“Substantial evidence now exists that children benefit from exposure to persons of both sexes in the home. Such exposure helps the child to fully develop his or her own sexual identity and to relate to persons of both sexes in the real world” (Schneider 2006). Many studies have been done to determine how children are affected by the lack of one or both parental figures in their lives. Not only may the child suffer from a possible death or divorce of their parents, but it has been shown that these children often suffer in their personal lives due not having a male or female parental influence. The forms of suffering vary from not being able to deal with emotional issues, to having a poor social life, to psychologically developing and maturing younger age. Through the character Baby, from Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals, the life of a parentless child is examined. Baby’s story is one of poverty and sadness. She does not experience the relationship of a mother and a father and the care that they both provide. Instead, her mother passed away when she was very young, and her father never took good care of her. It is through Baby that the reader is taken on a journey through a life and suffering of a parentless child.
“To learn to relate to others with compassion requires caregivers who provide nurturing, empathetic interactions. Learning to read social cues requires that caregivers join in interactive play and negotiations” (Brazelton 2000). Learning to relate to others is very important when trying to fit into society and finding out how society works. Baby did not experience these interactions between both parents. Rather she grew up in a home where Jules spent more time dealing with his heroin addiction, than he did paying attention to Baby and teaching her how society actually works.
Oftentimes children of single parent families are given a bad reputation by society. Although Baby brings the bad reputation upon herself it is not necessarily her fault. Society has a very strict view on drugs, while Jules does not. “When he was stoned he was honest. I loved when he told me his secrets” (18). This goes to show that Baby had the wrong conceptions about drugs, which later leads her to a heroin addiction after meeting Alphonse.
Jules did not provide Baby with a sense of rules, structure and guidance to teach her rules and how handle herself as a young child and a woman. In turn, she acted out against society. “Oh, my holy shit! You’re like a thief. That’s cool. I love girls who are thieves. Sitting out her reading a book and eating stolen candy. Do you realize how cool you are?” (Alphonse 159). If Jules had provided Baby with some structure at a younger age, she would have realized that this was wrong, and somehow she would have a guilty conscience.
“More recent studies have found that family patterns that undermine nurturing care may lead to significant compromise in both cognitive and emotional capacities” (Brazelton 2000). Children who lack the nurturing care of one of their parents often have emotional problems that are hard to deal with. Baby lost her mother at a very young age in an accident. It is mainly through mothers that children learn how to deal with their emotions since mothers are there to provide their children with emotional response, through affection and showing their love. Baby did not have a mother to turn to when needing to express her emotions and Jules was not there to support her either. Instead, Baby searches for affectionate attention in any place that she can find it. “I’d started looking for adults to hang around with. They had more quality time for me and said sweet encouraging things and gave me gifts” (145). In this example, Baby finds herself getting attention from an older woman, the landlord of her apartment. She provides a motherly presence in Baby’s life for a short period of time.
Baby was also attracted to the attention that Alphonse gave to her. It was unlike any attention she had received from a male figure before. “I was a little obsessed after that. No one had ever made me feel that wild, unusual way before” (162). Alphonse not only took on the role of a boyfriend but he also provided her with a sense of security and money that she had never had with Jules. A person needs to have a sense of security both in love and financially. Without this they become emotionally insecure.
“The Psychology of the Child deals with the mental growth or, what amounts to the same thing, the development of behaviour patterns up to adolescence, the transitional phase marking the entrance of the individual into the adult society” (Piaget, Inhelder, Weaver 1969). Parents help their children mentally develop and prepare themselves before they reach adulthood. Unfortunately, Baby did not receive this help. Because of the death of her mother, and the lack of parental support from Jules, Baby is forced to grow up much quicker than an average twelve-year-old. Having to grow up much faster meant that she did not really get to enjoy her childhood. Throughout the novel there are many instances where Baby sounds much older than she actually is. “There was a way that you could take the bathroom cabinet mirror off of its hinges. I set it up on a chair in front of my bed so that I could look at myself naked. I put my hands on my head and swayed back and forth. I decided that I was sick to death of being twelve” (Baby 173). She finds herself searching for adulthood at too young of age and this problem leads her to her drug abuse and prostitution.
Although she finds herself trying to be an adult, Baby also has moments where she just wants to be a child. The child in her is brought out when she is with Xavier. Being with Xavier is her escape from Alphonse, and her chance to be a child again. This demonstrates that when a child is forced to grow much faster than they are supposed to, they end up regretting having missed out on their childhood innocence.
Baby’s story is a perfect example of what children go through when they grow up in a home without the support of a mother and a father. Unfortunately her father, Jules, does not fill the description of a loving father, but rather as a dead beat. Children like Baby not only suffer through their teenage years, but it also affects them later in life. They do not witness the loving relationship between a man and woman which can affect relationships of their own in the future. A mother and father are there to help their children develop who they are and who they see themselves being, and prepare them for adulthood and the responsibilities that adults encounter. And finally, a parent is placed in a child’s life to let them be a child, but also set guidelines and create structure in their life.