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“Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  Psalm 51:5

My wife overheard a friend of ours say that she was so thankful to have her children on a schedule. She starts training them at two weeks old. Children need to be taught, she said, that the world does not revolve around them. I assume this means that at two weeks old, this mother does not pick up her child when she cries at night in order to train her to be on a schedule. Which for me brings up the question:  if an infant’s cries are to be ignored in order to teach her that she isn’t the center of the universe, then

Just how sinful are babies at birth?  More than once, my wife and I have encountered a belief from fellow Presbyterian parents that our babies’ cries from the crib are a form of selfishness, or at least can lead to selfishness if heeded too much, and it is our job, then, as Christians to oppose these seeds of sinfulness. In doing so, we are communicating that they are not the center of the universe. (I even heard from someone at work, who was recommending Baby Wise* to me, that one baby was caught on tape clearly manipulating his parents from the baby bed.) This misguided belief, I believe, stems from an overly zealous adherence to the doctrine of original sin.

So what does original sin look like in an infant? And do I even believe in it? Yes, I think that there is something in our nature that rebels against God, and I think that it is in our nature as soon as we are born and that it affects everything we do. But I do not think that original sin means that the sin inherent in our babies is full-grown. If anything, babies are less sinful than adults because they haven’t had time to develop their vices.

When an infant is crying in her crib at night, she is not thinking to herself, “I want my way now! I am the center of the universe! Come hither, Mother, and cater to my every whim!” She is thinking, “I feel afraid of being alone. I need my Mommy’s touch.” An infant has very real emotional and physical needs, and much of that involves the touch of a parent. She communicates the only way she knows how–through crying–and when she is ignored, her needs are not being met. Responding to an infant’s crying, on the other hand, is showing her that she is in a safe environment where she is loved and her needs will be met. She is not being told that she is the center of the universe, only that she is being loved.

Just who is the center of the universe anyway? I wonder if some parents are actually being hypocritical in their concern that their babies will think “everything’s about them.” If Mom or Dad strongly feels the need to make the baby’s schedule conform to his or her own, then perhaps Mom or Dad thinks the universe should revolve around them. “No, I can’t be inconvenienced by my two-week-old’s need for comfort or milk at one and three and five o’clock in the morning; she must learn to meet my schedule. After all, the world doesn’t revolve around her.” Then who does it revolve around? It revolves around Jesus, who teaches us to deny ourselves and serve others. In loving our newborns, perhaps we are really teaching them that their God in heaven loves them and will meet their needs.

Before you protest, know that I am speaking about infants here, not one and two year olds.

* Some parents believe that the Baby Wise method is “God’s way” for dealing with out babies. As Charlie Brown says, “Good grief!”

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