How your sister is raising her infant may seem foreign to you, but she is just doing what comes naturally. This is how this will “play out”:
For the first year or two, a child is primarily bonded to his mother. We see this pattern in many animal species, too. I wouldn’t be concerned because this plays out very positively. Kids raised this way grow to be very bonded with their parents and out of this grows great confidence as they reach school age. As a result, they are ready to take on the rest of society. Mom and her infant develop a bond that is so strong, it is an instinct for both of them to be together. They learn to read each others subtle cues — they “tune-in” to each other. Most infants tend to “need” their mommies quite frequently, so it is difficult for mom to be more than a few minutes away. My wife wasn’t ready to be away from her baby for the first year and I respected that. Then, later, when our child was a toddler and had some other baby friends, we were able to get away for a quick dinner. Later that year my wife felt more comfortable leaving longer so that we could go out for a movie. When our child was four-years-old, we were able to take a few days away.
Dad’s involvement certainly is less during the first 6-9 months, but he should try to spend time holding and rocking the baby. Mom should try to help by letting him hold baby when baby is well rested, and in a good mood. Setting dad up for success like this will help them to develop a good bond. Dad’s bond usually is much stronger once the baby is a toddler. Yes, I did feel a little “left-out” when my kids were very young, but as they reached 1-2-years-old, I was able to get more involved. We had fun going for ice cream or to the park.
Now, about leaving the infant with the grandparents. Most of their child-raising experience came at a time when moms were encouraged to separate from their babies at a very early age. Many moms relate this story to me: While visiting the grandparents, or at a family get together, grandma was holding my two-month-old baby (nothing wrong with this). After a while, my baby got fussy for some reason. Mom’s instinct kicks in telling her to respond to her baby’s cries, but Grandma says, “He doesn’t need to eat yet”, or “Oh, don’t worry, crying is healthy for him”. It’s amazing that some people still think that babies need to cry to help their lungs develop. It is very difficult for a mom to see her baby fussing on grandma’s lap. This is a very hard time for mom, because she doesn’t want to appear rude by insisting she get the baby back, yet it torments her to see her baby unhappy. Nobody else in the room understands this struggle because they don’t have the same hormonal connection as the mother. Then grandma starts asking to keep the baby for an entire weekend! Mom could never allow the baby to stay with someone that doesn’t understand his needs. The time for weekends at grandmas will come – in a few years. Believe me, by this time, mom and dad will really need a weekend alone! When it is time to leave the kids for a while, it is important that they stay with somebody that they are very familiar with. We left our four-year-old with friends that had kids the same age. Our daughter knew this family very well and felt comfortable with them. My wife and I also felt comfortable with the other mom’s sensitivity to our child. I have talked with many moms (my mother included) that left their infants (me, when I was two-months-old) for a few days at a very early age. When they returned, they felt very disconnected to their baby and had a very hard time re-establishing their bond.
There will be times when your sister’s child appears “too bonded” to his mother. I have seen many kids in my practice that I thought were too dependent on mom. Moms insist that they know their kids better than anyone, so I didn’t interfere. It always seems that about a year later (usually when the kids turn 3-5) there is a sudden blossoming, a “weaning” of sorts, and the child says, “All my needs have been met; I must be a pretty special person; I have the confidence I need to take on the world.” I am always amazed at how these “needy”, “clingy” toddlers grow into very well-adjusted kids.
I hope this gives you some understanding of how well your sister is parenting. For more information on Attachment Parenting visit our Attachment Parenting Index.