I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that moms should sling their babies around and breastfeed them all day because mothers in third-world countries, like Bali, do and their babies never cry. Or that we should all co-sleep because that’s what moms in China do and they get more sleep.
First of all, it’s not true that Bali babies never cry. Or that Chinese mothers sleep more. ALL babies cry, and hardly any moms sleep! If you think you’re going to go through your baby’s life unscathed in those two areas, I hate to inform you that it’s not going to happen =)
Second of all, we’re not in Bali or China. Don’t you think those moms might change their ways if their situation warranted it? Can you imagine telling a poor Chinese mom that she needed to keep her baby in her bed if, suddenly, the Dr. Phil Foundation gave her a crib and a house of her own? Or what about if Bali women suddenly didn’t have to spend their lives in the fields? Can you imagine telling them they have to keep strapping their babies to them even though they can now be home, or work an office job? Ridiculous!
I’m not saying the American way is superior. I’m saying we can do what works. The glory of culture is that it flexes our prejudices about the way people need to be raised. All over the world, mothers and fathers feed, clothe, bear, train, and nurture their children differently. And babies have been made by God strong enough to be healthy, happy, and successful in a wide range of environments. So people who think American moms should not do what they do put unnecessary pressure on us. With due respect to Dr. Sears who breaks the mold, many of these people are experts in the elite ivory tower and have no idea what parenting in the real world, America or otherwise, is really like. It’s not that they haven’t researched lots of children or studied them. It’s not that they haven’t studied cultures with significant percentages of children. It’s that they have never parented themselves, or tried to raise a bunch of children for long-term success under their own doctrines. This makes a huge difference. I have spent considerable time at two top-tier universities, taken psychology and cultural anthropology courses there, participated with experts at Boston University who were researching autism, and have a mentor friend who is Harvard faculty in the field of minority and ethnic parenting strategies. I am telling you for certain that this is the case.
So not only is there a lack of (inner) experience going on, most experts have also spent six or more years doing a PhD and post-doc work in universities which are increasingly anthropological, pluralistic, and anti-Western. In the standard cultural anthropology class touching on child development, the story goes like this: some unmarried cultural anthrolopologist like Margaret Mead goes over to Samoa, in the name of science, and sees how happy and well-adjusted Samoan society is. She then notices that Samoan babies don’t have cribs and are carried around all day, and so she concludes, “we need to do that too.” Then you get some anti-American academes touting her theory, which gets taught in social science classrooms all over the world, and dribbles down to your pseudo-scholarly Barnes & Noble inventory.
Not only is this anti-Western, it is disingenuous. We aren’t raising Samoan, or Bali, or Chinese children. We’re raising Americans. And because they are here, they need to be able to fit into American society, even if they’re Samoan, African, or Chinese. Do you withhold DVDs from your children because people in Bali don’t have them? Do you boycott Old Navy because the native Samoans went around with earthy robes? Or do you accept Western society—because after all, it is your home—and raise your children using some of the icons around you? Of course you do! If you choose to opt out of some of those icons, do it for practical, moral, or educational reasons. And if there is wisdom and tolerance and creativity to be gained by examining other cultures, then glean from it. But don’t delude yourself into thinking that you are going to get the well-adjustment from the Samoans without raising them Samoan (i.e. IN Samoa). Or that you can get a successful, well-tailored, broad-minded American doctor or businesswoman without putting aside the values of indigenous Samoan society. That is silly. It is even rude to the Samoans to suggest you can. You can’t pick and choose from other cultures, and add it to your own, like you would from a buffet. You denigrate the significance of a culture’s heritage by doing so, you act as a colonialist (thinking you can discern what aspects are “best” and leave the rest), and you definitely won’t obtain their distinctive results.
But third of all, and this is most important… Bali women are not “attachment parents.” They are doing what works for them. They carry around their children all day mostly because they have to, and that’s the way they have learned. If they had to add to their life the AP religion that the experts made up, they would probably toss it in the trash. They are practical, not theoretical, parents. They are not worried that their children are going to grow up feeling inadequate, insecure, neurotic, or resentful. They aren’t concerned that their children will hate them if they discipline them. And if they are, they aren’t slinging their children around to prevent it. And the co-sleepers of China or other areas aren’t sleeping together to promote more bonding. They are sleeping together because they only have one room, or one bed, and that’s where everyone has to go. Even poor people in America do this, or parents who are lucky enough to have lots of kids.
So if you decide to adopt one of the AP icons: the co-sleep, the sling, or whatever… do it because it is practical for your lifestyle, not out of Freudian anxiety. Do it because you want to nurse the baby quickly in the middle of the night, or because you have twins and only one bed, or because you have to have a serious phone conversation with somebody and you know the baby will be quiet if you carry her around while you talk. All these practical reasons are good and will not produce an attachment child, with the baggage it contains.
Preserve the method, toss the religion, and don’t look to third-world contexts to verify the experts.