A parenting article crossed my path this weekend that turned me 14 shades of stabby. Another hack job, poorly researched with a clear agenda. Another treatise based not in science, but in fear. Another article that equates correlation with causality. Another piece written by expert with an agenda: to justify her own parenting choices while cutting down those whose child rearing philosophies are divergent. Oh, and hey, while she's at it, why not install fear in the hearts of new mothers and fathers, threatening suicidal children if her prescribed method of childrearing is not followed.
The article in question asserts that "Modern parenting is making our children miserable" and advocates allowing children plenty of unstructured time to explore the outdoors, fend for themselves, and learn independence. A noble position, to be sure, one with which I take absolutely no issue. The problem comes from the alarmist tone, the chiding remarks, and obvious lack of scientific rigour. Or, even a quick google search for that matter.
Jay Girffiths calls for high contact parenting in the early years, followed by plenty of independance from toddlerhood onwards. She starts off her piece with the tired old argument that leaving babies to sleep on their own, crying it out, abandoned in their dark rooms is tantamount to torture. Sure. Obviously. Right. Loving parents teaching their children to get adequate sleep is certainly right up there with water boarding, profound neglect, and abuse.
Griffiths then goes on to explain how other cultures raise their babies in tactile closeness, carrying them next to their bodies, mollifying infants with milk and toys, lest they wail for even a moment, and allowing co-sleeping to continue for many years. Indigenous cultures such as Inuit and the Sami are cited as excellent examples of this early dependence / later independence model. They keep babies close, then send older kids out to play by themselves, learning to hunt and cook their own food, their time unstructured, belonging fully to the children.
This closeness is in opposition to Western practices of abandoning their babies in cribs, allowing them to cry themselves to sleep, and then, when the children are older, parents hover and over-schedule, stifling children's independence and freedom.
Griffiths suggests physical proximity to caregivers in the early years is necessary for the healthy development of infants. And certainly, babies do need love and attention, security and nourishment from their primary caregivers. But controlled crying is not torture. And the research does not bare out the claim that it actually harms children.
The most manipulative (and frankly dishonest) aspect of Griffiths' argument is her threat that children who are parented according to the Western model of distance then freedom (as opposed to the "indigenous model" of closeness then freedom) leads to higher rates of suicide.
And, here's where Griffiths equates correlation with causality: she claims that the lower rates of suicide reported in Norway where the closeness then independence model is followed, as compared with other Nordic counties where the independence then closeness model is the norm is proof that babies should cosleep while children should be sent outside to hunt and gather, build their own fires and cook their own food.
Oh great. Just what every parent needs to hear. Raise your kid my way or, he'll off himself when he's older. It kind of reminds me of other parenting experts who suggest that if you let your child cry, they'll end up with attachment disorder. You know, like children who are abandoned in institutional orphanages and are never shown love, or even held, for that matter. Children who are profoundly neglected get attachment disorder. Not kids who are loved, and cared for, and maybe, perhaps left to sleep on their own if that's what works for them and their parents.
BUT, let's look at this for a moment. Griffiths praises the parenting practices of several indigenous cultures, including Inuit and the Sami, holding them up as bastions of righteousness against our modern, broken system of childrearing. Parent the way these communities do, she suggests, and we'd do away with suicide. Our children would be free from the torture of CIO; they'd be free to to run through the woods; they'd no loger be miserable.
A cursory google search reveals that Inuit communities in Canada have suicide rates up to 30 times that of the general population. Suicide rates amongst the Sami, similarly, are significantly higher then those of the general population in Norway. Huh. Weren't these the exact populations Griffiths argued followed the preferred model of child rearing? The model that would ensure lower suicide rates?
This is all sorts of wrong. I mean, let's set aside the fact that such epidemic levels of self harm amongst indigenous populations is a terrible, tragic, and unfair thing. And ignoring the very real social problems faced by these populations does a tremendous disservice to us all. AND then there's the whole noble savage thing going on which, frankly, denies the the humanity of these people, and is just, frankly, kind of colonialist. Let's just put all that away for another day, and focus on how Griffiths and other parenting experts are hurting parents.
The guilt trips, the dogmatism, the dubious science, it does no one any good. It's way too simplistic. It's disingenuousand frankly, it's kind of mean. So, cut it out, parenting experts.
Sure! Making an infant feel loved and secure is a good idea. So is unstructured outdoor play. But maybe, just maybe, your infant (like mine) needs to cry to fall asleep, and no amount of holding or rocking or breastfeeding can change that. Maybe your infant needs to cry it out because hourly night waking are not sustainable for you or for the child. Maybe your baby sleeps best in your bed. Or maybe in a crib. Maybe you live in a massive urban centre where parks are few and far between, and freedom to roam is not an option. Maybe your kid goes bonkers if he doesn't have enough structure in his days. Maybe your kid needs the to roam the woods, catching fish and cooking them over a self-made campfire. And that's totally fine.
You know your kid. An expert does not know your kid. You know what your kid needs, and this particular parenting expert can shut the front door. Let's be, as Georgia calls for, experts on raising our own children, and forget about so-called experts in generic child rearing.
What's really happening here is clear: an author bent on selling a book; an author who knows too well that fear is a primary motivator (and what fear is greater than the thought of loosing one's child to suicide?); an author who may be insecure about her own choices so she moulds the evidence to prop up her position; an author who would rather undermine parents' confidence than building it up.
And that, my friends, is a total dick move. And one that's rife within the parenting cannon. You see this same kind of thing everywhere. Do it this way or your kid won't sleep. Breastfeed or your kid will die of SIDS. Ban screen time or your kid will get autism. Do it this way. Buy this book. Use this product. These flash cards. this method. Be on edge. Fear. Fear. Fear.
Most research actually does not support the idea that parents can actually affect that much influence on their child's personality, development, intelligence, or future. If you want to help your children to grow up to be a happy, well adjusted humans, here's your best bet: Love them. Feed them. Make them feel secure. Be kind to them. Don't abuse or neglect them. Don't worry about the rest.