A baby’s temperament and body regulation adapts through closeness to the mother. He feels excitement, resentment, irritability, kindness in her physiology before her tone. There’s a kind of eternal bond between mother and child, that changes them both.
I’ve tried keeping a straight face while playing with my little one who is 7 months. Tried not to smile or talk or make a friendly face and just stared into his eyes. After about 10 seconds his whole body responded with discontent. For me, this just shows how sensitive and attuned a child is to his mother’s emotional state, and how much this matters to his own well being.
Sometimes I notice when I’m baby wearing and moving very fast around the house trying to tidy things up from room to room that my baby also starts moving his hands and feet like he’s getting some of the energy. If he can mimic my ‘on the move’ state, surely, he also feels the ‘I can’t be bothered’, or ‘I’m so nervous, I can’t breathe’ states as well.
Does this mean that when I have elevated stress levels, he too is stressed? And when I remember a conversation that got me really angry, that he too gets heated up about it? How does he distinguish between positive stress, legitimate anger, and destructive, aggressive emotions? Maybe, what he is learning is how to exist confidently, in harmony with the rages that might ensue, but that can be managed? Or, maybe, it is better for an infant’s development to avoid exposure to emotional expressions that might increase his level of stress and predispose him to anxiety and depression later in life.
I’m not really sure about the extent of the impact, but acknowledging the temperament connection forces me to regulate my own emotions towards more positive expressions. In the same way that a mother can’t sleep for 5 more minutes because her baby is awake at 6 am, she also can’t get tense in a debate with you about why McDonald’s needs to be boycotted, because her baby is watching the ball move from side to side and the voices getting louder and more forceful.I say this because debate is often about dominating the other and is a psychological experience than an intellectual one.
What is the infant learning about the other through this type of interaction, as entertaining and passionate as it might be? What is he learning about the virtue of one’s own point of view? When the infant speaks and learns the word ‘no’, in what tone and persona will it be expressed? We often read about toddlers expressing demands physically … could this be an extension of their parent’s temperament, albeit more explosive?
And on the other end, how do we refrain from passing detachment and mistrust to the infant, if we are to hold back emotions, given that this study shows babies know when you’re faking emotions?
I’m thinking, I need to be present and accept that my child’s emotional intelligence thrives upon learning to identify and express emotion. If I want my child to be gentle, joyful, innocent, I don’t need to pretend, I need to feel genuinely and completely.
Parenting thus becomes a process and state of being that requires spirituality, contemplation, critique of one’s core.