Jean Liedloff's book was published in 1975. And here is what I thought:
Jean says: babies are happier in the short term and become happier adults if they are mostly held.
Babies are happier when they are mostly held - no question; I agree entirely. This is the main point of this book and the only sad thing is that any parents need telling it. With the arrays of prams and car seats and buggies and cots and vibrating chairs and baby gyms that some parents surround themselves with, I suppose their children do end up out of arms most of the time. The heartbeat, the warmth, the vibration of the voice, the in-focus eye contact, the movement - all provide a safe place from which to view the world.
But what about in the long term? Liedloff lists many of the "woes" of the world - criminality, persistant illness, drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, failure to build close relationships, child battering and homosexuality [yes, that's really on the list - well, it was 1975, I suppose] - and attributes them to a lack of mothering. There's a lot of blame in this book, a friend of mine said. Yup. And it's all being aimed at parents. Even if people haven't been held enough as children, are their (presumably well-meaning but not very responsive or spent too much time and too little attention reading Dr Ferber) parents accountable for all ills that may befall them in later life? Can parents never find ways to make amends, and are their offspring passive victims of their upbringings rather than responsible for their own actions and happiness? I say no to both questions.
Jean says: if babies are held all the time they will always be happy
Someone reminded me recently that Liedloff did not have children herself, and it shows. Her strong implication is that if a baby cries, is sick, sucks hir thumb, has colic, sometimes prefers to sleep alone, or ever has a wet nappy for more than 35 seconds, the mother is just tilling the ground for her child to grow up with psychological problems. All I can imagine is that the Yequana babies, who Liedloff studied, never grew teeth, and were condemned to lives of eating well-mushed breadfruit. Don't tell me that breadfruit doesn't grow in the Amazon. I don't want to know. And why are western babies more sick? Well, it might be that they are more stressed, or it might be that western mothers are so well nourished that their milk tends to be more plentiful and richer than the baby strictly needs so the baby goes on sucking after se has reached "wafer-thin-mint" stage. Or maybe Yequana babies have a mutation making the muscles at the top of their stomach become strong earlier, thereby avoiding positing. I don't know, but neither does Liedloff, and one of us isn't trying to make mothers feel like failures every time their child puts hir thumb in hir mouth.
Jean says: Preindustrial societies are filled with happier people than post-industrial ones.
Brace yourselves for the myth of the noble savage. The Yequana are definitely noble savages although, interestingly, the Sanema indians are hardly mentioned at all, and the behaviour we do hear about is somewhat less noble (pillaging neighbouring villages etc). So even Liedloff knows that not all savages are noble.
There are some strong advantages to living in pre-industrial societies. In my opinion, these include:
- being in a community small enough to be easily self-governing rather than developing a centralised government
- people of all ages being in regular and close contact with each other
- children being integrated into daily life rather than put into "child care"
- physical activity being a normal part of life. This is an advantage because babies like being carried around, and also because of the parent's endorphin high.
- work is a welcome part of life rather than being a necessary evil.
But you don't have to reject the microwave and the freezer to achieve any of these things in western society, it just takes a little creative thought. And there are disadvantages to living in preindustrial societies which Liedloff does not ackowledge. Like... um... dentistry (hello, Alice!). It's hard to grow knowledge when most of one's energy is expended on surviving. Of course, I'm assuming that growing knowledge is a good thing - perhaps I need to put a justification of that on my wish list of posts to write.
Jean says: Western society puts many obstacles in the way of children
No question. We need to find ways of helping children pursue their own goals, without controlling them through praise and blame, and without either neglecting them or stifling them with protection. It's not easy with most of our peers looking askance, but that is no reason to despair.
Jean says: being held is an evolutionary expectation of babies, and therefore we should hold them
Lack of technology and prevalence of predators do mean that pre-industrial babies will have been largely carried around. But this, in itself, is not an argument for babies to be constantly held in arms now. The human body was designed to eat meat; is that a reason that vegetarianism is wrong? Our bodies have not been primed in evolutionary time to use computers or read books, to use telephones or the combustion engine. Must all these things be avoided to ensure psychological well being? Relying on precedent is a weak argument. And dropping in quasi-scientific justification (what is an evolutionary expectation, anyway?) isn't strong either.
How would I argue it?
- Held babies tend to be happier
- Mothers holding the babies are happier because the babies are happier
- everyone they meet says "what a calm baby" and is happier
So why wouldn't you co-sleep and baby wear?