Happiness is Our Birthright

I was sitting in my favourite coffee place perversely enjoying a cup of hot chocolate when a young man walked in, carrying his year old baby girl.

As he waited in the queue I saw him drop a kiss on the baby’s head, and I thought to myself, she’s going to be alright. I’d just finished writing a story for a parenting magazine, about bringing up emotionally stable children. I’d turned it round to write a headline, happy children become stable and intelligent people.

Because it’s easy for parents to think they have to be perfect, I made the point that it’s loving parents who take the time to listen and to remember the golden rule about doing to others as you wish to be done to you, who make the difference…

We all want to be comforted when we’re miserable, to be heard when we say something, to enjoy the company of those we love, to have enough to eat and drink and get enough sleep – which is exactly what babies need – they are people too!

But the really important thing for people to know is that cuddling is the answer to all the ills of mankind! Modern research has shown that when babies are happy, talked, too, sung too, cuddled, included, have lots of eye contact, what are known in neuropsychology as the “ the hormones of loving connection” nourish the brain and stimulate the growth of connections in the regions of the brain concerned with regulating emotions. The simple things that loving parents do with their babies, help them to become a considerate, loving and confident people from the very beginning.

This nourishment for the emotional centres of the growing brains makes children feel secure and happy, and means they tend to be more independent, confident, more resilient, empathetic and caring. Children who are comforted when they’re upset, grow up knowing that nothing is really a disaster, so they are the ones who don’t panic or go into despair when things go wrong. Because they learned when they were little that everything passes, they can cope. Adults who didn’t get this sort of  supportive parenting tend to re-act to stress with in-appropriate behaviours like flying off the handle, losing their temper, blaming other people, or going into despair and depression -because they grew up with a lot of fear and no faith that life would support them.

This is other side of the coin – the research which has shown what most mothers instinctively know, that it’s bad for babies to be left to cry. Imagine being tiny and helpless, unable to move or speak, with crying our only way to get attention when we’re hungry, frightened, lonely or whatever, and we can begin to imagine the panic and powerlessness of a baby left to cry. And if we knew that the person we relied on was there, but ignoring us, we’d feel even more abandoned and hopeless. We’d learn that we can’t trust the people we love and need.

Researchers now know that when a baby is left to cry, cortisol levels rise in the brain. If the baby is lovingly comforted after a stressful incident, the body absorbs the excess cortisol. But if the stress happens regularly the cortisol levels remain high and become toxic to the brain cells. Cortisol can cause damage to the emotional centres of the brain, and if this happens regularly children grow up prone to anxiety, anger and depression. The old advice to leave a baby to cry has meant many insecure and sad children.

Psychologists now feel that this deprivation of loving attention, comfort and understanding of a baby is responsible for many problems in older children – problems ranging from ADHD, depression, panic attacks, phobias, eating disorders, anxiety and substance abuse. So children and young adults with these problems are not innately troublesome or born with a pre-disposition to these problems. They simply didn’t get enough emotional food for the brain- those hormones of loving connection.

All of which means: cuddling is good for babes, crying is bad for them – and the same applies to us all. If you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep from misery, and felt that awful depression when you wake up un-refreshed, you’ll know how it is for far too many babies – simply because their mothers don’t know.

If we saw a ten year old sitting and crying while we were chatting and having coffee, we’d ask her what the matter was. But if it’s a baby crying, too often we simply ignore him. So I make it my life’s work to admire people’s babies in the supermarket or elsewhere, and then say, you know the more you cuddle him, the happier and the cleverer he’ll be, and if they’re interested, explain. Often young mothers react with huge relief, as though they’ve been given permission to cuddle as much as they want. (They may also say what a boring old bat, when I’ve gone!)

Maybe we could change the world if we all cuddled our babies, and rushed to comfort a crying one. No more sad and miserable children getting punished for behaviour they don’t understand and then growing into depressed or angry adults, taking it out on the world which felt so harsh to them when they were babies. And we could probably all do with lots more hormones of loving connection ourselves, too.

