Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How Do You Learn To Nurture?

The Question:
Dear Jane,
This is a two-part question.  I am the mother of an 8 month old boy.  My son was born at the beginning of my last year of law school, and I was fairly busy for a good part of his life.  I had a lot of help that last year from my husband and my neighbor, who both cared for my son, and now I am lucky enough to get to spend a lot more time with him.  Since I am now caring for my son all day, I am coming up short with ways to entertain him for such long periods of time.  We have "stations" all around the apartment where we move every 10-40 minutes on good days.  In addition, now that its warming up, we spend a lot of time outside.  He is able to entertain himself for longer periods in the morning, but gets fussier as the day goes on and won't be entertained easily.  He also takes a 1 hour nap in the morning and another 1 hour nap in the afternoon.  I'm running out of ideas to entertain the little guy.  What in the world do I do all day with a baby?
Additionally, I was just reading Elder Ballard's recent conference address entitled Mothers and Daughters, and I realized that my own mother didn't really teach me how to nurture.  My mother is a wonderful woman, but she failed to teach me how to "find joy in nurturing children" (that is something I have had to discover/am discovering on my own).  She worked outside the home throughout my childhood and places a high value on education, and although she didn't explicitly say it, looked down on the women at church who were stay-at-home mothers.  I don't judge my mother for her choices, but now that I've had a precious child, I find that the thing I want to do most is stay at home and raise my children.  But I find that nurturing doesn't necessarily come naturally.  My son is by all accounts a very easy baby and he's easy to love, but the nuts and bolts of nurturing are a bit elusive.  How do I learn to nurture? (and what exactly IS nurturing?)
Thank you so much for your advice, although I wish this is the kind of thing I could ask my own mother (as per Elder Ballard's talk).  I love your blog.

The Answer:

Dear Liz,
Thank you so much for your question, and for your humility.  You have obviously accomplished a great deal in the past few years and it's wonderful that you recognize your son as the best of accomplishments.
Your question actually brought back some memories for me.  I remember when I had just one little baby boy.   Older mothers would always comment that no one is busier than the mother of one.  And it's true--you are the entire entertainment committee!  But it sounds like you have some great little routines going and little by little (as you noticed), he will become more independent in his play.  It's a problem unique to the first child, I think.  After that, you hardly think about how to keep the baby occupied.  It just happens.  Other siblings help out or you get used to moving the baby from room to room with you while you go about your work.  I used to open up my pan cupboard and let the baby play while I fixed dinner, put them in a laundry basket with some toys while I folded clothes, etc.  But oldest babies, who get all that great one-on-one attention usually grow up with some special qualities.  Remember that no effort is wasted.   Your baby is surely benefiting from all of your attention and patience.
The second question, regarding nurturing, is really a good one.   What is nurturing and how do we learn to do it?  To me, nurturing means creating an environment in which my children can flourish and grow.  It means meeting all of their physical needs--keeping them fed and warm and safe.  And beyond that, it means surrounding them with love and security.
The ability to nurture seems to come naturally when we've been raised by a nurturer.   I was the youngest in my family so I didn't get to watch "nurturing" in action.  But when I was fifteen, we moved to a farm next to my two older sisters.  Babies were pure joy to both of them.  I remember many mornings when they would bring their new babies over.  My mother would drop everything and they would all ooo and ahhh and exclaim over the baby's smiles and coos.   They laughed as they told stories of their two-year-olds' antics.  Their children never seemed to be a hardship.  I can't express how much their attitudes and examples of love and nurture toward children impacted my life.  The moment my own son was born, I began to play and coo and connect with him.  You are right.  It's so much easier when you've seen it first-hand.
But your effort and desire to become a nurturer is so impressive.   You will learn how, and teach your children and they will know!   Explaining how to do it, has proven very difficult for me.  I've tried to analyze it and thing about it  and put it into words.  Here is my best effort.
 Remove all the barriers.  Your child is yours.  Don't be afraid you're going to break him or spoil him or "do it wrong."  Just enjoy him completely.  It's easy to get custodial--making sure our children are properly fed and scheduled and have regular check-ups.  There's nothing wrong with that but don't miss out on the fun and the joy.   I loved showing my baby new things, seeing him in new settings.  (I think we took Nick to the zoo for the first time when he was 3 months old and we were sure he loved the tigers.)  I took baths with my babies, rocked them and sang, played little games, showed them  flowers--showed them the world.  I really hated to miss any new experience my babies had. 
Make lots of eye contact and when you do, smile and talk.  I don't necessarily like "baby talk", but I think it's nice to use a light, loving voice with babies--a voice reserved just for them.  Your voice, your touch, your eye-contact, even your smell are very nurturing to your baby.  Kiss his soft little cheeks and neck.  Hold him tight against you and sing a little song that becomes familiar.  Our babies all learned to relax when we walked and hummed "Reverently, Quietly".  It was soothing to us and soothing to them.
In essence, when you really fall in love with your baby, when you could just eat him up...he's being nurtured.  If you resent him or love him with reservations, he is missing something.  In that case, give more of your deep self--not your custodial mother self, but your connecting self, to the relationship.  Pray to be "filled with love" for your child.  Look into his eyes and recognize his unique powerful little spirit.
I realize this might sound a little bit "new age" or  cosmic, but it's the only way I know to describe the deep invisible bond that needs to exist--that encourages real growth and security.  The whole relationship becomes symbiotic--mutually fulfilling.  Work at it until it does.  Since you were partially missing during his first few months, you might feel slightly estranged--as though others can do it better.  But you are his one and only mother.   And no person on earth can do what you can do in his life.
I really am proud of you for staying home with him and recognizing the value of your role when you would surely find more acclaim elsewhere.  I promise you, you've made a good choice.
All my love,


  1. I really loved this post. It puts into perspective and placed a lot of importance on really enjoying that fleeting baby relationship. One year, in anyone's life, goes by so fast.

