Providing Children What They Need
CLEARLY, young children need a lot of attention, and evidently, many are not getting what they need. The condition of today’s youths suggests as much. “Never have our young people been so isolated from their families, so bereft of practical experience and practical wisdom,” lamented a researcher quoted in The Globe and Mail of Toronto, Canada.
What has gone wrong? Could the problem be traced, at least in part, to a failure to realize the importance of giving attention to the very young? “We all need to learn how to become parents,” explains a psychologist who helps low-income women learn how to care for their newborns. “And we need to realize that the time we spend with our kids now will come back to us with many, many returns.”
Even babies need regular instruction. Not just a few minutes now and then but regularly—yes, throughout the day. Time spent with young ones from their babyhood on is vital for their wholesome development.
Need for Preparation
To fulfill their weighty responsibility, parents need to prepare for their baby’s arrival. They might learn from a principle that Jesus Christ pointed out regarding the importance of planning ahead. He said: “Who of you that wants to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense?” (Luke 14:28) Child rearing—often called a 20-year project—is far more complicated than building a tower. So to rear a child successfully requires having a blueprint, as it were, for the job.
First, mental and spiritual preparation for taking on the responsibilities of parenthood is important. A study of 2,000 pregnant women in Germany found that the children of mothers who looked forward to having a family were much healthier—emotionally and physically—than the offspring of mothers who did not want their babies. On the other hand, one researcher estimated that a woman locked in a stormy marriage runs a 237 percent greater risk of bearing an emotionally or physically damaged baby than a woman in a secure relationship.
Clearly, then, fathers are important to the successful development of a child. Dr. Thomas Verny observed: “Few things are more dangerous to a child, emotionally and physically, than a father who abuses or neglects his pregnant wife.” Indeed, it has often been noted that the best gift a child can receive is a father who loves its mother.
Hormones related to anxiety and stress, secreted into the mother’s bloodstream, can affect the fetus. However, it is thought that only intense or prolonged maternal anxiety, rather than occasional negative emotions or stressful events, is hazardous. What matters the most seems to be how the expectant mother feels about the unborn.*
What if you are pregnant and your husband is not supportive, or what if you personally resent the idea of becoming a mother? It is not unusual that circumstances may cause a woman to feel depressed about her pregnancy. Yet, always remember that your child is not at fault. How, then, can you maintain a calm attitude despite adverse circumstances?
The wise direction provided in God’s Word, the Bible, has been of help to millions. It says: “In everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” You will be surprised how living by those words can help you to follow this counsel: “Do not be anxious over anything.” (Philippians 4:6, 7) You will feel the caring hand of the Creator, who can look after you.—1 Peter 5:7.
Not an Uncommon Experience
In the first few weeks after giving birth, some young mothers experience unexplained sadness and lethargy. Even women who were happy to have the baby can become moody. Such mood swings are not unusual. This is because after giving birth, women can experience dramatic changes in hormone levels. It is also common for a new mother to be overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood—feeding, changing diapers, and caring for the baby, who has no concept of time.
One mother felt that her baby was crying just to torment her. Little wonder that a child-rearing specialist in Japan said: “No one is free from experiencing the stress that comes with child rearing.” According to this specialist, “the most important thing is for a mother never to isolate herself.”
Even if a mother feels depressed at times, she can protect her child from being affected by her mood swings. Time magazine reported: “Depressed mothers who managed to rise above their melancholy, lavishing their babies with attention and indulging in playful games, had children with brain activity of a considerably more cheerful cast.”*
How a Father Can Help
The baby’s father is often in the best position to provide needed help and support. When the baby cries in the middle of the night, in many instances the father can look after the baby’s needs so that his mate can sleep. The Bible says: “Husbands must always treat their wives with consideration in their life together.”—1 Peter 3:7, The Jerusalem Bible.
Jesus Christ provided the perfect example for husbands to follow. He even gave his life for his followers. (Ephesians 5:28-30; 1 Peter 2:21-24) Thus, husbands who sacrifice their own comforts to take some initiatives in child rearing are imitating Christ. Indeed, rearing children is a joint venture, a cooperative effort in which both parents need to participate.
A Joint, Cooperative Effort
“As husband and wife, we’ve discussed in detail how we should rear our daughter,” says Yoichiro, the father of a two-year-old girl. “Each time an issue arises, we talk over how we should proceed.” Yoichiro realizes that his wife needs her rest, and he often takes his daughter with him when he runs errands.