And then maybe when we all have enough of them, Love will at last prevail.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Out for lunch today, so we just needed a light supper. Leeks are still cheap and plentiful, so leeks it was tonight. Take enough leeks for two – they vary in size so much, that it’s easier to estimate your own. Butter an ovenproof dish, split the leeks lengthways and lay them in the dish. Stir 300 grammes of freshly grated Parmesan cheese into 400 mls of thick cream. Pour this over the leeks and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for twenty minutes until the leeks are cooked and the cream is bubbling.

Meanwhile hard- boil an egg per person and chop them up. Scatter the eggs over the leeks, and cover with more grated parmesan. Put the dish back in the oven for about five  minutes until the cheese has melted, and then give it a quick grill to brown the top.

Serve with crusty bread and some salad.

 

Food for Thought

I am as young as the most beautiful wish in my heart, and as old as the unfulfilled longings in my life.                   Saying of the pygmy Kalahari Desert Bushmen

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49 Comments

Filed under babies, cookery/recipes, environment, family, food, life/style, love, philosophy, Thoughts on writing and life

49 responses to “Happiness is Our Birthright

  1. Anonymous

    Totally agree with what you have written, well done if only we could drum it in to all new parents

    Like

  2. Alice

    Love kissing baby heads–and sniffing them too.

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  3. When you put it like this, it just seems like common sense…

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  4. Leaving a baby to cry is horrible!

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  5. I agree, but for so many years in western culture, male paediatricians insisted it was good for babies to exercise their lungs. When I wrote about not leaving them to cry forty years ago, male professor and psychologists from the university here would write and ring me up to chastise me!
    And some mothers have been so unloved themselves that their hearts have closed down so they have nothing to give to their babies.
    Sorry to go on – this is one of my hobby horses!

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  6. You are so right -back in the early ’60s when my first child was born, Dr. Spock was the authority who wrote the book how to raise a baby and I followed it to a “t” (I was just 21) – and my first born has all the issues you mentioned. Six years later I had my second child and held, loved and hugged all I wanted and he wanted – and consequently, he does not have any of these issues of anxiety, anger, depression, It makes me cry inside for my daughter and what she didn’t get from me. 😦

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    • Thank you so much for commenting, I can’t seem to get my answer to your comment under it on the blog, but hope you’ll understand which answer is for you… discussing Dr Spock. It’s really hard to look back and ache for one’s children. For different reasons I do too… best wishes, Valerie

      Like

  7. Love this … cuddling (at any age) is the cure for a great many problems 🙂

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  8. I can understand how sad you feel..It would be lovely to go back and do things again now we are older and wiser, wouldn’t it!
    .I very quickly grew out of DR Spock. Years later I interviewed him, and his wife was a very angry lady who told me she had told him all he needed to know while she brought up their children, and he sat behind his desk.! Dysfunctional families telling others how to bring up their children!~!!!
    ..

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  9. Pat

    I do agree. A little crying isn’t a bad thing though, and people shouldn’t beat themselves up if baby cries for a few minutes while they organise themselves to feed them. But leaving a child to cry is awful for them and for anyone who has to listen.
    Babies need lots of love and lots of cuddles and so do small children. Skin to skin for babies is best if you are mum or dad. And small children need squeezes. Almost painful squeezes, which is why the squeezes they give us are often painful. Tickling too. Lots of tickles until we all beg for mercy.
    Love is physical. It’s about contact. It’s not something abstract, not a few words into the air.
    But when a little one says ‘I love you’ unasked, out of the blue, they have no agenda. it is amazing.

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    • Thanks Pat for your lovely comment… You’re so right, children need lots of loving physical contact with both parents.
      Apparently when babies cry when they’re hungry, they are actually in physical pain, their little guts are so sensitive that they feel they’re starving, and this is one of the awful things about world hunger, that it’s actually very painful. So it’s actually best not to keep small babies waiting, which was never a problem when breastfeeding was the norm, which was nature’s solution!.

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      • Pat

        Yes, but we shouldn’t beat mothers up if they can’t breastfeed or babies don’t thrive on it and need formula. Mothers get a very bad press at a time when their hormones are all over the place. All sorts of things can cause problems for new mums.
        They need care too. And lots of loving and support.

