In honor of International Babywearing Week, the following is a guest post by my partner, Nathan: babywearer extraordinaire.
I come from a line of Oklahomans whose techniques for baby containing consisted primarily of high chairs for eating, large extended families for passing and holding, and loads of hip-hanging for everything else. Up to age 18, I'd never even SEEN anyone (not on some school filmstrip of distant lands) wearing their child.
When we found out that George was busy growing in the womb, we began the age-old ritual of stockpiling all things baby and parent. During our childbirth class, we began discussing the kinds of carriers Stefanie would use. At first, I never assumed that this conversation included me. Since I had so little prior knowledge of slings and baby wearing, my brain passed right over into support mode. Quickly, I realized that I could wear the baby, too. Still, it seemed out of my comfort zone.
Once George was born, things started to change. I saw Stef wearing our tiny grumpy baby in the Ergo, taking him everywhere, feeding him, talking to him, comforting him. I started wearing George around the house. In no time, even though my college-self tugged at my discomfort with something so "not me," whatever that meant, I immediately felt the benefit of having George so close. As a newborn he was tough to get to sleep, but in the sling with me, he found a spot to rest easy and did so often. In those days, I was in the thick of my student teaching internship and spent a lot of time at school, working. In my hours at home, I had George in the sling. I could cook with him in there, looking up at me. I would sing to him and often talk him through everything that I was doing. At "bedtime," I found a stand-up desk in his changing table and I would work at my laptop as he (and just as importantly, Mama) got some rest.
Even though our in-house George-toting was going gangbusters, I was still sheepish to wear George out; it still felt strange. I don't really remember when I stopped feeling that it wasn't weird to have my baby on me, but, it did. Yes, even in the extremely liberal town where we lived, I still got some glaring looks or giggles, but I would just kiss George's head and talk to him and feel great that my baby and I were out and about. That's one of the best things about baby wearing: the freedom it gives families, regardless of their size. Sadly, so often our culture portrays parents as put-upon martyrs for their children. Instead, when I have had either of my children in a sling, I feel like we are free. We are able to go almost anywhere and do almost anything and we can do it together. My kids have run errands to the post office and learned how everything works. They've shopped for groceries with me. I see all of these interactions as learning opportunities and feel like they've better equipped my children to see themselves as active participants in their world. Additionally, being in a traditional relationship, I was happy to introduce George to parenting and gender roles that might not necessarily mesh with culture at large. I relished the opportunity to share in the role as nurturer.
Eventually, I upgraded from a pre-packaged satchel-looking (ed: pocket) sling to a more traditional ring sling. George napped and travelled in it until he practically burst it at the seams. I remember his transition out of the sling and how, while my back was thanking me for the break, I missed having my little one next to me, sharing life so closely. Without question, having bonded this way with George helped (and continues to help) us be close, even when eventually I was working 50-60 hours a week. Understandably, I bet some folks reading this would ask, "If your baby is asleep so much of the time, do you really think you're bonding that much?" I would argue 100% yes. I can imagine few more powerful little moments than when a waking baby looks up to see her parent, feeling safe. I see that look on a regular basis and feel incredibly fortunate to have that opportunity that so few dads and non-nursing partners have.
Scary photobooth papa
By the time Zelda was born, slinging babies was old hat. Today, I estimate that I have Zelda in the sling for about 20-25 hours a week. I keep a pretty regular work week schedule, but when I'm home, she naps and hangs out with me in Stef's Maya Wrap ring sling (really the best sling ever). Just as with George, in the evenings Zelda sleeps in the sling with me while I work and Stef has some freedom after a day parenting two kids. All of the same benefits of slinging George are again present, but added to this are some new benefits. While slinging George, I showed him that I also acted as a nurturer and now that I so regularly wear Zelda, he sees it second-hand (Luckily, we are surrounded by some great dads, which helps reinforce men as gentle caregivers!). As a family, we are also better able to parent both kids. If we go out, we as parents can focus more intimately on both kids.
Baby wearing has allowed me to a more engaged member of the family. Working at times three jobs outside of the house, I've struggled over the years to make my time with my family as meaningful as possible. Having my children in a sling lets us be more active as a family unit. With Zelda in the sling, we can all go outside and play a game of George's choosing and we are ALL actively engaged. Zelda is part of the action and enjoying the movement, sights and sounds. And George can have both parents playing with him at once. I can cook dinner with Zelda in the sling while Stef and George read a book or play a game.
These days, baby wearing lets me more easily take both kids out, but rather than the looks I got as a new dad with a baby in a sling, I now get plenty of coos and smiles (gee, I wonder if perception has anything to do with this). I relish the days when I wear my ratty jeans and flannel shirt and the world gets to see my big frame, looking scruffy and a little rough with two adorable kids that I'm playing with and talking to.
Simply put: baby wearing has made our family life better. I can't imagine doing this parenting thing any other way. Whether it’s the messages sent to my kids about papas as nurturers or the freedom it gives me, allowing me to live life in tandem with my children, having my little ones in a sling makes me happy. It's helped me feel like a better parent, even in hard times, and has without question helped my children develop into people who aren't simply passengers (though they are literally) in my life, but participants in OUR life together.