Another Parenting Expert Who Can Shut The Front Door

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?

 

Huh. 

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.

 

No thanks.

 

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. 

 

Playing sucks a big bag of marbles. #nablopomo

In what is the thrill of a blogging lifetime, I'm writing today on The Happiest Mom about play. Specifically imaginative play. And how I'd kind of rather scrub toilets than play yet another rousing game of HOT HOT HOT I burnt my mouth on stone pizza. And how this nomadic life has shown me that, actually play is boring because play is for children. 

As I've written before, I've gained a great deal of parantal confidence by raising my girl over seas. I've learned that maybe what appears on the face of things to be wrong is actually fine. If it works. I've learned that my kid won't sleep the request 12 hours a day with two hour naps, and though highly annoying insofar as it cuts into my imaginary Etsy shopping time, that's also fine.

Which is not to say that I am elevating Asian parenting to some sort of reveared, miracle working, book worthy method. Because it's not. Not by a long shot. (I mean, only yesterday I overheard a mom in the toy store explain to her son that he didn't need new toys because he had an iPad and that was better than toy.)

But what I am saying is that we need to check our assumptions about what is good and right about parenting. Because there are sometimes deeper things going on, things that we don't understand or appreciate, and the world is full of aceholes, and parenting is hard, so we don't need any extra parental judgy aceholery.

Alright. Erica OUT! Soapbox done!

We will return to regularly scheduled nonsense tomorrow.

And until then, I'd love for you to go and check out my post about play.  

If you're interested in this subject at all, here's a podcast from CBC Radio about culture, emotion, and child rearing within an Inuit village in the Canadian artic. There's a lot of great stuff about how actions such as hitting or even biting a child which are normative within that context (and obviously shockingly abhorrent withinours) are subtle ways of teaching kids how to be humans within their own society. I highly recommend giving it a listen. 

(See, sometimes I do have smart thoughts. but mostly I like to think about toddler fashion, chocolate milkshakes, and how I might trick my kid into sleeping for more than zero hours a day.)

 

You have a cute son who is actually a daughter. #NaBloPoMo

My girl and I got into a taxi this morning on the way to pre-school. She went through her usual routine, saying "Good-bye new one house! See you way-ter new one house!" before breaking into a rousing rendition of the Wheels On the Bus, and the taxi driver looked back in the mirror and asked me, "How old is your son?"

 

Boy outfit.

After so many years in Asia, gender mix-ups no longer catch me off guard. Many languages do not have gendered pronouns like in English, and so learning to differentiate between him and her, his and hers, he and she is not that simple a task. But this driver had a great grasp of English, and he said "son." The driver obviously thought that my "she" was a "he."

 

Which I mean, is totally ridiculous, right? She was wearing a dress! Albeit a white and blue dress, but a dress nonetheless. 

 

Again with the boy outfits!

I've had a fair few conversations with Stella's nanny about this. Nanny laughs at me, and my strange, semi-feminist, 'progressive', anti-pink ways. I don't think Nanny appreciates my disdain for ruffles and pink. I suspect that for her, it's just part of the weird foreigner package, along with not eating rice, or being a wee sacredy kitten who can not handle fiery burning spice. 

 

You see, here in Asia, notions of gender are much more codified than they are in the West. Girls wear pink, boys wear blue. NBD. Oh, and PS, seven-year-old girls also wear high heals. 

 

Before you go telling me about systemised gender stereotypes and inequalities, let me just state that I've seen this girls = pink boys = blue pattern equally in places like China where women hold a good deal of power as in places like Japan where women are sidelined almost completely.  

 

Boy.

Now, let's be clear. I do adore a tasteful hair bow, and a pair of sparely shoes as much as the next person. And I fully intend to enrol my girl in ballet solely for the purpose of getting her into a tutu. I just believe in moderation. Balance. A bit of blue for every bit of pink. It's not that I ban ruffles and dolls outright, but I am mindful of hoisting artificial notions about gender expectations on tiny, innocent child, who has yet to form her own ideas about what she wants out of life, and the possibilities that are open to her.

 

So, in this vein, she wears a lot of blue and green, and not a lot of pink. 

 

This, coupled with her tendency for wild hair, refusal to bow down to a clip or a barrette, and instance on wearing boy shoes, is apparently the source of the problem. 

 

Nanny, unfortunately bears the brunt of inquiring comments, fielding off remarks of "cute boy!" When it is relived that Nanny's charge is actually a girl, she's judged for her inability to dress her take-care-kid in appropriately pink and sparkly attire. People outright ask Nanny why she doesn't put a clip in her hair? Why she dresses her kid in shorts?

