Hurray for "Babies"! - Kimberly Thompson

I saw the movie “Babies” last night. It is a marvelous documentary of the lives of four infants around the world, from birth to toddlerhood. The babies were from San Francisco, Tokyo, rural Mongolia, and rural Namibia. I was struck by both the similarities and differences. Here are some of my take-aways:

All babies cry in the same language. Babies may babble with the phonemes that they have heard since their ears developed in utero … but their cries are universal. An experienced parent knows a tired baby cry from a hurt baby cry or an angry baby cry.

Newborn baby boys all make fountains when their diapers are off.

The infants from urban environments in the so-called developed countries had everything provided for them, including high levels of comfort and stimulation in the forms of toys and entertainment. Their lives were also restricted and regimented in comparison with the other babies.

The infants from harsh environments living in tribal cultures had relatively few creature comforts, including no visible toys or “baby equipment,” but high levels of freedom and autonomy to explore their environment. It was especially striking to see a baby crawling through a pasture in outer Mongolia and naked through the bare dirt in Africa. Their lives were full of more risks from things like falls, scrapes and cuts, and ingesting things that could make them sick. However, by toddlerhood they were already learning cooperation and seemed to have calmer and more confident temperaments.

The parents from the urban environments had to have equipment such as strollers to take their babies out of the home, and were already taking their babies to classes to “socialize” them. The parents from the rural environments let their babies roam on their own, and socialization occurred naturally with siblings and other relatives.

Some of our contemporary way of raising babies is of necessity, just like the more traditional ways (for their culture) are also of necessity. However I do think we can learn from seeing that babies can not only survive but thrive in much harsher environments than we may have thought.

There are many many benefits of living in contemporary developed societies, but there are also drawbacks. Everything in life is a trade-off. There are many ways that we are able to keep our children safer and more comfortable than those living in harsher environments … and sometimes our desire for more and more safety becomes a hindrance to their healthy development.

Let us be thoughtful about the need for risks in life, and understand fully that our children are born to someday walk this world as free and autonomous adults. Our job is to get them there, intact not only physically but with a healthy mind and soul. Watching “Babies” made me aware that our beloved offspring may be ready for some independence a lot sooner than any of us think.