Participating in the world vs watching it go by

23 04 2010

Here is a thought about an attachment parenting method called “baby-wearing”.  Baby wearing is when you, quite literally, wear your baby, like a garment, either in a sling, or a backpack, or any other kind of wrap.  It is a practice that spans the world over, though is not very widely used in North America.  Here, we prefer the stroller, the car seat, the exersaucer, the baby swing, the playpen, etc etc.  (No wonder people think having a baby is expensive!)

I wore little A in a Moby wrap:

until she was about 6 months old, and then I switched to a mei-tai style wrap called a Kozy.  I still wear her in it occasionally.

There are about a hundred reasons to wear your baby (or someone else’s baby, if you’re caring for them).  First of all, it keeps you baby calm.  They are right there with you and can better ground into reality being pressed against the body they grew in for nine months.  This means less crying and less fussing.  Also, it keeps you calm, as you always know where your baby is, how it is doing and, you can get to doing other things while still having a child.  I can’t even imagine how I would’ve got anything done if I hadn’t worn little A.  I would’ve just spent all my time nursing or comforting her.  With the wrap, I could do both at once and do other things, like wash diapers, or dance. (the former I did a LOT, the latter, not as much)

The reason that I am going to go into today is something that interests me about our society.  When raising little A and learning about different parenting styles and childhood psychological development, I can often see a lot of the patterns translate into aspects of our society, of course.  One thing that I think a lot about is personal participation in society.

In order to have a good democracy, a safe community, an educated populous and a thriving creative community, we have to be participating in creating the society we live in.  We have to vote, to get involved in politics, to be out in our neighbourhoods, to learn by ourselves and to think outside of the box.  I think a lot about participation in terms of how we can actually move into a non-oil dependent society.  I think how participation by every single person on this planet is needed in order to help us out of this mess that we have gotten ourselves into with oil dependency.

I often wonder why it is so hard to inspire people towards participation. Though there are many reasons, I feel that it might partially stem from the passive observer way that we popularly raise our children.

Think of the differences in having a child strapped to your body vs having them in a stroller, car seat/play pen away from your body:

When you have your child on your body, they are approximately at the same height as you.  They experience much of the same sounds, feelings, smells and sights as you.  They are able to participate in those through your experience.  If you are cooking a meal, they are participating in that process by seeing you do it, smelling the smells of it and feeling the heat of it.  They are able to observe what you are doing, and, in time, start the process of participation (licking the spoon for example).  If a child is away from your body their whole sensory experience is different.  Especially in small infants, they learn to just watch the world go by, as they are not being brought into the action of what the parents are doing.  They learn that their role is not to be in on the action, but to stand by the sidelines.

Another example is a baby being in a stroller, wrapped up in a blanket, sometimes even with the stroller/car seat covered instead of having their heads out in the open, attached to someone’s body.  A baby who is in a stroller sees that they are there to be pushed around, to let someone else direct them and that they are outside of the moving position.  They get no means of experiencing all the differences that occur by being on a body. They miss sights and sounds and feelings, like wetness or coolness on their face.  On someone’s body, they have the opportunity to look around at the world around them, maybe point or gooble at something, and participate in their surroundings in motion.  They also learn what propels them is a body, rather than a contraption.

Let’s take the same example, only age the baby to toddlerhood.  I do it sometimes, still, when I am in a rush: put little A in the stroller.  Especially this last fall/winter.  She wasn’t walking very quickly so in order to get anywhere on time, we would take the “baby car”.  Pushing 30 pounds now, she’s a little bit of a handful on the back, though I am moving back to that, now that the bulky clothes of winter can be shed.  However, the stroller for toddlers, instead of walking or being carried, is really all about watching the world go by.

When I have little A on my back, it’s much easier to carry on a conversation with her than when she’s in the stroller.  In the stroller, her little voice is lost outwards to the noise of traffic and I have to strain to hear and understand.  However, on my back we can have a great conversation and talk about what we are seeing as we move, answer any questions that she may have (which are plentiful these days) and generally engage her in her surroundings more.

I see really active children, who could easily be walking, being pushed by mothers complaining that their children are running circles around them when they get home.  I see their eyes, in these strollers, and they are just watching the world go by.  There is no joy of discovering a snail shell in a patch of grass.  No picking up of sticks and poking them in puddles.  There is just no exploration and participation in their world, while they are going place to place.  And humans go place to place  a LOT!

I wonder how all of this affects how involved people want to be as adults. I wonder how spending our early years watching the world go by shapes our adult perceptions about our role in creating the world around us.

What do you think?

For more information about babywearing you can check out: http://babywearinginternational.org/pages/whatisbabywearing.php

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