Who’s the Baby Expert?

I’m a book person.  When I want to know more about something, I’ll find a book on that topic.  On my shelves, you’ll find a section of writing books, a section of marriage books, a section of baby books.  When I wander through Chapters or a second-hand kids’ store, I scan the titles of the baby section.  Maybe there’s a book I want (I still haven’t found Henci Goer’s book) or that will promise to solve whatever parenting dilemma I’m currently facing.

A recent Birth Source newsletter focused on parenting philosophies, talking about how “our generation’s focus on higher education and professional pursuits has only naturally led to our desire to parent as professionally as we trained and work(ed).”  That rang a bell with me, because I’ve always thought that all the research I did in university influenced all the research I’ve done on various topics (sleep, natural childbirth) since becoming a mom.

In the face of conflicting advice, though, parenting can get confusing.  One mom wrote a parody in a Brain, Child magazine about interviewing Dr. Sears, Elizabeth Pantley, Dr. Ferber, and a couple other sleep experts for advice on getting her child to bed.  I’ll admit a preference for Dr. Sears and a slight prejudice against how she portrayed him in the article.  In the end, she ignored the experts and her baby fell asleep just fine.

Recently, my husband and I started reading Hold Me Tight, which is a marriage book but in the first chapter discussed some breakthroughs in psychology that began with how children are treated.  Dr. Sue Johnson talks about how the terms “emotional starvation” and “failure to thrive” emerged in the 1930s and 40s to refer to youngsters in orphanages who had everything they needed physically but died for lack of emotional contact or seemed unable to relate to others.

Johnson talked about how parents in that era couldn’t stay in the hospital with their children.  One psychiatrist, John Bowlby, made a movie about a family dropping their two-year-old girl off at the hospital.  His colleagues weren’t moved by the girl’s tears and terror at being left alone in a strange place.  Bowlby developed more tests to prove that “children have an absolute requirement for safe, on-going physical and emotional closeness, and that we ignore this only at great cost.”  (Johnson then takes attachment parenting a step further and looks at what it means in adult relationships.)

What shocked me about reading how children were raised in that generation was that this was the advice of the experts of the day.  Bowlby’s ideas about children’s emotional needs were ridiculed by his colleagues, who agreed with the “conventional wisdom [that] held that coddling by mothers and other family members created clingy, overdependent youngsters who grew up into incompetent adults.”  Even today, there are experts who say attachment parenting will create wimpy kids.  So which experts do you believe?

In the past four years, as I’ve talked to friends about their parenting styles and read a lot of books, blogs, websites, and magazines on the topic, I’ve developed my own parenting style.  Some of what I do with my children may be different than what friends are doing with their kids.  And that’s okay.  We are different families with different kids.  Each of us has to make the choice that is best for us in our situations, with our unique personalities.

I agree that “we all do our best parenting when we follow our instincts, but finding researched and proven support for that which we already feel in our hearts is profound” (Birth Source).  So read and research what the experts are saying.  But test it against your heart—your sense as a mother about what you and your child need.

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  1. Koala Bear Writer September 9, 2011
  2. Jo - To a Pretty Life September 8, 2011

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