Ah relationships. They make us, they break us. But mostly they make us, because as social beings we seek them out and need them to feel happy, loved and a part of a something. The ways in which we learn to, well, feel about relationships starts from the day we are born, perhaps even while we are still in our mother's womb. As infants, we are wired to seek out our caregivers and form strong attachments to them. This is a survival instinct that goes both ways. We have the instinct to need our parents and our parents have the instinct to care for us. But what happens when for some reason or another that need isn't met?
In today's Western society we value independence. We have come to believe that we can spoil an infant by paying too much attention to her. We have come to believe that infants need to learn to "self-soothe" at very young ages in order to become well-adjusted adults. One of the things parents do to make this happen is to make sure their infant learns to go to sleep on her own, that they do not "coddle" her, or make her create the "bad habit" of needing her parents to fall asleep. More times than not, this is accomplished with a lot of crying from the baby and a lot of strain on the parent(s), who has to withstand the baby crying and to suppress the urge to comfort the baby. Well, in my opinion, this is bollocks. Yes, independence is important, but there is a time and place for everything. Babies need to be dependent first in order to be independent later. If a baby has the opportunity to meet his needs for dependance, he will transition easily to becoming more independent when he is ready.
For me, being a parent means being there for your children, day and night, to show them they can count on you and to ensure that they grow up to have a positive, healthy view of the world around them. A child that grows up feeling secure will feel good about himself and the world around him and he will be empathetic and compassionate to those around him. This approach to parenting has been coined "Attachment Parenting" and it encourages parents to follow their hearts and to approach child-rearing in a way that fosters healthy attachments. If you want to read more about it here are some articles that explain the principles of attachment parenting nicely:
Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting (from AP International).
Dr. Sears' Attachment Parenting Index
The beautiful thing about parenthood is that if you have your heart open you will know what your baby needs, so just trust your instincts, trust your gut. When it comes to being a parent it's always right, you just have to learn how to listen and know what it's saying. But be gentle with yourself too. No parent is perfect and all parents still need time for themselves. So just as you nurture your child, nurture yourself and your partner as well.
Oh and if, like me, you are wondering when that magical night will come when your baby will sleep through the night consistently, just remind yourself that this is just a small part of the big picture, and it will be over all too quickly. Before you know it, your baby will be crawling, talking, running and yes also sleeping through the night. One day all too soon, he will even be a teenager sleeping in (and you will be the one telling them to wake up)! In the meantime do what you have to do to get through this stage (read the 8 principles for tips on finding balance). Also, don't let yourself get exhausted and burnt-out, there are many books that provide gentle solutions to encourage your baby to sleep better (e.g. The No Cry Sleep Solution). But most of all, enjoy it because it passes by much too soon.
P.S. And just for some additional info, here is an interesting article about a recent research study that has shed some light on a not-so-pretty aspect of relationships, infidelity, and how it might pertain to early attachment.