The Reading Mum

Sitting in my chair feeding Petra before I had a pang about all the books I'm not reading right now.  "I haven't read a single book since Petra was born," was my complaint.  That's not true when I think about it though.  I've read two, but they were both books about baby wrangling so they felt like work, not pleasure. 

I recommend one of them, Heading Home With Your Newborn, very highly.

The authors are two pediatricians who are also mothers.  They provide a witty and realistic look at the chaos that is the first few weeks at home with your newborn.  They discuss vomit, pee, and poo in reassuring detail.  They tell you how to care for your baby.  And they have sane and sensible things to say about such things as sleep and food.  I like the book a lot and wish I'd bought my copy before Petra was born.

I'm a lot more ambivalent about the other book, The Attachment Parenting Book.

It's by William Sears, who's apparently quite the parenting guru.  His advice is pretty commonsensical, although he takes it further than some people might be comfortable with.  Basically, he makes two main points. 
1) Spend time with your baby.  This, for him, means sleeping with the baby at night and wearing him/her in a sling during the day.
2) Babies are not manipulative, their cries are attempts to communicate and should be responded to accordingly.

It's hard to argue with this.  But, there's something off about the book's tone.  Sears undercuts the value of his point of view by the way he presents it.  He sets himself up as a crusader against the mainstream view of child raising.  To do this, he opposes his right-on attached parent to a straw parent, a monster of unresponsiveness who lets the baby cry and cry, who feeds, changes, interacts with the baby on a strict schedule, and who leaves him/her alone in a crib for the rest of the time.  He also sets his own expertise against that of a series of straw experts who advise parents to be unresponsive and inflexible.  This is a cheap tactic that allows Sears to ignore all the different things real parents do so that he can dismiss the value of every style of parenting except his own.

Sears finishes the book with a chapter of testimonials from attachment parents who tell us that their kids are kind to puppies and old ladies, and don't drink and drive or have pre-marital sex because they were breastfed and held as babies.  This is another cheap tactic – our babies are better than other babies so you should do what we say.  It's as if the reader is being invited to join a new parenting religion.

At the centre of this religion is the mother.  And here's where things get weird.  Sears seems to expect mothers to become totally identified with their babies, being with them all the time, seeing the baby as a part of themselves, and magically understanding their every cue.  Oh, and women have to be sexy for their husbands and make a fuss of them, as well as fit in all this mothering.   I find the lack of personal identity implicit in this theory rather creepy.

Sears' book would have been much more valuable if he had just contented himself with describing the how to's of attachment parenting (which are useful) instead of engaging in all the special pleading.  He tries to bludgeon the reader with his expertise in a way that's every bit as dogmatic and inflexible as the people he criticizes.

If you're looking for a comforting and supportive description of mothering, rather than a hectoring prescription check out Naomi Stadlen's book What Mothers Do.  Stadlen has a more wholesome take on the relationship between mothers and babies than Sears.  She's not pushing an idealised view of mothering or damning everyone who doesn't meet the standard she's created; she explores what women actually do with their babies.  And surprise, surprise, what real women naturally do with their babies is often a form of attachment parenting.  No bludgeoning or lecturing required. 

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2 Responses to The Reading Mum

  1. Thanks for the recommendations!Perhaps if you'd like to branch out a bit you could try reading Good Omens (written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett). Fun, quick read about the Antichrist accidentally getting switched as a newborn with some kid from suburbia. Hilarity ensues when an angel and a devil have to team up to switch them back (or at least smooth things over) before their respective Big Bosses find out.

  2. Janette says:

    Funny you should mention Good Omens – I've read it a couple of times, most recently just before I had Petra and I like it a lot. It was my introduction to both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I have a bit of a crush on Neil Gaiman – I read his blog and he seems so nice and normal as well as smart, funny, and famous. And I'm a big fan of Terry Pratchett's stuff, especially the books with the witches.

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