I wrote the other day about my frustration at the emphasis placed on how many hours a baby sleeps at night. When Little Man was only a couple of months old, Mr. Fair was hearing from coworkers and friends that we’d eventually have to sleep train him and that it would involve ignoring his cries during prescribed hours of the day. He was thoroughly convinced that this was something we would simply have to do. We were having this conversation in the car, on our way to visit his Grandma. So I asked him if he would say the same thing about her.
I call it the Granny Test. Imagine for a few (terrible) minutes that your grandma suffered a stroke. Her cognitive powers are fully intact, but she’s lost her language abilities so she can’t tell you what she needs, although she’s perfectly capable of assessing those needs. She has gross motor function, but she can’t coordinate her movements well enough to walk or feed or dress herself. Basically, she has the same function level as a baby.
Now imagine you get your Granny settled in for the night and some time later, she calls out to you. Do you go in? If you do go in, maybe you see your Granny’s blanket has fallen off, so obviously she’s cold. Does she deserve to have her blanket put back on?
What if your Granny calls out, but when you go in, you can’t see the reason for her discomfort. Do you assume that she cried for no reason? Remember, her reasoning is intact. Or do you wonder if your Granny is thirsty? Maybe she’s in pain? Does she deserve a glass of water or a Tylenol?
Then again, maybe there really is no physical discomfort. Maybe she’s just lonely. Is loneliness a legitimate reason for your Granny to call you in the middle of the night? Would you call your helpless Granny’s loneliness manipulation?
When I asked my husband these questions, he readily agreed that he would be willing to meet his vulnerable Granny’s needs, even in the night, even if it involved inconvenience to himself. So why would his vulnerable baby deserve anything less?
To me, the Granny test sums up what is wrong with so much of the conventional thinking about child-rearing. We think it’s totally acceptable to do something to our children that we would have a difficult time doing to an equally vulnerable adult. We seem to be treating our children not as small but complete human beings, rather as some sort of lesser species not yet deserving of human respect and dignity. We’ve forgotten that we are first and foremost their caretaker and instead we act as though we’re their owners.
That kind of attitude doesn’t jive with me. Babies, just like all other human beings deserve to be treated respectfully. So whenever I get ‘advice’ I like to put it to the Granny Test. If I wouldn’t do it to her, I won’t do it to Little Man.