They f**k you up, your child-rearing columnists

Oliver James on why one should always respond to babies’ cries and never leave them to cry. (There are other bits of evidence in the article, but I want to focus on these.) You may be interested even if you’re not interested in the subject matter: great fodder for critical thinking classes.

(1): “Unresponsiveness has been proven to have long-term adverse consequences. To take an extreme example, a key indicator of personality disorder (called dissociation) is predicted 30 years later by unresponsiveness of care, aged 0-2”.

(2): “In one study, maternal negativity towards their four-week-old baby predicted insecurity 30-40 years later. This is a bad sign: the insecure are much more prone to mental illness.”

(3): “Severely neglected orphanage children are prone to indiscriminate friendliness, a people-pleasing false self.”

(4): “In 127 cultures surveyed around the contemporary world, 79% of the societies normally have their infants in the same room, 44% in the same bed.”

But James concedes: “If a parent-led routine is the only way a parent is going to stay sane, then that is ultimately best for the child – a depressed parent is even worse.”

So if you’re in such bad shape that you’re willing to risk severe mental illness for your child, it’s OK to leave them to cry.

I think of myself reading this when, after 12 weeks, Jender-Son was totally incapable of sleeping when not being held. As it turned out, all he needed was to be left– once– to cry for 15 minutes, then he learned to fall asleep on his own. But I found that so hard to do that my parents had to do it for me. If I’d read this article I would never have let them. But only because I was so sleep-deprived that I wouldn’t have been able to see how totally crap the arguments were.

(1) Unresponsiveness is clearly bad. But isn’t it a bit of a shift from occasionally leaving a baby to cry in order to help them sleep better?

(2) Maternal negativity is also clearly bad. But why should it be linked with any particular way of dealing with sleep problems? You can respond to your baby’s every cry and have a very negative attitude toward her (perhaps as a result!); and very loving mothers can leave their babies to cry. (And isn’t it nice for the men that *maternal* negativity is the issue?)

(3) What the hell are the orphanage children doing in this article? Find me a child-rearing book which suggests placing the baby in a neglectful orphanage and I’ll accept its relevance.

(4) Most people around the world don’t have lots of extra rooms in their houses. No shock, then, that folks put the babies in their rooms.

OK, rant over.

A note: I’ve got nothing against the idea of responding to a baby’s every cry. I have a whole lot against the general style of child-rearing advice exemplified by this article: You must do X or you will ruin your child’s life. So (unstated, but apparent to any reader) if you do otherwise (except for the most extreme of reasons) you are an unspeakably selfish and horrible person. (And this style is also present in the pro-routine arguments. Indeed, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that for almost any X you can find books saying you must do X and books saying you must do not-X.)