Updated: Aug 17, 2022
The Race To Maturity
Go to any parenting forum and you will find thousands of variations of "My child isn't doing _______ by this age, what can I do?" The push for children to become independent starts at birth. We want babies to be less reliant on us from the get-go. Crying a lot? Well, they just need to learn to "self-soothe." If they are attached to a particular caregiver, they need to "get socialized". If they want to sleep with their caregivers, they need to be trained to sleep in a crib/bassinet alone. Are they not sleeping through the night? Then they need to be sleep-trained to do it by themselves. Do they need us to help them self-regulate? Then they need to be manipulated into behaving the way we want them to so they can control themselves on their own. Asking too many questions/needing our attention too much? Set a boundary! Distract them! Ignore them!
Immaturity Has A Bad Rap
In our culture, we view attachment, dependence, and immaturity as negative attributes. We want to eliminate them as soon as possible. The less our children need us, the better. Then we can get back to work and other important adult things. We don't have time to play silly kid games. The adult world is more important and needs our attention.
Children are born with their own developmental timelines. Through our pursuit of creating an independent, self-sufficient human, we can push our children beyond the threshold of what they are ready for. Are babies born ready to sleep on their own? From a biological standpoint, this would make humans very unique. All primates sleep with their young. We are the only primates that artificially create an environment where a baby is left to sleep by themselves from such an early age. If a baby protests, we train them into being able to do it.
But are they really ready for it? Whose needs are we serving by pushing our children into independence?
Meeting Them Where They Are At
When we are so focused on fostering independence in our children, we miss out on meeting them where they are at developmentally. It's time to question what our society and culture tell us to do. Raising children is an incredibly labor-intensive feat. This work was not meant to be done by nuclear families without village support. The push for independence is a response to the lack of support parents and families receive. If our babies could just self-soothe, sleep by themselves without waking us up, and regulate their own emotions, then maybe we would have enough energy to work 40+ hours per week to pay the bills.
The problem is that our children have their own timeline they are following and it most likely is not the lighting fast independence that our culture wants. Our children are the collateral damage from an economic system that does not support parents and families. Children need the freedom and time to grow into healthy independent/interdependent people. Pushing them too fast can actually backfire and cause their development to slow down.
What Can We Do?
It's time to slow down. In our fast-paced culture, we want everything to happen right away. That is not the timeline our children are operating on. Take a good look at your child and notice where they are at developmentally. Are they able to be by themselves for long periods of time? Do they seek connection with you constantly? Do they need comforting every time they get upset? Do they need to sleep next to you? These are not problems to be solved to make them more "independent" but are needs to be met, over and over again. Parenting is hard work. It takes a lot of effort to continuously meet a child's developmental needs. That is why we need community support so badly and why it is so devastating that most people do not have enough support. Immaturity is not weakness, is a natural part of life and we don't need to rush around trying to stamp it out.