On Learning Independence

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It happened during a particularly frenzied dinner out to celebrate a family birthday. Bee was tired or fussy or hungry, or possibly all of the above, and my husband and I were pulling out every song and dance we could muster to keep her entertained (and quiet). And then, a comment from my mother-in-law: “You have got to teach that baby how to entertain herself!” It was completely innocent and well-intended. But I couldn’t help it; suddenly my mind started racing and I’d felt like I was failing as a mother. Like my actions and choices were hindering Bee from growing up to become a well-to-do citizen. Like maybe I was raising the next kleptomaniac or elementary school dropout or – heaven forbid – non-registered voter.

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The comment kept replaying in my head for weeks. Because Bee is an only child, a first child, she has certain privileges at her disposal. She has an empty, quiet house. Her toys are her own, no sharing necessary. And she has her mother and father completely and utterly wrapped around her left pinkie.

My mind raced back to the conversations Ken and I would have, pre-baby. About how we’d absolutely sleep train (we gave up). How we’d take her everywhere to help her familiarize herself with the outside world (we don’t). And most of all: how we’d raise her as if we were raising a second child – more relaxed, less hovering (you can only imagine how long that mentality lasted). As they say, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

And then, like an angel descending – a large package arrived at our doorstep.

It was the Finding Nemo Fins & Friends playard, and it was adorable. And as soon as I set it up, I knew this could be a lovely addition to our morning routine. To be honest, we never relied on a playard or baby gate because Bee is such an active baby. She’s always loved to explore and see and do, discovering new corners of our home daily. And I’d assumed our money would be wasted on anything that kept Bee from these busy (exhausting!) explorations.

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And then we tried it, lowering her into this soft teal, perfectly imaginative space. She was confused at first, but then became distracted – and delighted – as she pointed to each fish and babbled with glee. I started the clock – would she be able to entertain herself in her playard for 5 minutes? 10 minutes? Even 15 minutes?

As I tossed in a few more toys and supervised her adventures, it was becoming quite clear to me that Bee could, in fact, entertain herself. And 18 minutes later, I realized I was worried for absolutely no reason at all.

The funny thing about teaching your baby independence is that, really, we’re teaching ourselves.


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