In earlier times, when families were commonly large and close-knit, parents had the help of older children and relatives to share in child care. So it is not surprising that a worker at the Child-Rearing Support Center in Kawasaki, Japan, observes: “In most cases, mothers will be relieved when they talk to others about the matter. With just a little bit of help, many mothers have been able to cope in the face of obstacles.”
Parents magazine says that parents “need a network of people they can call on to share their concerns.” Where can such a network be found? By being open-minded and listening to their own parents or in-laws, new mothers and fathers can benefit considerably. Of course, the grandparents should appreciate that final decisions rest in the hands of the young couple.*
Another resource on which young parents can often rely is fellow religious believers. In the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you may find people who have had years of experience in child rearing and who are willing to listen to your problems. They can share some helpful tips. Often, you can summon the help of “the aged women”—as the Bible calls those with greater experience in Christian living—who are willing to assist younger women.—Titus 2:3-5.
True, parents need to be selective when listening to the opinions of others. “All of a sudden, people around us became child-education experts,” says Yoichiro. His wife, Takako, admits: “At first, I was disturbed by the suggestions others gave, as I felt they were criticizing my lack of experience as a parent.” Yet, by learning from others, many husbands and wives have been helped to have a balanced view of providing what their children need.
The Best Help Available
Even if no one seems to be available to help you, there is one reliable source of strength. That is Jehovah God, the one who created us, the one whose eye can see “even the embryo” of those born on earth. (Psalm 139:16) Jehovah once said to his people of ancient times, as recorded in his Word, the Bible: “Can a wife forget her suckling so that she should not pity the son of her belly? Even these women can forget, yet I myself shall not forget you.”—Isaiah 49:15; Psalm 27:10.
No, Jehovah does not forget parents. In the Bible, he has provided them with fine guidelines for rearing children. For example, some 3,500 years ago, God’s prophet Moses wrote: “You must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force.” Then Moses said: “These words [including the exhortation to love and serve Jehovah] that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.”—Deuteronomy 6:5-7.
What, do you gather, is the point of this direction in God’s Word? Isn’t it that instructing your children should be a regular, ongoing procedure that is carried out each day? Actually, it is not enough simply to schedule so-called quality time for your little ones now and then. Since important moments of communication are often spontaneous, you need to make yourself available to your children on a regular basis. Doing so will make it possible for you to fulfill the Bible command: “Train up a boy according to the way for him.”—Proverbs 22:6.
Proper training of little ones includes reading aloud to them. The Bible tells us that the first-century disciple Timothy ‘knew the holy writings from infancy.’ So evidently his mother, Eunice, and grandmother Lois read aloud to him when he was still a baby. (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14, 15) It is good to begin doing this as soon as you start to talk to your infant. But what can you read, and how can you best teach even an infant?
Let your child hear you read the Bible. Evidently that is what was read to Timothy. Books are also available that acquaint children with the Bible by means of colorful pictures. These help a child actually visualize things the Bible is teaching. For example, there are My Book of Bible Stories and The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived. By means of such books, millions of little ones have had Bible teachings impressed on their minds and hearts.
As the Bible says, “sons [and daughters] are an inheritance from Jehovah; the fruitage of the belly is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3) Your Creator has entrusted you with “an inheritance,” a lovable baby, who can be a source of pride and joy. Raising children, especially to be praisers of their Creator, is indeed a rewarding career!
Not only stress hormones but also nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs may have adverse effects on the fetus. Expectant mothers do well to stay away from any dangerous substance. In addition, it is vital to check with a doctor regarding the effects of medication on the fetus.
If a mother feels profound sadness and hopelessness as well as a sense of detachment from the baby and from the world, she may be suffering from postpartum depression. If that is the case, she should consult her obstetrician. Please see Awake!, July 22, 2002, pages 19-23 and June 8, 2003, pages 21-3.
Please read the article “Grandparents—Their Joys and Challenges,” in the March 22, 1999, issue of Awake!
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A mother’s feelings about her unborn are very important
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Although a new mother may experience mood swings after childbirth, there is much that she can do to make her baby feel loved and secure
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Fathers have a responsibility to share in child care
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Reading to a child should begin in infancy