To say that parenting advice is as old as time itself would be an understatement. Take, for example, the advice provided in 1894 by American pediatrician Luther Emmett Holt. In his book, "The Care and Feeding of Children," Holt suggests that young infants "... should never be played with; and the less of it at any time the better ...."
Most recently, we have all witnessed the debate over parenting styles unfold during the "Tiger Mom" debacle. Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, debuted in 2011, had many parents raising the question of how to parent in order to yield successful children. While much controversy arose in response to Chua's work, there have been many contributors to the storyline of good parenting. The 1940s ushered in the era of Dr. Benjamin Spock's "The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care" which advocated everything from letting babies cry it out, encouraging parents to place their babies on their stomach to sleep and, in a later edition, suggesting that parents place their toddlers on vegan diets.
The post-Dr. Spock era saw the reversal such parenting advice. The man responsible for much of this change is pediatrician Dr. William Sears and author of many books in which he promotes the style of attachment parenting. Many of you may be familiar with this style of parenting especially as it seems to be a large part of the Brattleboro culture. Co-sleeping as opposed to shared rooms or bassinets, the encouragement
Throughout the 20th century, child-rearing advice has been targeted at parents while ensuring that mothers were the main targets. If you are questioning whether or not this is true, notice the next news story that mentions children being left alone or neglected. In many of those situations, while the question of a father figure is certainly significant, it is not a main focus. Our conditioned response and query is always, "Where is the mother? She should have been with her kids in order to avoid this mishap." Additionally, in situations where the father obtains guardianship of his child or children, he receives a suspicious social gaze and yet again the question surfaces, "Where is the Mother?"
In the midst of constant media reminders alongside the other pressures of mothering, there are numerous advisors of parenting advice who wreck havoc in the lives of millions across America. The May 21 Time article "The Man Who Remade Motherhood" illustrates a picture of a doctor who changed the face of parenting.
What was the catalyst for encouraging mothers to follow this advice?
Playing upon maternal fears while creating parental hysteria is a possible undercurrent for why this method, and so many other parenting proposals, may have become so wildly popular. In fact, according to Dr. Sears's belief system, allowing an infant to "cry it out" leads to a range of problems later in life and ultimately, will lead to brain damage. As cited by a couple of studies presented on the doctor's website, "... infants who experienced persistent crying episodes were 10 times more likely to have ADHD as a child, along with poor school performance and antisocial behavior ... caregivers should answer cries swiftly, consistently and comprehensively."
Has this advice been mistaken to mean jump every time you hear your child's cry? Is this research specific to babies who have been neglected over prolonged periods of time?
Despite the obvious suspicion of such information -- perhaps gathered under extreme circumstances -- is being dumped upon all mothers. Dr. Sears further encourages moms to take opportunities that allow them to be home to strengthen the attachment to their child/children. In a variation of "The Baby Book," "The Complete Book of Christian Parenting & Child Care," the evangelical version, Sears states "[Some] mothers choose to go back to their jobs quickly simply because they don't understand how disruptive that is to the well-being of their babies. So many babies in our culture are not being cared for in the way God designed, and we as a nation are paying the price."
Was attachment parenting really intended as a campaign to ensure that children were reared in loving homes? Or is this a design to put women in a specific role, placing their role as mother above their individuality, hopes, dreams, etc.?
I am not saying any of this is right or wrong -- in fact I have no right to say what works or does not work because parenting is challenging enough. Perhaps there are nuggets of truth or knowledge that can be pulled from what I call the parental advice overload. But the likes of everyone in the business of publishing the baby books and parenting advice seem to play upon the inherent fears of parents, especially mothers. Like a used car salesman, these advisors seem know that parents are vulnerable and just want to do the best for their children.
The immense parenting pressure is certainly something I have noticed over the years via numerous blogs and articles. I have talked to a number of expectant parents who bemoan the culture of feeling inundated and even inadequate due to the overwhelming amount of parenting information. Most recently, an article that I challenged was Claire Niala's "Why African Babies Don't Cry: An African Perspective." Much like the attachment parenting advice, this article talks about mother-child connectedness within a cultural context. Niala, a native of Kenya, states that upon visiting her home country she noticed, "In the UK it was understood that babies cry -- in Kenya it was quite the opposite. The understanding is that babies don't cry. If they do -- something is horribly wrong and must be done to rectify it immediately."
While fascinating, the article seems to add to the growing tome of advice breeding hysteria among mothers and all parents who ultimately want to do their best. The information provided also gives a mere snapshot and not a full picture of the full cultural belief system for the lack of crying babies in Kenya.
It is enough to question what did our grandparents, and great-grandparents do without this wealth of knowledge? How did they ever survive the perils of parenting without the oversight of professionals?
The child rearing advice of Dr. Sears and many of his predecessors is intimately tied to what I refer to as the "bubble-wrapped-child" era. In other words, we have kid proofed our houses, made sure to edit everything visual and audio for our children while shielding them from everything ranging from sugar to the big bad video games. In other words, we have done everything short of bubble wrapping our children. We are at an all time high in the ways we are policing mothers through both advice and cliques that have formed to ensure conformity around whatever advice is "in" for the moment. In other words, if you wait long enough, the winds of change will blow ushering in more advice about how to raise your children.
Shanta L.E. Crowley writes from Brattleboro. You can read her blog at www.reformer802.com/realtalk.