I have a great job though sometimes I have to confess to feeling as though I’m swimming up stream. The reason I often feel that is that my way of helping parents differs somewhat from the prevailing North American parenting philosophy that’s currently in favour. What that ideology is we’ll get to later, but one of the elements used to encourage parents to choose this philosophy includes the surreptitious use of fear under the guise of scientific research. Now as parents we all want to parent with confidence not fear, but let’s start with a wonderful note I got sent by a lady in the US which got me thinking about this very subject. She wrote,
I just stumbled on your blog, and find your advice mirrors my parenting philosophy. I find it hard to relate to many modern parenting blogs because I fundamentally believe not in catering to my children, but to guide them and give them the tools to live, learn, and face life’s challenges (and joys). Thank you for your clear advice how to be a good leader for my household. What refreshing advice, finally!
Notwithstanding this was a wonderful note to come back to at the end of a long day, it also mirrored many of the same things I was feeling and I wrote back to her saying as much while thanking her for her support.
However her note got me thinking and I thought I’d write an article this week on the very valid point she brought up, namely that many parenting blogs today all mirror the same kind of advice and that as a result, we can surmise that a very pervasive particular parenting philosophy is at work.
So what is today’s popular parenting philosophy ?
So what is that parenting philosophy? Well, from her note we can surmise that the ideology du jour is one that believes in catering to children is the best way to bring up kids. But are they right? Is this the best way? And what are the origins of this philosophy?
This child centred philosophy has its roots in attachment parenting, which in turns has its roots in the very valuable attachment theory bought to public’s attention by the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.
However it was undoubtedly the paediatrician Dr. William Sears and his wife Martha Sears that bought attachment parenting to world wide attention. Their method encouraged parents to adopt practices that increased the bond between parent and child through baby-wearing, co-sleeping and extended breast feeding.
Attachment parenting can create confusion
There is a lot of confusion around this kind of parenting but I believe it plays a major roll in the formation of issues that I help parents with. That’s because there’s an element of attachment parenting that uses fear to encourage their idea of parenting best practice, so much so that it can erode a parent’s natural confidence rather than build it up. All parents want to parent with confidence not fear so when parents lack confidence, their leadership is eroded and other issues quickly follow.
Let’s say you have a toddler and you desperately need them to get a good night’s sleep because they are so cranky during the day. Of course it doesn’t help if you’re exhausted too. You see other parents who’ve sleep trained their child getting sleep, but you’re having to lie down with your toddler to sleep every night and you can’t even think about leaving the room until they’re completely out no matter how desperate you are for a moment to yourself. You’ve read about sleep training but you know it counters your parenting philosophy of co-sleeping and you’ve read all the studies on Dr. Sears website about how excessive crying is going to radically alter your child’s brain development should you even think of giving sleep training a try.
Is excessive crying harmful?
This is an example of fear based ideology. On his website Dr. Sears cites 19 studies with regard to his article, ‘Is excessive crying harmful? His argument is that during periods of panic and anxiety, the stress hormone cortisol floods the child’s body causing impairment in the child’s nerve connection and causing possible long term neurological effects. Information guaranteed to give any parent a major anxiety attack.
Interestingly enough in 2012 he was taken to task across the media and academia for making this assumption * including by researchers who had been part of the 2004 German study of 70 babies transitioning to daycare, a study he’d cited where the brain’s reacting to crying had been studied. The researches involved insisted no such conclusion could be made. While they stated that extreme doses of cortisol can harm brain tissue, they said this was not likely happening in these cases.
….but these weren’t ordinary parenting examples
Note another particularly troubling example around the tendency for Dr. Sears to merge the circumstances of severely abused or neglected babies with those whose parents merely let them cry occasionally. *
Apparently Psychologist Alicia Leiberman of the University of California, San Francisco, whose 1995 study he also cited to bolster his crying argument, took particular exception saying, “The papers’ content is not relevant to the argument he makes because my work involves babies and young children whose parents are in the pathological range of neglect and maltreatment….not children with normative, ‘good enough’ parenting.
We need to encourage the parent to parent with confidence not fear.
So does fear motivate parents to this particular ideology? I certainly think it plays a part and I can attest this is certainly the case but attachment parenting has gone far beyond crying babies and parent child separation and in to the best ways to discipline a child all based on similarly at times, flimsy science. (#2)
Don’t orient your day around your child
The bottom line is this whole approach is child centred, which I believe is one of the root causes of many of the struggles that parents have today. Children are designed and have been since the dawn of humankind to be part of family and not the focus of it. To orient your day around your child is to place children in the unenviable position of having to make grown up decisions about how you, the adult spends your time. This is the opposite of kind and loving leadership and reverses the normal adult to child flow that is part of our genetic makeup.
So is there a best practice way to bring up kids? I believe there is but what I say on this site is applicable to my own personal experience talking to hundreds and parents and kids and having the rare and cherished ability to be part of many peoples’ different lives. I can see when a child is thriving and when one is not and what the cause is. I can also see where pervasive ideologies exist in tandem with those challenges and just how quickly those ideologies start creating issues of their own. I know first hand the importance of and the difference it can make to parent through confidence not fear.
Looking at all the parenting blogs, just like the writer of the letter above I still feel I’m swimming up stream but I take comfort that perhaps it won’t be for long and it’s nice to know I have company on the way.