Q: Our 7-month-old baby is is driving us crazy!
She wants so much attention that my husband, 4-year-old and I feel incredible stress. We have no time for each other because we are always taking care of the baby's wants.
My son was like this as a baby, but we had a smaller house and fewer commitments to volunteer work and other organizations. I was able to kind of coast along and live through it until he had grown out of it.
While my friend says she has one demanding child and one undemanding child -- that they were just born that way -- my mother says we "created the monster" by giving her so much stimulation.
Another friend doesn't answer when her two children call. She says she is "training" them to be more patient but to me they seem like very demanding, intensely angry, unhappy kids.
I don't want to sour my baby's personality. We do our best to interest her in toys and activities, but in the end she just wants us to play with her, be with her, hold her and carry her around. How can we get out of this?
A: You seem to go into overdrive with your babies, giving them everything you think they should have, only to find they want more.
Even though this was hard on you with your first child, it paid off. You and your husband and son have forged a team, because the three of you operate on the same wave length. The new baby is just trying to tune in. That's understandable. She has to learn how she fits, which isn't always easy. She was born with her own personality, and while it can be enhanced -- or skewed -- you can't change it much.
Through the ages, the personalities of people have been typed in many ways, for many reasons. In medieval days, the body fluids supposedly caused us to be phlegmatic, sanguine, melancholy or choleric; in the 1940s, William Sheldon -- with considerably more scientific backing -- found that a person's behavior could be foreseen by his physical shape -- ectomorph (thin and sensitive), mesomorph (square and assertive) or endomorph (round and sociable). And today you can find a new and curious insight in Dr. Abravanel's Body Type Program by Elliot D. Abravanel, M.D., with Elizabeth A. King (Bantam; $15.95). According to this health book, a single gland predominates, predicting how we behave, and how our behavior can be tempered by what we eat and drink and how we live.
The old gene pool may have made your child what she is, or she may indeed be over-stimulated, but appropriately enough, she seems to be quite a bit like you.
You keep busy; you're deeply involved in volunteer work; you've complicated your life by getting a bigger house to tend. It shouldn't surprise you that your babies also choose to be active.
You need to accept your little girl's needs -- and yours -- more realistically.
Babies do need to have their senses fed every day. They like to smell different flowers and spices; to feel velvet and burlap, satin and fur. They like to splash water in the tub and drizzle sand through their fingers.
Most of all, they like to be hugged and rocked; they thrive on conversation -- especially the voices of those they love best -- and they like their sounds to be repeated back to them but they don't play with toys or other interesting objects for more than 3 to 5 minutes at a time.
That's why even the easiest babies need someone to play or talk with them for 5 to 10 minutes in every half-hour they're awake, in addition to meals, baths and diaper changes. To avoid boredom they also need to be moved every half-hour they're awake -- from a swing to an infant seat to a stroller -- and if possible they should get this attention when they're still happy.
This is one of the easy-baby secrets: if you give a child more attention when she's good, rather than bad, she'll try harder to be good. She'll also do better if she has company: hang a child safety mirror low on the wall or against the slats of her crib.
This still doesn't leave you time to accomplish much with a baby around in the first year. Her attention span is too short and she has so many needs.
There's no cause to feel guilty about serving your own needs, however. You don't have to give constant attention or respond to her instantly every time she yells, as long as you're chatting and loving as you go about your business. Brief delays even have their benefits. The child who learns to depend on herself will be more independent.
Nor should you feel guilty about your preferences. Parents inevitably enjoy some ages more than others, and a 4-year-old probably pleases you much more than a pre-1.
You'll also be happier if you lower your expectations. You don't have to be Supermom or Superanybody. These are the glory years, the time to relax, enjoy, savor, laugh.
And when the pressure gets to you, remember: Parents who rear children in their own style usually have children they like, as well as children they love, and this lasts down all the days.