Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Score One For Moms Who Fight Societal Norms

Ok, I admit it, I'm a sucker for parenting studies and parenting as a topic in news articles.  It's simply amazing to me that the act of raising children, something people have presumably been doing since the beginning of people, is something that we really don't understand scientifically.  I find the research largely relevant, fascinating, and great ammunition for conversation with a variety of people.  Mostly, I compare it to the gut instinct I use in raising my own kids.

Yesterday BBC News posted one such fascinating article.  You can read it here, if you want.  There is lots to question in the way the study was conducted as, with most studies of parenting, it's basis is a quick qualitative observance and a passage of years.  Still the overall analysis from BBC writer strikes me as a very, well duh, moment.  Yet, as I reflect on all the parenting I know, it may not be as obvious as it appears to be, especially with the push to raise independent beings that seems so very prevalent in a large segment of the population.

The bulk of the article can be summed up in it's opening statement:

Being lavished with affection by your mum as a young child makes you better able to cope with the stresses and strains of adult life, say researchers.
Hugs, kisses and expressive declarations of love appear to rub off and foster emotional resilience.
 See what I mean?  Total, duh statement, right.  Or is it?  Have you ever seen a parent that seems to just not really be in touch with the needs or interests of their child?  I am sad to say, I have.  I've probably been guilty of it a time or two as well, especially while my children were their littlest and we hadn't learned to communicate together.  Thankfully for my conscious this article is not addressing that, but rather evaluates an overall longterm relationship as observed at 8 months and then again in a survey of the adult some 35 years later!!!!

Currently in the world of parenting there are neglectful behaviors intentionally performed by otherwise rational mothers in the name of teaching their children independence.  The so called independence movement is as big as the more visible and equally as crazy baby genius stuff.  The idea is that by teaching their kids to be independent and to deal with things on their own from an early age they are going to be more independent in school and as adults.  Taken to the extreme this article is a shinning statement about how this doesn't work.  As this article clearly implies that supporting, touching, and embracing your child and introducing to them the world while safely in contact with you can better enable them to ride the trials of life.

The independence movement is aided in it's assault on mother child connectedness by the cultural and often times financially-necessary separation of parent and child.  I'm all for women having equal status at work, don't get me wrong.  I fully believe that in some cases women do a better job than men and that balancing them in decision making positions will make for stronger companies.  I also have lived the nightmare of not being able to leave my job after the birth of my baby (an added insult to me as I had worked from home for the previous 4 years and then my boss wanted me to start coming into the office.)

Here we have two concepts many times forced to be interwoven and what results is a Mom and Dad that are gone all day (Dad's at home can do a very good job and cover for a working mom, so even though I'm focused on moms, don't discount the importance of dad!), then they come home and proceed to teach independence to their child by further separation.  This is honestly what the independence movement is doing. Everyone in a room and no one looking at each other and interacting!

It is completely incomprehensible to me how a mom can not want to hold, care for, and understand her own child.  These are some of my most base desires as a mom.  The idea that leaving one's child to their own devices given a safe environment just feels weird to me, but I've been asked to do this as a sitter before.  It was awkward for me, but not impossible, as I was not yet a mother.  Now, I don't think I could do it.  I'm care too greatly about interaction and trust.

I don't hold my children constantly, especially as they get bigger, but I do still try to be in with what they are doing.  I have my 5 year old read to me.  My 3 year old sings with me and shows me her writing and art.  Even my 6 month old can no longer live within the reach of my arms as he has reached the point where his wiggling and interest in other things has naturally led to his being placed down with toys or sisters and allowed to play while I am a couple feet away.  Yet, I am still there and I frequently talk to him about what he is doing, and reminding him of my presence.

Of course there is too far.  The coddling mom who not only stands between her child in the world, but also never makes them fully face any consequences of their actions in that world.  To the extent that I've seen grown men who still run home to have mommy solve their adult problems and are completely unable to cope with criticism and restraint.  Additionally, there are many conditions that can prevent a mom from forming the kind of bond with her young child that is necessary for the communication to make this successful, and to those moms my heart goes out!

As children develop new abilities, socially, mentally, and physically, I believe, they need to be reaffirmed that their mom, their parents, are there for them.  This is often seen in babies, for whom new developmental abilities are sometimes a daily experience, with an added need to be in contact, even at times where they have previously been ok with some distance.  In my book, this is what the psychologists were judging in the study.

The psychologist judged how well the mother responded to her child's emotions and needs, and gave her an "affection score" based on the warmth of the interaction.

I wonder what the psychologists would say of the parents whose focus is on building the independence of their children?  I wonder what they'd say about the way I respond to my children.  I would hope that by holding them, touching them and teaching them that pain is normal thing that is part of life and something that can be dealt with that I am in the positive evaluation.

Of course I also received a very clear note, before my first child was born, to be wary of any so-called expert advice.  When I finally got pregnant my mother surprised me with a most unusual gift.  She gave me a pregnancy and childrearing manual purchased by my maternal grandma in the 1950s.  The advice in that manual, from experts at the time, were in some cases so absolutely horrendous they would gravely endanger children exposed to them!  Still I generally agree with this article, even if the science is questionable, mothers need to be more connected to their kids.  Our society is just simply so against this idea, for those who do suffer through and accomplish this, the rewards are going to be invisible to them.  I do hope they persevere anyway.

Don't worry there are still plenty of ways that I'm scaring my children, in the future I do hope to ignore Dr. Apter's warning:
A responsive mum will know not only when to give cuddles but also when to stop.
"If she is being responsive she will say: 'You are a big 12-year-old and I guess it is embarrassing if I kiss and squeeze you like I did when you were a baby'. And she won't make you feel bad about it," added Dr Apter.

My kids should at least feel humiliated in knowing that I love them, no matter how old they are, and I am going to squeeze and embrace them for as long as I possibly can.  I still embrace my children as much as I can and I honestly wish I could do so more!

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