Cocooning is a trend among new parents, describing the act of bringing a newborn home from the hospital and living in isolation for the first weeks (and even months). Thus, their home is a cocoon, you see. It is impervious, particularly to well wishes. And grandparents. But while cocooning may sound like a blissful practice where parents can orient to their new life — and, I guess, reduce themselves to a cellular jelly which will eventually reform into a beautiful butterfly of a family — it’s not a great idea.
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Help is good. Grandparents are good. And parenting is cripplingly lonely enough as it is.
The impulse makes sense in the abstract. There would appear to be a lot of good reasons to cocoon. For one thing, isolation protects the baby from any rogue pathogens that visitors could carry in. For another thing — bonding! Also, everyone is tired and you’re not going to get out of your sweatpants or comb your hair for a couple of weeks. Finally, some grandparents are just too much, you know?
And sure, all of those things may be true, but there are some other crucial considerations. For instance, there is a theory that grandparents literally allowed our species to evolve and thrive by providing care. You might not think your own mom could possibly help anyone evolve, but refusing her willingness to assist would be foolhardy. After all, it’s hard to bond when you also have to do dishes and laundry and probably clean the house so your baby doesn’t grow up in a cesspool of early family mess. These are all things grandparents can, and should, do.
Also, it’s important to foster a child’s relationship with their grandparents. A child that is close to their grandparents will develop a greater sense of social responsibility. Grandparents who are close and engaged help children recognize the importance of service to one’s family. Also, spending time with older adults makes children less ageist.
But all of that pales to the one reason that cocooning is ultimately ill-advised. Modern parenting is becoming increasingly insular. Families are becoming more isolated from each other and their own communities. This makes parenting more anxiety-ridden, costly and lonely. That isolation, anxiety, and cost can contribute to struggles with mental health, which can ultimately weaken marriages. Cocooning creates isolation from the outset, rather than orienting a family towards their community.
Families should not be closing themselves off from friends and family in those first weeks. Rather, they should be building connections. They should be leveraging their relationships to secure help and create bonds with people that will make parenting easier in the future.
Does that mean that parents need to place bonding with a newborn on a backburner? No. It’s a matter of calling in reinforcements. If people want to see the baby, they can do a load of laundry or wash the dishes. If grandparents want to camp out, they can also cook dinners and take some diaper duty. That will free up parents to spend time doing the important work of loving their child. That’s how we’ve raised our children for the vast arc of human history. And in the end, that’s the best argument.
Families are made of people. Leave the cocooning to the caterpillars.
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