlines what parents can do to "create and sustain lifelong joy." The work begins in babyhood, which has its own rhythms and demands. Here's what Dr. Hallowell suggests for new parents:
Do baby good by having fun. Splashing in a bath or blowing soap bubbles can seem, to many parents, like goofing off -- but play "is the work of childhood," says Dr. Hallowell, the proving ground where children learn to interact with others. "What you think is 'nothing' is far more than having fun," he says. "Physiologically, good things happen, for both parent and baby."
Break the routine. Taking care of an infant can sometimes be a real challenge. You can get exhausted by chores and care giving, and you might be on your own more than you once were. Try to find ways to break the routine: Find a playgroup where parents can schmooze while babies play; take the long route to run your everyday errands; stop to show baby the ducks on the lake or the leaves changing colors. The little pleasures you share build the bedrock of love and trust that give your baby a secure, safe emotional foundation.
Never worry alone. Every parent worries, whether their children are in diapers or in college. Sometimes, those worries can overshadow the pleasure of being with our kids. Sharing your concerns with a trusted confidant makes you freer to enjoy spending time with your baby -- and more open to baby's tender overtures, those little moments that seem to unlock all the happiness in your heart.
Lighten up. Try not to tackle life's newest challenge with the vigor you brought to law school. "People make parenting more difficult than it is," says Dr. Hallowell. "Provide food, shelter, clothing, and love. Make sure your child knows you love her, no matter what." Savor your baby's earliest months and trust your gut instincts. "Revel in the unconditional love Nature equipped you to feel," he says.
Finally, says Dr. Hallowell, take comfort in the idea that there's no single right way to parent your child. "Being a parent is the greatest thing you'll ever do," he says. Love your kids, give them time and attention, and watch their security and happiness blossom.