06 March 2011


The Safety of the Womb

I once worked in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  One of my responsibilities as an occupational therapist was to meet the infants' sensory needs so they could achieve a state of deep sleep, because in deep sleep their bodies were able to heal and/or mature.

And their sensory needs were always the same:  to have a small space where they could feel their boundaries.  Because those boundaries made them feel safe.

And so we wrapped those infants in special wraps called snuggies (yes, that was the technical term).  We wrapped them tightly, with their hands right next to their faces, because putting their hands next to their cheeks was a way to self-soothe.  We made sure there was something close to those hands and feet so that when they ventured to reach or kick, they would feel something, something that gently pushed back.  In short, we mimicked the womb.  

My own full term babies were the same:  they needed to reach out and feel something, like when they were in the womb and would push the wall.  They needed those boundaries.

And they still do.  Kids push boundaries for safety.  They want to feel something, they want that something to gently push back.  To let them know where they are, where they stand.

I recently watched a fictional TV program where the subject matter was about inner city kids.  Troubled kids.  One child was talking to another and said, "I can't go anywhere.  She has me on a short leash these days."  And the other one answered, "At least you have a leash."

No matter what my kids say to me as they get angry at me for setting limits, they want and need those limits.  It will help define them as they grow.  Kids with no boundaries have no safety net, and they grow into teenagers with no boundaries or safety net.  I don't yet have teenagers, and even with boundaries I am not so delusional as to think it will be easy.  But if I wait until my kids are teens to start imposing limits, then I've waited too long.  I've let them flounder when I should be holding them close.

And so I'll keep showing them their boundaries.  They will grow up aware of their limits.  And I won't take it personally when they tell me I'm no fair.  And I'll love them.  Always.  And I'll keep believing that some day they will stop telling us that we're no fair.  They'll get it.  And they'll love us back.

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