Saturday, September 6, 2008

An unlikely pack of liars

There are many sorts of liars: Uninhibited truth-benders, reluctant fibbers and cautious white-lie purveyors. Since the addition to our family, however, we've been introduced to a whole new category: The sudden-switchers.

Who are these folks? In our case, they are the acquaintances or relatives who - very early on - warned us ominously never to give in to a baby's bawling. "Let the young fella cry. If you pick him up at the first sob, you'll never get a moment's peace", went one fairly typical admonition. The impression from these early encounters was that we'd somehow gathered a group of hard-hearted disciplinarians for family and friends, who preached a stern strain of parenting drawn from military-school-type manuals.

But a strange thing happened as the weeks passed, leaving Sonny a fortnight shy of his sixth month. All these 'let-'im-learn toughies have all become complete pushovers. All Sonny needs do is to whimper and we'll be urgently told to comfort and cuddle. When Pa ties the young fella up like a package at the fish market, to keep him from sucking his thumb, some of these tough guys have been known to break down in tears at the "inhumane treatment". Even when it comes to Sonny dropping off to sleep, we're being told we ought to rock him and soothe him till he drifts away to la-la-land. This, from people who were urging that the baby be dumped in a cot in the next room, so he can cry and learn to "sleep on his own".

Since it's unlikely these folks had a mass change of heart, we have to assume that they were peddling a line they didn't really believe in. Once confronted with its logical consequences, they then broke down and switched camps. In a way, this is symptomatic of a broader tendency in human beings: To boldly proclaim adherence to a unyielding creed, then crumple once the sacrifices required become more apparent. In this case, to be fair, it is people's kindliest tendencies that are to blame: They can't take it when they see an infant apparently suffering.

It was a lot easier when discipline was just an abstract principle.