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  10. I remember how scared I was of the stairs: They were gigantic, half my height, and how adults always tried to make me rush up on them, and when they walked I always had to run to keep up with them: Why do adults forget they were once children themselves?

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    • You’re so right George. The day I came back from hospital with my first baby, and I thought you put babies out in the pram to sleep, even though it was snowing, the midwife arrived and asked me ‘ would you want to be out in this weather.?’ It was a Eureka moment, from then on, I treated my babies the way I would want to be treated, and it seemed to work!
      It’s that sort of encouragement that anxious parents need, so that they dare to be kind, instead of thinking they have to be in control!

      Like

  11. This is such a beautiful article, Valerie! Thank you for naming and validating it with scientific insights! Cuddles for the world! – And an extra special one for you, today. 🙂

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    • Stefanie, thank you so much for commenting. In a way it tells us something about our world that we have to have the scientific proof to validate what we know to be true!

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      • Yes, Valerie, I totally agree. 🙂 – My hope is that the more sience is finding proof for what our hearts know, already, the more people feel encouraged to follow their heart. I believe, each of us is different and so we need lots of different ways of encouragement to provide some for everybody.

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  12. Great post! In my pre-retired life I was an elementary school counselor, and , well, the stories I could tell….. Parenting is a hugely important job.

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    • Thank you so much for commenting… maybe you should tell us some of those stories!
      Yes, I think parenting is the foundation stone of the world, and it saddens me when people say I’m JUST a stay- at- home mum, when they’re doing the most important job in the world, and children value time with their parents more than anything else.

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  13. Valerie,

    This is certainly something to ponder. I’m sure some people grow up to be angry adults because of neglect as a baby, but I’m not sure this is the case with all the angry adults I encounter. Sometimes I think people just get crotchety with age and probably don’t realize how angry they sound. Perhaps they are hurting, either physically or with some other problem, and find it hard to be nice, or perhaps they are thinking that age gives them a bit more leeway with their behavior.

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    • Thanks for commenting Sunni…Coping with angry people is a pain…From all the research into children, I gather that whereas the Jesuits used to say give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man, we now know that what happens to a child before three shapes the person.And in 25 years of counselling people I’ve never come across anyone who wants to be miserable – which is what angry people usually are! Most people, unless they’ve looked inside themselves,are unaware of their own misery or anger, and it often comes to the surface in old age. And testosterone
      is supposed to make old men grumpy, isn’t it! Another good reason for being a woman!

      Like

  14. Amy

    Great advice to young parents. I followed Dr. Spock’s book, too… Too many young parents are (were) not prepared for parenting job.

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    • Thanks for commenting, Amy… yes, I think few of us are ever prepared for parenthood, and so many grannie’s are busy working these days, so that we fall back on books. Unfortunately, Dr Spock’s advice tended to be more about controlling the child’s behaviour, than encouraging what is known today as ‘heart-to-heart parenting’. And there are many more good books by women now, as well as men, who back then had the monopoly, and were not necessarily blessed with maternal temperaments!

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  15. Fabulous advice. I ran a counselling service for pregnant and existing mothers and this is the same advice I gave them. Keep the message going Valerie…. looking at our babies with eyes of love is soooo critical for their healthy emotional maturity. Thankyou Regards Leanne…BY THE WAY-I have nominated you for a LOVELY BLOG AWARD. If you don’t mind please go to my site for more info… Congrats

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  16. Leanne, thank you so much for your comments for any number of reasons.Lovely to know that we are, in the words of that awful cliche, singing from the same song sheet!
    I wish we could have posters in supermarkets and waiting rooms, saying cuddle your baby etc.And I wrote this post in the hope that some people would think the message was worth passing on!
    And Wow, thank you so much for awarding me the Lovely Blog Award – it’s a real privilege to feel you wanted to include me in this award. And congratulations to you too, warm wishes, Valerie

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  17. What an awesome article! While discipline is necessary so is the cuddling!!! Too often infants, children, and teens are punished to never receive the most important aspect . . . cuddling under the umbrella of forgiveness! Even beyond that is the importance of hugs, yet there are some who want to find fault and eliminate any form of ‘touch’!

