Independence and Interdependence in Babies
Newborn babies are faced with two major tasks: (1) to become independent individuals, and (2) to establish connections with others. The parents’ job is to help their children with these tasks. Most parents focus more on one task than the other. Some even ignore one and leave its accomplishment to chance.
European American parents and researchers focus on independence and individuality, which is also the focus of this article. Parents from other cultures are more concerned about their children’s ability to create and maintain connections. These parents have a different view of practically everything because of their focus on interdependence, or mutual dependence, instead of independence.
Parents whose primary goal is to establish and keep connections may have little concern about teaching their children self-help skills. For example, self-feeding may be postponed because feeding is a time in which connections are nourished. They may continue spoon-feeding long past infancy, into toddlerhood and beyond. This practice can get them in trouble if their child enters child care. Teachers may be shocked when a 3-year-old sits down at breakfast the first day and waits to be fed. Parents can be quite surprised and disappointed when they learn of a program’s policy on self-help skills.
Although parents who stress independence look down on the idea of “coddling” children, to the parent focused on making connections there’s nothing negative about doing things for children. These parents see no reason to keep from prolonging babyhood and continuing the closeness. Their attitude makes sense if you understand their goal. They worry about too much independence, so they try to discourage it. Independent-minded parents have the opposite worry. They fear that if they don’t encourage independence, their children will remain dependent on them, maybe forever!
Parents who stress connectedness expect their children to be independent as well, but they believe it will happen naturally. In fact, they worry that the drive for independence is too strong; that’s why they have to work so hard to maintain connections.
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