 

Ummm, okay. This is sufficiently girl.

So, not wanting to reveal the fact that neither one of us can hold this baby down and clip a little tiny bow on her head (because let's face it, for all my posturing, that is the real reason behind wild hair it's lack of adornments) she blames me, and my strange, feminist, foreign ways.

Is Baby Sleep A Question of Morality?

When I told my dad that my daughter sleeps in my bed, his first response was “Isn’t that dangerous?” This was followed by a string of typical anti-bed-sharing concerns: “she’ll never learn to be independent.” “You’ll spoil her.” And, “That’s why she has sleep problems.” You might think that my dad was being insensitive, but he was simply expressing concern for his only grandchild. After all, how could you begrudge him his negative sentiments towards co-sleeping? Negitive images of bed-sharing such as the one the CIty of Milwaukee published last week are what shape the North American perspective on baby sleep.

 

Baby-knifead2large

 

These posters, released by the City of Milwaukee as part of a Safe Sleep Campaign, are intended to dissuade low-income city residents from bed-sharing. The message is clear: co-sleeping is a perilous undertaking, and the delivery of this message is gut-punching, striking fear, shock, and horror into the hearts of parents. 

 

Yes, bed-sharing carries risks. But so do a lot of other things. LIke crib sleeping. Eating. Driving in car. I won't delve to much into the figures, Annie at Ph.D in Parenting does a wonderful job of extrapolating the data and evaluating the relative risk (and benefits) of co-sleeping. 

 

But what of the cultural significance of images like the one above? Let’s take a closer look, shall we? The baby is clad only in a diaper. A disposable diaper. She is sleeping on her side, on an unmade bed, loose, smothering, bedding all around. This is hardly the soft, cuddly likeness of well-cared for sleeping babe. These details shout “neglect!” “Bad choices!” “Unfit parents!”

 

The quality of the picture itself adds to the narrative. Typically, depictions of sleeping babies are soft, with a shallow depth of field, and warm, often pink colour cast. This image, in contrast, is grainy, sharp, and cool, having a quality of a picture in a newspaper depicting the scene of some ghastly tragedy. The underlying message: co-sleeping is to be equated with morbidity and mortality, and is a practice of poor, neglectful parents. 

 

Now, imagine a child sleeping in a crib. Peaceful, soft, warm, right?

 

Well, actually not, if you are Japanese.

 

Recently I was speaking to Stella’s pediatrician about baby sleep. He is Japanese, naturally, but completed a Fellowship at Harvard Medical School. The doctor described to me his shock at American parents, banishing their infants to “a little room with a microphone so that the parents can hear” the baby’s cries. He went on to say, “I ask these parents about the condition of their babies in the night and they have no idea!”  Still, almost 20 after encountering solo infant sleep, our doctor was visibly shocked, aggravated, and judgmental when imagining a baby sleeping alone in a nursery. 

 

To our pediatrician, a baby sleeping alone in a crib is horrifying, just as the image of co-sleeping is horrifying to my father.

 

Both my father and my doctor are doing the same thing from opposite sides of the spectrum: they’re moralizing infant sleep, casting their own cultural assumptions on something that really should be a-moral. Westerners, like my father, believe that co-sleeping is inherently risky. While one could argue that intentionally and unnecessarily exposing a child to risk is morally corrupt, that standard can not be applied to co-sleeping. 

 

We can’t say with certainty that co-seeping, when practiced safely, is inherently more dangerous than crib sleeping. Japan, for example, has some of the lowest SIDS rates in the developed world, extended co-sleeping is practiced almost exclusively. Further, for every study that shows co-sleeping is more dangerous, there is another that suggests crib-sleeping carries more risk. Therefore, if we accept that the relationship between SIDS and safe co-sleeping is unclear, and certainly not causal, we have to take morality out of the equation. 

 

 

Is one sleep arrangement better than the other? Perhaps, at the individual, family level. Stella, for example, sleeps much better in her own room, despite the fact that I would love to wake up next to a cooing baby every morning. If I keep her in my bed, she’s up all night playing; in her own bed, she sleeps. It’s a shame that I only discovered this after 14 months of being awake all night. 

 

At the end of the day, how an otherwise loving and engaged set of parents  choose sleep with their child is not a question of morality and has very little bearing on their fitness as parents, but rather speaks to individual circumstances and cultural assumptions. So, let’s lay off the fear and guilt and moralizing, shall we? Maybe an educational campaign of safe sleep in all forms would be a bit easier to swallow.

 

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