Feeling conflicted with advice you hear about raising a spoiled baby? Put a rest to your doubts and discover what it really means to “spoil a baby.”
My twins couldn’t be more different, even from infancy.
While one could entertain himself and wait if I put him down, his brother would last—at most—10 minutes before hollering for attention. He didn’t like to be alone, preferring to be held all day. Putting him down to sleep usually meant hearing him wake up and cry within minutes.
He also preferred sleeping on me. The snuggles felt good, of course, but I could hardly get things done around the house with a sleeping baby.
We’ve all heard that you can’t spoil a baby, but what do you do when, months later, you’re still the only one who can calm your baby? When he only wants you and no one else—and cries when you so much as go anywhere without him?
Perhaps you can relate.
Maybe your baby refuses to sleep in the bassinet, and instead has to be near you to fall asleep. You don’t know if his tears are from colic, or if he just always wants your attention. And yes, you love that he’s attached, but it’s gotten to the point where you’re using the bathroom while holding him in your arms.
What having a “spoiled baby” really means
Nothing can feel as conflicting to a mom as wondering whether she’s spoiling her baby or not.
With all the advice we hear—from friends and family to articles we read—we’re pulled in conflicting directions. As much as you want to develop a healthy bond with the baby, you also wonder if you’re setting habits that will be difficult to break.
But after three kids and hearing countless stories from moms all over, I realized that we’re actually asking the wrong question.
You see, no one sets out to raise spoiled kids, especially from infancy. We do what we have to do to get through those early months, from carrying the baby everywhere to nursing on demand. We’re also often learning as we go, figuring out what works best for us.
And so, it’s not about asking yourself whether you’re raising a spoiled baby. Instead, the better question is this: What expectations are you willing to set?
In other words, how do you want to balance the baby’s needs with those of yours, your family, your work, and your home?
For instance, don’t feel chastised for spoiling if you have no problem with—and in fact, enjoy—holding your baby all day. You prioritize the values and enjoyment you feel for being with your baby often. Any sleep deprivation or inconvenience is easily forgiven.
Or maybe you set your expectations differently.
You might value your baby’s growing independence and self-sufficiency, in whatever small ways infancy allows. Handing the baby to other adults—despite the baby’s protests—is a must, allowing you much-needed breaks and time to yourself. Maybe you have a toddler who needs you just as much.
As you can see, neither situations are right or wrong. Both are crafting lifestyles based on the expectations you set.
Where the real problem of the “spoiled baby” arises
Most moms question if they’re raising a spoiled baby when they find themselves conflicted between their expectations and their lifestyle choices.
Perhaps you feel pulled to tend to the baby’s every cry but, deep down, know it doesn’t align with what you want or need. In your ideal world, you would simply put your baby down to sleep in the crib, or other adults could comfort his as well as you can.
If that’s the case, then, rest assured friend, you’re not a terrible mom for feeling that way.
Yes: the younger the baby, the more he needs and depends on you. But over the next few months, he’ll grow more independent, however gradually that may be. At some point, “saving” him from every discomfort might actually be preventing him from discovering ways to cope with minor struggles.
As I say in my book, How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe:
“All babies experience ‘stress,’ but not the kind of stress you might imagine. We’re talking things like losing a pacifier, a diaper itching, or figuring out how to fall asleep. As our babies grow past the newborn stage, our job won’t always be to save them from every discomfort—rather, it’s to equip them with the ability to handle discomfort.
I would later learn that this applies throughout all of parenthood. With teenagers, this might mean giving them the autonomy to make decisions, while for preschoolers, it could be letting them learn how to cope with a lost stuffed animal. And for babies, it can be as simple as waiting a few minutes before we go in to check on them.”
The key is to find this balance in a way that works for you while adopting a mindset where it’s okay for the baby to have some time alone.
How to break the habits of a “spoiled baby”
Is your baby long past the newborn stage but still needs you in ways he can gradually do on his own? Like all habits, any you’ve established up to this point can be reset. Take a look at these tips:
- Allow other adults to tend to the baby. The only way for your baby to feel comfortable with other adults is to give him the opportunity to do so. Likewise, other adults will gain the confidence and ability to soothe and comfort him. They won’t know what works if, at the end of the day, you grab the baby out of their arms.
- Slowly distance yourself physically from the baby. Does your baby cry the minute you put him down? Start gradually by putting him down on a blanket and staying nearby. Then, sit near enough but not touching him. Repeat a similar process, gradually giving yourself more distance, all the way to setting him down safely in the crib in a different room.
- Allow your baby to self soothe to sleep. Once he’s past the newborn stage and the pediatrician okays sleep training, consider undoing many of the crutches you’ve relied on. That way, you can ditch the pacifier, swing, swaddle, and any other sleep aid, and instead help him sleep 11-12 hours straight at night.
If you find yourself wondering whether you’re raising a spoiled baby, it’s more likely a case of aligning with your expectations.
Decide how you’d like to balance the baby’s needs with yours and the rest of the family’s. Own your emotions—whether the desire to hold the baby all day or to allow him more time away from you. And know that, should you decide to break habits and expectations, there are plenty of ways to do so.
Even now at six years old, my twins still differ in the attention they need. I can hardly get one to give me a hug in the mornings, while his brother will gladly snuggle with me on the couch. At least now he no longer fusses the minute I leave his sight.
Get more tips:
- What to Do when Your Baby Needs to Be Entertained Constantly
- How to Gently Handle Separation Anxiety in Babies
- On Rediscovering Yourself After Motherhood
- How to Work from Home with a Baby (And Actually Get Things Done)
- How to Manage Being Alone with the Baby
Interested in learning about teaching your baby to self soothe? Get a preview of my guide, How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe. This chapter is all about the mindset needed for successful self-soothing and helping your baby put himself to sleep: