The first thing we learn as parents is that there are no right answers. What works for one set of families might fail for another. I’ve met parents who advocate that you should keep babies sheltered till they are around two, and they have pretty good reasons to say so. I thought it would be interesting to discuss both sides of the coin. And some points got me thinking about my own parenting choices.
Time is understood differently nowadays. Fast-paced lifestyles have infiltrated every aspect of our lives, including our physical beings. Everything happens sooner. Where letters took weeks to arrive, emails land in your inbox in seconds. Earlier, if you wanted to watch a movie you’d go to a video rental shop. Now you go to torrents. Puberty has been precipitated by a few years. Toddlers even join kindergartens at the tender age of two. Some things are non-negotiable. But does everything have to be this way? Probably not. It’s okay to slow down and allow babies to discover themselves before they engage with the world outside. In the process, you can discover them too.
Some parents reiterated the belief that children are reincarnations of the divine till they are 18 months old. Babies stare up towards the ceiling or into space and babble a lot like they are having conversations with invisible people. My son does this all the time. It may sound fantastical, but it is said that they are communing with angels. A pragmatist like me wouldn’t ordinarily buy such an explanation, but there is such a lot of beauty in the thought. We know that babies lack language skills, but maybe they do have access to another world that we have lost the ability to communicate with. This is the process of socialization when social and behavioral norms begin to dictate our children’s behavior. And we all know that real life replaces magic really fast. So why not let our babies stay in their magical worlds, ensconced in the safety and comfort of home, talking to angels before real life takes them away?
The first few years of a child’s life are undeniably precious. They will never be this innocent, this spontaneous. This is also the time that you can have your child exclusively to yourself. So I decided to see how my son took to staying in (apart from occasional walks in the park nearby). Now that puts the onus on me to keep him entertained. My son, like most babies, loves observing new things. And somebody must have secretly taught him the phrase “Variety is the spice of life” because he seems to want variety all the time!
While this definitely increased my workload, I achieved wonderful results. We ended up spending a lot of quality time together. He has a nanny who takes care of his basic needs so I could devote time giving my son a taste of the finer things in life. We read together a lot. We started with board books. He loves the bright photos and bites the book to assess its real worth. I also read to him what I was reading for my own work, so he got a head start on learning about political philosophy, though in parentese! My husband and I also spend hours exploring music with him — jazz, soft rock, downtempo, Western and Hindustani classical music. We want him to love our favorites, so he gets to hear a lot of Nirvana and Boards of Canada, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles. He enjoys it all thoroughly.
Spending more time at home helps me give him undivided attention. We could also experiment more with food and recipes, I could spend more time understanding his taste and preferences. Between work and family life, this fact of quality time often takes a backseat. And staying in gives you time to understand your baby better as he/she evolves. Preparing to go out with them takes up an inordinate amount of time. And you’re always worried if you’ve taken everything your child needs. Miss something and it’s a disastrous outing. Besides, the outside world isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Be it air pollution, the lack of infrastructure, the hassles of changing diapers or breastfeeding in public places, the risk of infection, your baby is at the mercy of uncontrollable elements.
I found that staying in also seems to help my son develop his faculties better. Babies are best kept free, not in prams and carriers. At home my son has the space to explore his hands and feet and what he can do with them — crawl, sit, grab, stand, just understand the workings of their bodies. This is essential for all future development. Enjoy these special, simple moments with your toddler. The second they can walk, there’s no looking back! In the process, I learned that true meaning doesn’t have to be found outside the home, and quality time inside the home has its own special value.