I was eating in a restaurant recently, enjoying both the food (post-Pesach) and the company, when a few minutes into the meal the sound of a baby shrieking shattered the subdued ambiance. I looked around and saw a young mother and father sitting at a table, a baby carriage nearby. To my annoyance, they continued just sitting there, despite the fact that their child’s cries had become more strident and ear shattering. They seemed oblivious to the noise, and were not in any hurry to do something about it. It was only after they noticed that people at other tables were eyeing them with mild (to extreme) disgust that the mother stirred herself to get up, pick up the infant – who looked to be about one month old – and try to calm him down.
I found myself fervently hoping that this was just an isolated incident; that these young parents were hoping to finish their meal uninterrupted – just this one time. I was praying that what I had seen was not indicative of future behavior – because this child’s ego was on the line. His sense of self was in the process of being developed and whether it would be a positive, healthy one, or not, depended on the message he perceived from his parents as to his value to them.
How does the world look from a baby’s point of view?
Imagine you are in a glass elevator and you can’t get out. You are however aware that there are people on the other side, including two who you consider your best friends. You wave your arms and bang the wall with your feet to get attention as you cry out, “Help me. I want to get out.” You relax a bit because you are pretty confident that you have successfully communicated your needs and that very soon you will be released from your uncomfortable situation.
Your two best friends, however, ignore you and continue to do whatever they were doing. You scream louder and bang harder. Your friends look at you with annoyance, but don’t move to get you.
Frustrated, you continue shrieking. You want out because you are hungry, thirsty or feeling alone and isolated and you crave connection. You are desperate to get out of your current situation.
And you are getting quite anxious. If these two people whom you trust, who you believe have your best interests at heart, don’t care to “rescue” you from your awful predicament – than who will? You are unable to help yourself – and you know it. You are distressed and quite puzzled. You don’t understand why your friends are not running to alleviate your misery. You know they like you. They do take care of you. But you sense you are not their main concern and you wonder why. You can’t help coming to the conclusion that there is something wrong with you. Feelings of inadequacy mingle with your fear that you have been abandoned.
After what seems like a lifetime, one of your friends comes to the elevator and with seemingly no effort, reaches in and pulls you out. The sense of relief that suffuses your soul is diluted by a nagging thought that even though your friends “came through” for you, your well-being was not a priority for them.
Your sense of self is punctured; you thought you were so valuable, so special – but this self-assessment may, with time, be revised. On a subconscious level, a seed has been planted that will take root if you repeatedly experience a pattern of your needs being eventually attended to, rather than immediately. A life-affecting conclusion will be internalized; “If I was so precious, my friends would have reacted differently. Obviously, my immediate comfort does not take precedence. I am important to them – but not that important.”
That niggling feeling that you are not worthy of being cherished, not deserving of being a priority will always be there and affect your ability to fully trust others, and will likely impact negatively on your future relationships and your ability to take risks in your personal and professional life.
From the get go, every human being needs to feel esteemed and valued. Knowing that someone truly cares about you and will go the extra mile to ensure your comfort and well-being is the “battery” that powers a child’s/adult’s confidence and self-belief needed to navigate the fascinating but bewildering world they find themselves in and to take on the multi-faceted challenges in all areas of their life.
Some might argue that “instant gratification” will result in a spoiled, self-centered child. Not so. There is a world of difference between quickly addressing a child’s wants as opposed to their needs. When it comes to young infants, there are no wants – only needs.
And putting those needs before your own until the child achieves some measure of independence, self-reliance, and the eventual awareness that the world need no longer revolve around him/her, will likely be a favor returned – for the day may come when you will be the one in need and dependant on others for your well-being. As the Torah teaches – mida keneged midah – what comes around, goes around.