This post comes to us from Dr. Jan Macvarish, a sociologist studying interpersonal relationships, intimacy, and family life. She's one of the founders of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies at the University of Kent, which, as far as I can tell, is one of the only places on earth that studies parenting the way other universities study gender, race, food, religion... Kind of stunning that parenting is still a backwater.
Anyway, now she is researching sibling relationships and the law at Birkbeck College, University of London.
When we gaze into our baby’s eyes while feeding them because we find them the most beautiful and wondrous baby in the world, we are doing something different to gazing into their eyes because we have read in a baby manual or been told by our midwife that this is good ‘bonding’ practice.
When we absent-mindedly nuzzle our newborn’s head because they smell delicious, or stroke their feet because they are unbelievably perfect and tiny, we are touching for entirely different reasons than those we are taught are important in a neuro-stimulating baby massage class.
Talking to our newborns about all kinds of nonsense when we are going a bit crazy from being at home with them on a wet weekend is not the same as talking to our babies because we have been told by the Prime Minister that it is neurologically critical and will increase their grades at school improve their long-term job prospects.
These are the kinds of moments that make having babies pleasurable, rewarding and fun, but what is the difference between doing them spontaneously and doing them because we have been told that they matter?
Absent-mindedly nuzzling a baby’s head is a sensual, spontaneous act that pleases the nuzzler but would be discontinued if it unsettled the infant, it is intrinsically responsive. Talking to babies can be amusing to us because they don’t understand what we are saying but are nevertheless interested in, or soothed by our voices. .....
In other words, we normally and instinctively love and interact with our children. But being told how we MUST do it to be a GOOD PARENT means we become automatons with a to-do list: "Ooh, I skipped Baby Stimulus #3: Tap the baby's nose. Now my child is going to fall behind!" It turns parenting into a job -- an exacting one -- rather than a relationship.
What's more, the assumption behind all these rules is that every baby and parent really should interact in this "best practices" way. This takes the uniqueness out of family life, replacing family rituals with protocol:
...Authentic family rituals arise more often from the quirks of our children than from the intentions of us as parents. A child mispronouncing something is adopted as the way the whole family says that word, a meal gone awry gives a name to that dish for ever.... Compare this richness to the official parenting advice to ‘talk, cuddle, read, play, listen’. Such imperatives, generalised to all families, necessarily sound dead and joyless.
And let's not forget the impact of turning the joy of reading into the drudgery of The Reading Log:
In my own experience, exhausted children are forced to read dull school books aloud, rather than cuddling up for a bedtime story or a bit of television time. Mothers or fathers feel obliged to behave as teachers, correcting the child, pushing them to get to the end of the prescribed chapter of the prescribed reading book, rather than as mums and dads, relaxing after work. Unsurprisingly, any child who is struggling to read, finds these sessions unbearably pressurised....
Making a particular kind of parent-child interaction a daily obligation, with the demand that the parent account for themselves in the reading diary, has a corrosive effect on family relations and undermines a love of reading.
Long story short: It's fine to share parenting hacks. But the idea that there is one right way to raise a child-- a "scientifically proven" way that also happens to be generic and draining -- is not the way to raise super-humans because, in fact, it is anti-human. - Lenore