“You’re going to spoil that baby,” my mother would say as I toted around my third son. He was always skin-to-skin in a baby-carrying wrap, or being rocked to sleep in someone’s arms. He was so sweet and tiny, and I wanted to soak in his infancy. I told her you can’t spoil a baby. I cited research on how newborns are incapable of manipulation or otherwise being “spoiled.” His head never touched a pillow. I was too smitten with him to put him down.
However, it turns out you can spoil a baby. I know, because eventually I did.
I missed the mark when I should have started pushing for his independence, and now it’s become problematic. My son, who is on the verge of his first birthday, refuses to be put down, cries when anyone dares to suggest he nap in a crib, and is all-around incapable of functioning without being attached to me or my husband.
It was just so easy to let him sleep against my chest while I tended to the demands of my two older children. If he was attached to me, he could handle the noise and bustle without fussing, blissfully sleeping through sibling fights and barking dogs. He would nap and I would stroke his head, taking in his sweet baby smell and the weight of him against me. It was part survival strategy and part selfishness. I held him constantly because I wanted to.
I wanted so badly to cherish my last baby experience that I ignored the need to set up healthy boundaries as he grew. I never transitioned him to napping in his own crib, preferring to wear him around and co-sleep at night. I didn’t put him down to play, because I would rather be holding him. I breastfed on demand and never considered introducing a bottle until it was too late. As a result, I turned him into a Velcro baby who cannot survive without me if I so much as need to use the bathroom. My selfish desire to keep my last baby little has turned into a nightmare; not just for me, but for everyone.
His neediness at this age is not only physically difficult, but it’s also unfair to the rest of my family. My other two kids don’t get the one-on-one attention they deserve. I feel like I’m always telling them I cannot read them this book, because the baby will rip it apart while seated in my lap or scream so loud over being put down that no one will enjoy the damn book. They always have to wait, because the baby needs me first and always.
The same dynamic is at work in my marriage. My husband doesn’t get to share a bed with his wife. And a night away? Forget about it! There is no such thing as alone time for us. We have a baby wedged between us the whole night long. Our evenings are spent passing the baby back and forth as we make dinner and write emails and do housework in turns. I’ve nearly forgotten what it’s like to hug him without a baby in the middle of our non-sexual huddle.
I will never regret relishing the baby stage of my last child, but I wish I had not been so shortsighted in the decisions I made while he was small. Now I look toward his toddler stage and know it will be wrought with difficulties because I decided to “spoil” him as a baby.
It will be harder to move him into his own bed, harder to leave him with a sitter, harder to teach him the independence that should have come naturally. Perhaps I should have listened to my mother, because a spoiled baby is no fun for anyone.