Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Parenting: When Fear Motivates Practice

As a parent, I support all other parents in their endeavors to love and protect their children.  I also empathize with the parents of my generation attempting to raise their kids in ways that differ from what most of us experienced in the 70's and 80's.  Giving children more love and attention and forging an individual path with one's child should be commended.  That said, I have noticed a pervasive attitude of fear and distrust in many educated and culturally progressive parents.  I claim responsibility for that bold, provocative and somewhat judgmental comment you just read.  My support and admiration of progressive parenting does not preclude subjective critical analysis. 

Vaccination has been a hot topic of debate in recent years.  Vaccination of infants and young children has been blamed for autism and many other disorders.  Repeated scientific studies have debunked the vaccination myths.  This is a crucial parenting topic that needs to be handled with pragmatism and safety in mind.  Here is a link to a thorough article and slideshow explaining the reluctance to vaccinate and how it is not backed by solid scientific evidence:|09-07-2009

In a nutshell, vaccination has prevented severe illnesses and the resulting fatalities.  The myths that fueled the vaccination and autism link have been repeatedly debunked, with respect to both thimerosal and MMR.  The doctors and scientists employed by the CDC and the pediatricians associated with the AAP are probably not all drones with no capacity for independent thought.  The increase in the rate of autism detection since the 1980's can be explained by the use of better diagnostic tools and the inclusion of several disorders under the umbrella term of autism.  More diagnoses hopefully lead to more autistic children receiving the proper treatment, and that is progress.  The failure of parents to vaccinate their children causes us to lose "herd immunity", a concept engendered by epidemiology.  When we lose immunity as a group, more of our infants and small children are in real danger. 
(This is a good definition of herd immunity:

Parenting practices that are motivated by fear and distrust rather than pragmatism are certainly not limited to the avoidance of vaccination.  Again, I know this is a provocative and somewhat inflammatory stance.  Fear and distrust are strong words.  Even so, it is not inaccurate to point out that many parents homeschool their children out of fear and distrust of other educators, be it in the public or private school system.  A wish to assert a large degree of control often stems from fear.  Fear and control issues are often linked in a psychological sense.  Other parenting practices that CAN BE, but are not always motivated by fear and distrust are attachment parenting, co-sleeping and absolute insistence upon prolonged breastfeeding. 

Anthropological evidence that claims we are supposed to have our children attached to our bodies most of the time seems a bit off to me.  I do believe in evolution.  I do not, however, believe that we need to be taking lots of cues from our primate cousins and far-removed generations and cultures in order to understand and protect our own offspring.  These ideas seem highly contrived and somewhat irrational.  Irrational!  There's another inflammatory word.  In a culture of relativism, ideas such as pragmatism and rationalism should be banned! At least, that is the impression that some people will give you. 

Here is my take on attachment parenting: I completely agree with all eight of Dr. William Sears' founding principles.  However, I see that as in many other ideologies, some tenets of attachment parenting can become ridiculous when taken to extremes.  Home birth, co-sleeping, babywearing, homeschooling and naturism all originated as helpful concepts and alternatives, but can easily become dogma.  I don't like dogma.  I fear and distrust dogma.  Parents have to do what works for them, but I personally want my own children to believe that they are no better than the kids down the street who go to public school and drink Hi-C.  I don't want my kids to be "afraid" of the "norm".  I want to limit fear as a motivator for myself and for my children.  I want my children to be fully prepared to experience happiness and success within the predominate culture, while having their own set of values. 

Here is my take on co-sleeping: there are medical studies that encourage and discourage it.  Some say you will smash your kid in the middle of the night.  Some say the kid will become overly dependent and clingy to the detriment of his or her own confidence.  Some say your kid is more likely to die in the crib if you leave it alone in there, all cold and abandoned.  Some say the better quality of sleep that you get as a parent, the more able you are to harness and focus your energy on your child.  A tired parent can sometimes equal a cranky parent.  A cranky parent isn't always the most nurturing parent.  Food for thought. 

Here is my take on dogmatic insistence upon exclusive breastfeeding for at least one year:  I loved breastfeeding my two children.  I think breastfeeding is an amazing experience for both mother and child.  I also believe that it's fine to stop breastfeeding if it is not working.  If it is stressful, for any reason, for the baby or for the mother, it's not harmful to stop it.  Fathers can also nurture babies while feeding formula or expressed breastmilk.  Mothers can nurture and take cues during a feed while using a bottle and formula.  Eye contact, closeness, focus on the child... these can all be accomplished through means other than the breast.  Last but not least, asthma CAN be prevented to a certain degree by breastfeeding and breastmilk IS excellent for a child's immunity.  This is proven out by excellent clinical research.  This is the advice given to me by my AAP affiliated pediatrician.  However: I have known several asthmatic children that were exclusively breastfed for one year.  I have known children with very strong immunity who were never breastfed.  My own pediatrician admits that her children have had respiratory problems and use a nebulizer, even though she breastfed them for one year.  There is always the exception that disproves the rule.  There are also some rules that have so many exceptions, they may not even be rules in the first place. 

As parents, or supporters of parents, if we agree to disagree, so much the better.  All should feel free to follow their chosen parenting practices, so long as no children are harmed.  Do no harm.  I think someone spiritual said that once.

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