On the move (3-12 months)Common Good
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, his triumphal entry caused the whole city to be stirred. People everywhere were asking ‘who is this?’ Jesus goes to the temple, drives out the moneychangers, heals the blind and lame. At this point, Matthew points out the response of two groups of people: the religious, rule abiding adults and the children:
“But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that [Jesus] did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”” (Matthew 21:15-16)
Jesus reveals something of his heart to all watching and now reading. The young children recognize Jesus for who he is. The religious leaders are indignant with them calling Jesus the rightful king of Israel, the Messiah. The children correctly identify this carpenter’s son, revealing the ignorance of the chief priests and scribes.
The mouths of infants and nursing babies
Jesus, hearing the praise of children who could shout out to him, points our attention to ‘infants and nursing babies’ – those who typically cannot vocalize words. This elevates the season of baby gurgling and babbling. A child, learning to talk, may be expressing something of the praise that Jesus talks about here. A young child, not yet able to talk could well be expressing praise to their heavenly father.
It is not surprising that the first word that most babies say is a form of ‘dada’. How close is that to ‘Abba’, the word we cry out to recognize the Father God (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6). It is like when we place our faith in Christ, he sends his Spirit into our hearts and we cry out ‘Abba’, so similar to the first human word we vocalized. It is like we begin to learn language again to relate to our heavenly Father. When we see or hear a baby gurgling and babbling, it reminds our hearts of the day we were redeemed and began to learn how to communicate with our God. We are learning to be children and out of our mouths, we sing praise.
Beyond the fourth trimester
Many parents note that after 3 months, there is a shift in the household. Baby is out of the ‘fourth trimester’ and parents may be more settled in how they best care for baby. This doesn’t mean that there are no challenges. This season brings other changes that ask something different of mom and dad. As a person supporting them, being familiar with these changes is helpful to know how best to engage, support and encourage them.
For many working mothers, the season of 3-12 months of their child’s life means a return to the workforce. This brings many questions to mom that are hard to answer: should I go back to work? What if I can’t afford to not go back to work, but I don’t go back? Will I cope? Will baby be ok with the childcare option I have chosen? Will colleagues and boss be ok with my need for flexibility? What if baby is sick?
These are hard questions and there are no simple answers. As part of mom’s support network, it isn’t for you to answer these questions, but rather be a ‘sounding board’, or to refer to other moms who have grappled with this topic before.
A note on adoption
It is often in this season of an adopted child’s life that he or she joins a new family. Whilst every adoptive family has a unique story and journey towards adoption, many of the actions, suggestions and approaches will be suitable for adoptive families. Naturally, they may need to be adjust and contextualised.
If you haven’t had a chance, be sure to read about the posture of serving and supporting parents in the first three months.
One of the things that shifts in this season is the interaction baby has with others. Dr Jack Shonkoff, a Harvard professor, talks of ‘serve and return’, the simple and profound concept of responding to what baby is doing. When baby points, you look and talk about what baby has ‘served’ to you. Have a look at this video to see how play fits into this powerful brain-growing activity. In your interaction with baby, use these kinds of tools to help stimulate brain development. These interaction with their baby builds their baby’s mind, connection with their parents and other people. This promotes baby’s physical growth. Encourage mom, dad and other carers in baby’s life to build this habit. To follow baby’s cues and deliberate attempts and this bonding.
Linked to this is the idea of ‘baby talk’. Whilst it may initially feel awkward, talking to baby in baby talk stimulates brain development. Have a look at the science behind it. For dads especially, have a look at this YouTube clip.
Check in with mom – how is she coping? How is she experiencing this new season that she is in? if appropriate, ask how she and her spouse are working together in their parenting.
Explore how mom is feeling about her decision about work. If she is returning to work, deciding against it, help mom process this decision.
When ready, offer to babysit so mom and dad can connect. It is important that they have times to build into their relationship.
When at church or other social gatherings, offer to hold baby so mom can connect with other adults. Mom needs a range of relationships, to both give and receive, for her flourishing.
Organize ‘playdates’ with older siblings, which can give mom some space, as well as help older siblings feel connected to a broader social network
Grandparents, uncles and aunts: you are likely the first in line to step in for babysitting duty. Perhaps set up a regular rhythm where you can practically serve by caring for little one.
As far as you can, create spaces where mom feels encouraged to breastfeed, or express milk for baby.
As 1 Thessalonians 5:14 tells us, be encouraging, help the weak and be patient with everyone. Mom and dad will go through such different experiences during this stage and there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ type of check in with them. Seek to understand and listen before you offer advice.
Drawing community in
Continue to invite and welcome in the new family into community moments (don’t say their no for them when holding a social gathering)
You may want to organize a ‘toy library’, where parents can bring toys and trade them with each other, to allow for wider variety of stimulation for baby
Encourage and, if necessary, help mom get a library membership to get fresh books for reading to baby regularly.
If you have the social network, you may arrange for books to be donated to a ‘church library’ that can allow for families to access books for baby
The best way of providing practical support may become evident in this time – and sharing the opportunities to serve with others to serve helpful as it spreads the ‘net’ of support for the family
As a colleague, how do you engage a mom returning to work
If you are a key decision maker in your company, or can lobby for ways in which you can make your workplace more FTD friendly, have a look at our post on this topic and on the growgreat.co.za. It is up to everyone, however, to engage with moms in a way that helps them to flourish in both the parenthood space and the work space.
If you have a colleague who is about to return to work, or has returned to work and you are wondering what you can do to support and encourage, here are a few ways in which you can do that:
- Affirm mom. Treat her as more than a mother, but a value-adding member of the team whom you are happy to see returning
- Warmly welcome her– ask for pictures, stories as appropriate
- Be sure to draw her into the work opportunities – don’t make her feel like she has nothing to bring just because she has been on maternity leave
- For a range of things to say and not say, have a look at this article
- All of the above are to be discerned, based on culture, nature of your relationship with the mom and any big differences in authority, which may complicate these interactions.
It is still about parent’s wellbeing
Journeying, supporting and serving parents in this stage may feel like it is not as urgent or acute as the first few months. Remember that primary caregivers still need support and care so that they can respond to baby’s needs. Baby’s brain is still developing at a profound rate: 700-1000 neural connections per second. There is still much that can be done to support parents, love them, care for them and encourage them to be growing greatness in their little one’s life.