Wearing Our Toddlers --- A Love Story

by Gretchen Otto

In desperation after the birth of my third child, I started looking for a wider range of carriers to carry my tiny baby as I now had my hands (and heart!) full with three dear children three and under. During this exhaustive search, I was pleasantly surprised to find even more options to supplement the tried and true ring slings, a pouch, and a structured soft carrier that got me though my first two children. I grew to love westernized, two shouldered Mei Tais, other soft structured carriers such as the Ergo, and especially the support of a well tied wraparound carrier.

I had largely stopped carrying my toddlers when the one shouldered carries became less comfortable for me. But even those, oddly enough, worked well again with my older toddlers for short trips, possibly due to the weight of toddlers being distributed a bit differently as they grew.

Little did I realize my new foray into the world of babywearing with my third dear child was going to inspire me to carry my darling toddlers frequently once more. I had not realized how much I had missed carrying my toddlers for the closeness, bonding and security. We started to find that babywearing was especially helpful - even crucial -- for certain times and situations. What follows is only a partial list of the wonderful ways that wearing our toddlers has helped make us better parents.
Learning by doing
I had forgotten how much a child and a caregiver learn with each other as a carried child sees the world though daily chores. I already knew these chores were infinitely fascinating to a baby (and the drudgery that is housework indeed seems to go more quickly with a baby smiling up at you while you work!) but was not aware how much fun it also is with a toddler, where you can actually converse with him or her about the things you are doing.

The very first day I put my three year old on my back in a wrap with a rucksack carry to cook dinner, he was amazed at the first "birds eye" view he ever got of our stove. I was boiling water for spaghetti, and he had never seen that phenomenon. He asked what it was, and I attempted to explain boiling water and helped him to better understand why he should not touch the stove. Perhaps that planted a seed for a lifelong love of science, as he pondered how something so simple "worked."
Nap and bed times
When transitioning from sleep to a wakeful state, our carriers have been my lifelines for my toddlers. There have been many times where my oldest, in particular, has fallen asleep in the car. Whether it is a restaurant, shopping, or home that is our destination at the end of the trip, I have removed the sleeping beauty from the car to a carrier on my front without waking him. He is then allowed to wake up gradually and peacefully swaddled next to the secure sound of my beating heart.

I have also found that, just like when babywearing with an infant, putting my toddlers in a baby carrier and then starting to vacuum instantly sends then into peaceful slumber for naps or bedtime. As an added bonus, my house gets clean!

Potty training
In my experience, there is no better way to help guide your toddler through potty training than by wearing him or her. The close proximity allows you to read those subtle cues that allow you to know when to gently direct him or her to the potty.
Reducing sibling rivalry
Wearing my toddlers has helped reduce sibling rivalry and jealousy of the new arrival. When I do not have my baby in a carrier (which is admittedly rare) I can get in some extra cuddle time with my older boys. Now they often bring the carriers to me when the baby is not in them and ask for a ride. This seems to have a reassuring effect that they, too, are still my precious babies.

This benefit was in addition to a benefit I had long known -- when I wear my infant son, I have both hands free to hug and otherwise attend to my toddlers' needs.

Even when my infant son is in a carrier, my dear husband steps in and carries one of our two toddlers. That makes them feel incredibly special. The contented looks on their faces while on Daddy's back tells our love story, in one moment in time, better than any words could describe.

Tandem nursing did not work out as I had hoped, and I really mourned the loss of that tool to deal with the occasional tantrum-like and fussy behavior of my two year old. In frustration one day I grabbed a carrier when he was at his worst, and the effect was astounding. He became calm once again. I have used this tool frequently with great results since that time.
Babywearing has given us this gift for our toddlers in situations where it otherwise would not have been possible. Local travel for us has involved visiting the White House for a Christmas tour. We could not have put down our then two year old for fear he would have wreaked havoc with the lovely ornaments on the First Lady's pretty tree. In this post September 11th, 2001 era strollers are no longer allowed in the hallowed halls for security reasons. Wearing our toddler allowed us to go see the lovely tour as a family.

Similarly, our long distance journeys have taken us to places where strollers are not practical or are not allowed. We once traveled up a steep mountainside in the Caribbean in a tram car that was open on the sides: a dangerous situation for a toddler to be sure. Safely tucked by our side in carriers, our toddlers were secure and we were all able to enjoy a less stressful and worry free day, with a breathtaking view to boot.

Carriers have been invaluable in our frequent air travel. A hands free solution is necessary when you need to haul luggage from place to place. Baby carriers are also easier to get through the security lines and scanning machines than other, more cumbersome apparatus.

Perhaps the best bonus for our particular family has been the use of carriers at routine family outings. Outings are much more pleasant when you can reach inside a bag and pull out a carrier for a too-tired-to-walk toddler. This is much easier than carrying your child in arms and pushing an empty stroller, which we have often seen people do.

Trips to the zoo, the company picnic, strolling through the local mall, museums and all other sorts of venues have been enhanced by our use of carriers. We routinely frequent stadiums as well. Many that we have been to have a "no stroller" policy. One of our toddlers napped peacefully on Daddy at spring training this year in Florida, while the baby nursed away happily on mom.

Under the Weather? No Problem!
My toddlers ask to be carried most now when they feel ill. The benefit of the added closeness and security during this time surely hastens the natural healing process. Cocooning in close for this difficult period of time may allow them to minimize other outside stimuli and focus on getting well.

Happy Babywearing!
The ability to wear our toddlers has been wonderfully rewarding for us as family. We are so happy to have stumbled upon this lost art. I can't tell you yet how this love story ends, since we still happily wear all three of our dear children.

Please share YOUR favorite tips and reasons for wearing a toddler at www.thebabywearer.com.

© Gretchen Otto, 2005. All rights reserved.