  2. What great advice.... I have to agree, I always tell people (especially ones who are debating whether or not to have a second child) that one child is so much harder than two.

  3. Thank you for this post. Your words are always so inspiring!

  4. I really never thought of one being harder in that way. What an interesting perspective. Although every single moment doesn't have to be an intense connecting moment, enjoy every single one along the way.

  5. As far as "What to do with the baby," My daughter is finally 1.5 and much better able to entertain herself. But when she was younger, a lot of our time together was her in a sling or carrier while I cooked and cleaned. Or I held her while I read a book. Or we'd rock in a chair and watch a movie. You really don't need to entertain him ALL THE TIME. I (personally) think it's very important for your kids to learn that it's ok to just be by themselves and hang out. My daughter LOVED "Private Imagination Time." A few times a day we'd put her on a play mat so she could look at the colors and everything, and I'd go get something done in the other room.

    I feel like my daughter, who isn't even 2, is one of my best friends. I LOVE spending time with her and stopping what I'm doing so I can look at her and watch her play with her toys. I love taking her to peoples' houses and telling her to fold her arms and close her eyes because she closes them SO TIGHT!! Everything about her is completely adorable. But that doesn't mean I'm going to spend 100% of every waking moment trying to keep her entertained.

    I hope this doesn't come off the wrong way. Basically I'm just trying to say that you shouldn't feel guilty and like you're not doing "enough" if you don't play with him ALL THE TIME. It really is ok for him to be alone sometimes.

    As for nurturing, I loved what Jane said. Just try to notice all the wonderful things about him. If he's doing something especially cute, stop what you're doing and give him your full attention while he figures out crawling, or walking, or how to turn the page in a book. It's amazing how much you learn to love them every day.

    I was just talking with my husband about how different my love for our daughter is from my love for him. I feel like in general, I love my husband at a 10. I know him very well, I know what he likes and doesn't like. I know how to make him laugh, and how to make him mad. But with our daughter, it's like she's a new person every day. And every time I learn something new about her, I love her a little more. So while today I love her at a 10, tomorrow that 10 feels like it was a 7 and TODAY I finally know what a 10 is.

  6. You are a nurturer. If you feel inadequate, it might be because you haven't fully discovered your tender side yet. Give in to your softer side. Along with hugs and kisses and singing, I like to caress my children. I run my fingers gently across their backs, through their hair, down their noses and around those adorable cheeks. They love it and so do I.

  7. I have always strived to put this into words and you have done it beautifully. I love this "symbiotic" relationship and truly feel more fulfilled the more I give myself over to motherhood.

  8. I have struggled with learning to nurture as well as times. It can be a tough transition to go from focusing on improving yourself (succeeding in school, career, etc.) to giving so fully and completely of yourself to loving and nurturing someone else. I have felt more clueless in learning to mother than any other task I've ever undertaken in my life. But, I've had faith and trust in our divine nature as women - that somewhere, deep, inside there, I know how to do this. My faith has been strengthened watching my young daughter nurture her dolls so naturally. I really think it is Satan's tactics at work that cloud our perceptions and get us to be so self-centered in our teens and early twenties. It makes it difficult to remember how to nurture and be a mother. I still have to work at it, but I've felt better as my kids get older. I'm learning that every step of motherhood requires faith - having children, bearing them, raising them, etc. - faith in ourselves, Heavenly Father, and faith that we are doing a great work (of which we often don't see the fruits for a long time). We really have to be women of vision!

  9. I loved your thoughts on this Brittany. Thanks for sharing =)

  10. Your description of nurturing brought tears to my eyes. You are SO right, it is mutually fulfilling.

  11. I love your description, "give more of your deep self--not your custodial mother self, but your connecting self, to the relationship. Pray to be "filled with love" for your child." I have a newborn, 2, & 4-year-olds. This is a beautiful description for parenting all ages!! Thanks for such timely advice.

  12. My daughter was one year old when I finished graduate school and began staying home with her full-time--I identify with your struggle.

    As someone else has said, you don't need to constantly entertain your child. Give them a chance to explore a little without you sitting there directing them. When my daughter was very young, I tried to ensure that she had at least some time every day where I wasn't guiding her play, and this has been incredibly helpful over the years in helping her to be independent and confident on her own.

    I think you'd also be surprised by how entertained young babies are by you simply going about your daily life. Walks, trips to the library, lying outside and watching clouds and bugs and passersby, watching you cook dinner--all these are really entertaining and exciting and interesting for small children.

    And as Jane said, this is something that won't even be an issue as you add children to your family, so enjoy it while you can! I have so little one-on-one time with my baby now (since he's constantly surrounded by loving older siblings dangling toys in front of him) that I really cherish the occasional hour where it's just the two of us.

  13. I have a renewed determination to connect with my little one!


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