In your opinion, what is the EARLIEST age that a baby can be "taught" something?
Beginning a few days after we came home from the hospital, Mike and I set about the task of "teaching" our baby, G, to keep a schedule. There were three components: eating, awake time and sleeping, which sounds so simple except that it felt like deciphering the DaVinci Code. That was really the hormones talking, but I can't tell you the number of times I referenced our "Baby Wise" book to remind me of how this all went, exactly?
Right. Eat, awake, sleep.
G was NOT a hard baby; it just felt that way because motherhood was (surprisingly) a hell of a lot more difficult that hanging out at a bar on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. I had to plan my entire day in two-and-a-half hour increments, which is a lot like doing math ALL THE TIME, and it was maddening. I was so tired and I should have been sleeping when she did, except the post-postpartum depression kept me awake with the FEAR that she was going to wake up. There is common sense, and then there is it's evil twin-- life in the first eight weeks following childbirth.
It felt out of control, until it didn't. My nipples stopped bleeding, and her feedings took less time, and then one day I didn't require a wet wash cloth to keep her awake for 15 minutes after she slept. Against the advice of the hormones, I learned to WAKE HER UP during the day, if she slept longer than three hours--and this was critical to getting her to sleep at night. We went through a painful week, where I was trying to keep her up TOO LONG--contrary to my thoughts that this would "tire" her out, overstimulation actually serves as a portal for demons to enter your baby.
But at eight weeks, we KNEW each other and it didn't seem like such a goat rodeo. I put her to bed at 7:00, woke her for a feeding at 10:30--and she slept, peacefully and without crying until 7:30 the next morning. Aside from being sick or constipated (something we battled), she has never turned back. Neither have any of my kids. I know that sounds as easy as eating, awake time and sleeping--but I can assure you it is not, because of ALL the emotional baggage that comes with it. There is fear and doubt and frustration and feelings of failure, right from the moment that blessed epidural wears off.
I'm not telling you our sleep history to brag about it--but to prove a point that children, and their parents, LEARN things from a very young age. After G was born, when friends of ours were preparing to have babies and asking about our experience with sleep schedules, we would always tell them what we BELIEVED in our heart: that you do what you are comfortable with. We were not ever going to be able to exist with a baby sleeping in our bed (we tried a bassinet in our room, it lasted 4 days). I can't imagine that I would have been able to exist rationally by sleeping in two hour increments for a year. However, we always believed it was important for new parents to know that co-sleeping or demand feeding was not a WRONG choice--you just have to be able to handle it, because you will train your child accordingly. And breaking habits is a million times more excruciating that creating them to begin with. Mike and I had a goal (sleep), we did our research, and we stuck to the plan we came up with. Well, Mike stuck to it; I initially cried and pouted and feared for the emotional well-being of our baby.
Side note/ soap box: Men are given voices for a reason. And in my case, with parenthood, Mike was the voice of non-hormonal sanity. I often received his opinions as one might react to hearing Hilter's plans for Nazi Germany, but that is because I was so completely overwhelmed and intertwined with this seven pound baby that was CRYING for me. Fathers have instincts too, and contrary to what you see on television, they're generally not going to lose a baby in a mall, or feed it chili, or take it deep sea diving. But if we tell them they are insensitive a-holes who have no-idea-what-it's-like-to-really-love-a-baby-with-every-ounce-of-their-being, enough times...well, they'll stop offering their advice. Which is too bad, because often times it's what I NEED to hear.
For a long time, our focus was on sleeping. And then it became about keeping our hands down while being spoon fed, and not touching electrical outlets. When she began to walk, it became about obeying my command to STOP--and this was a big one for me, one that we have probably been the MOST strict about, because if my kid was near a road, or the edge of a pool, or teetering on the edge of a countertop with a knife, I had to know with certainty that she would stop what she was doing, simply because she would fear my consequences. It holds true today--if I firmly tell any of my kids to STOP doing something, their instinct is to listen. Initially, all of our lessons in obedience were about safety and the logistics of making life run smoothly, but they have evolved to become more about the heart of my children. We train our children to OBEY us for their well-being and at the same time, we train ourselves as parents to do what it takes to raise them well. I don't believe that doing a good job at parenting comes naturally or that it can be reactionary in nature; you have to think about what you want for your kids and figure out how to get them there (long before they test you), and stick to it when they cry like you are shattering their spirit. And you have to teach them to TRUST that you are loving them, despite the part of it that feels like it's about punishment.
That's where obedience fills the gap.
I expect my kids to obey me, and I have trained them to do so. I focus on the things that I believe will help them grow into strong and amazing people--and for us, eating spaghetti squash is as important to sustaining their character, as NOT running into the street is to saving their lives. When I pick a battle, I do it because it means something deeper about who they were created to be. They do what I say because that's the way it works, and one day, they will have the context of their ENTIRE lives to understand it by. They will never GET IT, when they take our small battles out of the bigger context--but I raise them to follow me, because I know what's best, and one day we will be able to have a conversation where I explain it. Or, they will simply understand it, because they are proud of who they have become.
If you aren't a believer in Jesus, this fixation on obedience probably sounds CRA-ZY. Because people generally HATE the word "obedience", and we fight the idea of having to answer to anybody. Shoot, I know PLENTY of Christians who hate the idea of answering to anyone, even their proclaimed Savior. We want that word taken out of our wedding vows, because it's commonly believed that the character of others will fail us at some point, and we believe we are ultimately the only ones who know what's best for us. Which I believe to be crap, because the most damaging decisions I have ever made have come of my own free will. Obedience is really what this all boils down to--well for me, it's what EVERYTHING boils down to. In his infinite grace and wisdom, God gave us the free will to choose our paths for ourselves, but the truth of the matter is, every decision I make outside of what he desires for me is a mess. I have done such an excellent job of (repeatedly) screwing things up, that at the age of 35, I have finally learned to desire simple obedience. To trust in the character of God--because he is always GOOD.
So, yeah. My kids will NEVER know the kind, generous and amazing heart of God if they don't know how to obey him. Without obedience, they will fight him for independence their entire lives, and they will miss out on his blessings, grace, forgiveness...everything important. But they will hold fast and stubbornly to their ability to choose how to pursue their own happiness, and it will always end in disappointment. I really don't want them to ever believe that this is about *fighting* for their own happiness, their own way, doing life on their own terms--but instead, that they would trust in the one who promises great things for those who follow (obey) him in faith. The truth of the matter is, I don't see the entire story yet either; but I have learned to trust in the heart of God, and to know that one day it will all be revealed.
If I could boil my entire parenting philosophy down to one thought, it would be that there is SO MUCH goodness in surrender.