Three Things I Wish I'd Know When My Baby Was First Born
By Sarah MacLaughlin, LSW, Parent Educator and Coach

My boy is now eight, and he’s a pretty well-adjusted little guy. However, there are a few areas where I find myself thinking, “If I only knew then what I know now.” There are three main areas where I am pretty sure I could have been a more relaxed and happy mom from the beginning. More specifically, here’s what I wish I’d known about attachment, attention, and emotions:

Attachment: Tons of sensory input and no understanding of what it all means. That’s what being a baby is like and in the best of circumstances it is totally overwhelming and intense. What I needed to know was that babies have a ridiculously keen sense of observation which makes them highly attuned to the emotional state and behavior of the adults around them.

I certainly knew that my baby had a close eye on me, but I wish I’d known a little more about attachment theory and the biological imperative for survival that drives infants to want to be close to us all the time. Because human babies are totally helpless and incredibly vulnerable, attachment is a baby’s number one priority.
Infants feel safe and connected when the grown-ups taking care of them feel calm and confident. And I wish I had gotten more support in order to have the calmest demeanor, and longest fuse possible. I held and cuddled my baby plenty, but I could have been more patient with his clingy ways at the time.

Attention: A recent research study from Indiana University offered insight into how parents can impact a baby’s attention span for the better. Through fancy eye-tracking technology, it was shown that caregivers who paid better attention to their babies, had babies who could pay better attention.

Those who focused attention more closely on their babies, and engaged in a responsive interaction that followed the infant’s lead, had babies with longer attention spans themselves—nearly four times longer! This shouldn’t be a surprise, but looking back, I fell prey to my share of distractions, like hand-held devices, the computer, and just trying to get too much stuff done.

Knowing this can help us be more intentional about the interactions we are having with developing babies. The simple action of getting mindful about your phone use, and choosing to set it aside when you interact with a baby, can directly impact your child’s attention span for life. I wish I had been more aware of this.

Emotions: We know that one of our most powerful tools for teaching and guiding children is modeling. Because growing people are talented mimics, we try to be aware of what we offer as examples to them. What I was not cognizant of, was the way in which my baby was responding to my stress response to his crying. I wish someone had told me that my baby might cry for absolutely no reason. That sometimes there would be nothing else for me to do other than hold him and offer an empathetic ear.

I wish I’d had a more regulated emotional system (I define that as the ability to stay in charge of yourself when you have a strong feeling), because there I was, freaking out because my baby was freaking out!

Caregivers don’t need to be Zen-like or stress-free (that’s not possible), but knowing that adult well-being directly impacts baby well-being during this critical phase of development is useful. It would have helped me prioritize my own needs and gotten “Mom Self-Renewal” to the top of my to-do list. I wish I’d known that you just can’t fake being calm with a baby.

So put on your own oxygen mask first! Be aware of baby’s drive to connect, but remember that boundaries are your friend. Moms and dads who carve out time to fill their own tanks will not be so distracted during caregiving like I was. With this information and some mindfulness, we can be more resourced parents every single day, no matter how old our kids are.

Sarah MacLaughlin is author of the award-winning book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children and a blogger for The Huffington Post. She brings 20 years of experience working with children and families to her coaching practice. Sarah is also mom to a six-year-old who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice. She works with families one on one, in groups, and in her online program, PEAK Parenting. To learn more, visit her website at