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    • Thanks for commenitng, Sharla – lovely to have your enthusiasm.
      Some of the sweetest research I’ve read recently is that babies and children are actually born wanting to be helpful… it’s only us who mess them up by being disrespectful or discourteous, and getting their backs up. When they’re treated with kindness and courtesy they automatically cooperate,… little darlings!

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  18. Thank goodness, Valerie. This just makes such sense! Good grief, how many studies do we need before we finally let love be the rule?

    I doubt any of those young mothers say anything negative to you. Most are so relieved to know their hearts are on the right track. You probably build their confidence immensely and we all know what calm mothering means.
    I need to stop reading your fabulously simply and tasty recipes at night! 😀

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    • Lovely to hear from you Amy, and thanks for what you say…so encouraging. And I really love it that you even read the recipes!
      I can’t work out whether I’m following you.. still waiting for Uni holidays and some computer coaching from my grand daughter. Do hope I am…

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  19. This is a lovely post! I love that you stop to talk to young parents and tell them that so important message. I can imagine their relief.

    I wish the info about the effects of cortisol were better known.It is crucial.

    Some of your early words, ‘happy children become stable and intelligent people.’ reminded me of words I use in my Baby Naming Ceremonies: “Children learn by experience and example and it takes a long time for them to learn enough to equip them for independent life. If a child is fortunate, he will be born into a loving environment with food, shelter and protection from life’s dangers. Good parenting matters, not just for the individual child but also for us all, because happy children may become happy, fulfilled people who will influence everyone around them for the better. ”
    Seems to me that this is part of what you are saying.

    Love your recipe! We do one similar where we wrap the leeks in a slice of ham before adding the cheese etc. which is also tasty if you’re not a veggie -we will have to try the egg version. Thanks.

    All the best to you 🙂

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  20. What an absolutely fabulous article. Thank you so much for sending it to me. It made me smile all over, and I so wish every parent felt that way!
    Thank you for your comments, and I must say, I think the babies and parents who have you at their naming ceremonies are very lucky!
    Lovely to be in touch…

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  21. Dear Valerie,

    I’ve always thought that I was dropped on my head when i was a baby. Now I know I wasn’t cuddled enough and left to cry too often. Loved your post.

    Aloha,

    Doug

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  22. Lovely to hear from you Doug. Yes, it’s quite a big club that we belong to. The only way through is to be kind to ourselves, and not let that inner voice beat us up- the shoulds,. musts, ought, ougthn’ts.
    We spend so much time putting ourselves down, and if we did it to a child we’d know it would depress and crush the child. So why do it to ourselves?
    Sorry to go on, but I really would love us all to feel happy!
    warm wishes, Valerie

    Like

  23. The need to feel love is across all borders of all living things. A well done post, Valerie!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

    Like

  24. I loved this! And I do definitely need a cuddle! 🙂

    Subhan Zein

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  25. Yes, I think everyone does!

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  26. Valerie, THANKS for visiting my “pun-ny” photoblog and leaving a “like.” This post points out the benefit, where possible, of a new parent staying home with the baby as long as she/he can. Daycare isn’t the same as “parentcare,” because unrelated people don’t have the same bond with the child.

    When our first child was born we gave up the larger salary so that my wife could be a stay-at-home mom. She didn’t go back to work until our second child was in grade school (and only half-time THEN, because she wanted to be home when he got home from school). Our choice isn’t an option for many (especially a single parent), but too many people choose standard of living over quality of the caregiver’s love.
    –John R.: http://TheDailyGraff.com

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  27. Amazing post!!! I absolutely agree with the post. Beautifully written. It should be printed and given to all new parents!!

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  28. When I replied to you in my post I wished I could have remember where I read the post about “Happiness is a Birthright” and low and behold – you did!! I will never forget again as it truly is one of the greatest posts I have ever read!

    Like

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to contact me, when I know how busy you must be. And what a lovely thing to say about the post. I really appreciate your words, and your generosity., warm wishes, valerie

      Like

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