This was originally written during the first year of medical school when my first born was about 3 months old.
I thought that I would give just a few thoughts about family life…
Time is inconsistent. When I am studying my psychology lecture it moves slower than molasses in the winter, yet this first year of medical school has passed in the blink of an eye. The same goes for my son. The past three months have gone by so quickly, yet it seems as though he has always been a part of this family. What a joyous three months! Despite the challenges and changes that come with a child, I wouldn’t change a thing.
One of the benefits, or perhaps curses, of being a medical student and a father is the opportunity to compare what I am learning in the classroom to what I see in real life. One of the courses that I am taking this year focuses on the behavioral sciences, which is essentially our first introduction to psychology. We have covered topics from child development to personality disorders. From my perspective, there seems to be a consistent message which focuses on the importance of the parent-child relationship, especially during the first years of life. The beginning of all this is in the attachment between the child and the parents. This attachment begins even before birth, when the child begins to hear his parents’ voices, and continues to develop in the moments after birth when he is placed in the arms of his mother and takes his first feed at her breast. The focal length (the length the child can see) is about 9 inches, the distance between the breast and a mother’s eyes when she looks down at her child, allowing that bond to continue to develop. The mother is intrinsically reciprocal to the child in so many ways. This was the way that we were designed by our Creator, to fit snugly into our mother’s arms, for love! It is vitally important for that attachment to develop between the child and his parents, for that sense of trust and knowledge of love to be established. When this breaks down, the child does not learn what it means to be loved or how to trust, which in turns does not allow the child to learn how to interact with those people around him. Subsequently, the child can have language and learning disabilities, behavioral issues, and poor brain development and physical growth. It all can be affected by that attachment between the child and his parents!
So that is what I have learned, but what have I experienced? The answer: Love and Joy! My wife and I decided from the beginning that we would attempt Attachment Parenting (Dr. Sears). This means that we have exclusively breastfed Joseph on demand. When he is hungry, he eats. Pretty straight forward. Why breastfeed, you might ask? From my training both as a medical student and a NFP instructor, I have learned that breastmilk is the absolute best type of food you can give to a child. According to the studies, Joseph’s nervous system is developing at a faster and more efficient rate than a formula fed child, and he is getting every nutrient that his body could possibly need, in just the right quantities. This is something that formula has never been able to do. Moreover, breastfeeding is wonderful for my wife’s health. By breastfeeding, she is helping to reduce her risk of breast and other cancers and the hormones released during breastfeeding help to reduce her stress levels. This makes my life a little bit easier too! The best part about breastfeeding is the bond that is established between Joseph and Johanna. The physical closeness, the physiology, the spiritual giving of herself, all of these help to create that attachment between Joseph and Johanna that will help Joseph be a well-developed individual. All of this is supported by scientific studies! That was just one aspect of attachment parenting, exclusive breastfeeding on demand. What more? Co-sleeping. This is where my attachment comes into play. From the moment he was born, he has spent each night in our arms. This means that the last thing that he sees before falling asleep is one of us, and we are the first thing he sees when waking up. It is such a joy to hear him peacefully falling asleep, cooing and nestling into the crook of an arm, and perhaps a greater joy to see his bright smile as he awakens to see us watching him. I have few greater pleasures than holding him tight against me as he drifts off to sleep. Co-sleeping also means that we do not ignore his cries of distress either during the day when he is napping (sometimes with us, sometimes on his own) or at night. Rather, we quickly attend to his needs, whether it be an empty stomach or a full diaper. Over a short period of time, Joseph has come to learn that his needs will be met very quickly, and so rarely does he get so fussy, that he is inconsolable. Most of the time, simply picking him up quiets him down. All of this is helping to establish for him a sense of trust and security, which is a vital step in a child’s development from a psychological perspective. In co-sleeping and attending Joseph’s needs I have a great opportunity to develop my relationship and attachment with him, but I think the best time I have to do that is when I get to carry him in his sling. Whenever we go out together (as a family) I have taken on the role of being the baby-carrier. We use a sling, which allows Joseph to cuddle right up to my chest, where he feels me and I feel him. Whether at the store, at a friend’s house, or during Mass, I have Joseph right near my heart, literally. I can look down and see his great blue eyes staring right back at me. Nothing is more precious than the smiles he will give during those times. Yet, it doesn’t stop just with the smiles and looks, but he knows that he is safe when he is against me, so no matter where we are, or who we meet, he always has a smile on his face, because he knows that he is with his mother and father.
As time goes on, I expect that Joseph will continue to grow in his outgoing personality and become a well balanced child, who knows that his parents will always be there for him and who count his needs important enough to sacrifice their own comforts and wants for what is best for him. As a medical student I have come to realize that attachment parenting is the best way to facilitate the raising of a well adjusted child. In every way, this form of parenting promotes what the ‘experts’ say is best for a child. Moreover, this method works with our natural parenting instincts, rather than against what we feel is best for a child. From my experience so far, I can only say that this feels as natural as anything could, and I am ever grateful to God that my experience is reinforced by my medical school education.