Did the cult of expert wreck families?

I was pottering around blogs t’other day and I came across THIS SHORT PIECE on child rearing 1928, which I just found heart breaking. I wonder how many mothers were taken in by this appalling advice. I find the piece interesting because it seems to me to be in direct contrast to the work of Charlotte Mason whose last books were written around 1923 just before she died and were especially popular around 1925. Her view of childhood and the love of the mother for the children is just so different to the writing of this Watson bloke. I also believe that G.K. Chesterton and his wife Frances who knew Miss Mason and supported the PNEU schools, had a different view of child care. They were never blessed with children which was a huge sorrow to them. Perhaps it was this heartache that meant the Chestertons had a better understanding of the true value and dignity of a child; tha,t as Miss Mason stated “Children are born persons.”

Perhaps the reason Miss Mason needed to make such a statement was because of the Watsons and their advice on treatment of children that undermined their dignity and personhood, as well as that of the mother. I know that Chesterton’s writing were often in reaction to the things he saw around him in the illogical and unreasonable climate that was growing in the mid war years.

We often get the impression from writing of the between war years that children, especially in middle class families, were shunted off to “nanny” and didn’t get much mum and dad time at all.  I read a long time ago that had Queen Victoria breast fed her children instead of doing the fashionable thing and passing their care to the ‘nanny’ she would never have had to suffer the health problems she did, from pregnancies so close together. 

Ronan is reading the Tomie de Paola 26 Fairmount Avenue Series which are his autobiography of growing up just before and through WWII. He paints a picture of a truly loving Italain American family- nothing like the coldness of the Watson advice, so I live in hope that lots of kids born in those mid war to war years had such a life and their mothers had more sense than to take parenting advice from a fish.

When it comes to thought and religion the pendulum tends to swing from one extreme to another.  In fact didn’t someone once tell me that the word orthodox or “right thinking” came from some words meaning “in the middle”?? Can’t remember. Anyway, one of the things I have found when looking at the exteremes of the swing is that on the outer edge of either direction you find the same thought.  I think that’s why in politics people are confused over whether the BNP is far right or far left; there isn’t much difference really.

With children the far one way, of barely touching the poor kid to the never let them out of your site for a moment and treat any slight occuracne as a disaster (far the other) is, it seems to me, based on the same error of thought. That is, that the child is property rather than a person with all the natural freedom and dignity and RIGHTS that come with personhood.

These days the buzz word is “attachment parenting” which I only heard of recently. It is doing what we tend to do naturally anyway. Unfortunately attachement parenting seems to get a bad rap as the MSM make kooky programmes about people with knitted uteruses who allow their children to soil the house and breast feed on demand aged 10 or whatever.  I can’t be bothered with stuff like that. But I would be interested in what normal attachment is supposed to look like and why.  What makes the experts think they know what is right for every child? How can they form a thesis that dictates that and be accurate? I don’t know.

I ought to read up on it….somtime…

But I have to  wonder about it also because of what happened last year with the Balls, Badman, Deech, Soley and others business. I got the impression at times that the argument they were trying to express against Home education, wasn’t based on poor educational standards in families who HE or even that those families abuse kids (‘cuz the evidence was so thin on the ground no one could find it)- but on some kind of “attachment” idea based more on Watson than on that bloke my dh has read for his degree in Child and Adolescent Mental Health.  I’m too tired to look him up. Anyway, you get my drift (?) I think they believe that we mums are a bunch of weirdos who are terrified to let our children out of the house in case…[insert bad idea here].

Soley was keen to express his views on parents who take their children out of school just because they have been bullied; assaulted, verablly and physically, mugged, robbed, threatened etc. He seemed to think this was an over-reaction from the mother.  There was no reasoned thought on this of course.

But against the old experts and their view of the child as property of adults or worse, property of the state, the little shoots of the CHILD IS A PERSON are still reaching through to the sunlight.  “Experts” like Watson and Spock and their modern copiers are no longer listened to so avidly. Real reseach into how children respond and thrive in families have come up with some culturally uncomfortable findings, but they are findings that many mothers simply knew because it is what mothers do naturally.

Just over 21 years ago I wanted to co-sleep with my baby son to breast feed him on demand, especially as he wasn’t too well at birth. Goodness me, did I get into trouble in the hospital from some staff for trying to do that!

By the time I had my daughter over 16 years ago there was slightly more acceptance of co-sleeping so long as I knew all the terrible dangers involved.

By the time Heleyna was born just over 3 years ago the research overwhelmingly showed that co-sleeping, far from being dangerous in normal circumstances could actually prevent stress in children and cot death (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).  I can attest to this from my own experience co-sleeping with Avila who breast fed for over 2 years-just like the WHO now says a child should- and didn’t breath through the night until she was nearly two.  I would wake two or three times in the night because I just knew she had stopped breathing; I would get her going again and settle her back down. I cannot bear to think what would have happened to her had I been fooled into the idea of putting her in a cot in her own room before she was well and truly breathing through the night without help. 

None of my children have been in bed for all that time- they moved to a cot with one side missing wedged against the bed. It meant that wrigglers had room to wriggle and we could all still sleep. It also meant that night feeds were easy and not disruptive-and most importantly it meant Avila got her breathing re-started when she stopped.

Watson was wrong.  There’s enough family histories out there about cold parenting and distant grandparents to show that. Some books need to be forgotten and his is one.

Now lets give our children a hug and a kiss and be happy we can.  🙂


5 responses to “Did the cult of expert wreck families?

  1. How interesting. And what a terribly sad article. I wonder how many vulnerable and insecure parents took their advice from him? I often wonder the same about some of the self styled experts of blog land today who dish advice about child discipline as though anyone not following the correct method ( theirs of course) will raise a feral brat.
    I do think the cult of expert is very harmful.
    My friend and I have a little private joke reference to people who we say have probably “been on a course” . We are referring to the cult of expertise which seems to want to make even the most elementary human activities complex and clever.
    I saw this very much when I was a midwife on the post natal ward. Some professionals just couldn’t help mystifying and complicating the whole business of baby care, despite the obvious fact that for millenia people have managed to raise their children without benefit of books or special techniques.
    I’m wary of labels like “attachment parenting” because it can so easily become another “do this, do that” trap for insecure parents. Although I definitely identify much more with the spirit of attachment parenting ( I babywear, co sleep, BF on demand and, since babies are so utterly dependant, I am unapologetically happy to be baby’s devoted servant ), I also have no problem with letting a child cry . Not as some kind of “lesson”, to “teach the child that it can’t rule me”, but rather because I need to go to the toilet or put the toddler down for her nap and I’ll get to the baby in a moment.
    Although the baby, as the most vulnerable member of our household, gets first dibs on our time, and we are all devoted to her, from time to time she just has to wait in line.
    I avoid reading books about attachment parenting partly because I think it might just add a huge burden of guilt and worry to those moments when I can’t measure up to the AP standard.
    I figure that mothers of large families in ages past must have manged to muddle through somehow without causing long term damage to baby’s psyche, and so, with all my 21st century conveniences, will I.

    Interestingly, I read recently that the famous atheist Bertrand Russell, who was a contemporary of Chestertons, believed that the wealthy spoiled their children and had over ambitious expectations of them, while the poor could not afford to give their children what they needed. As a solution to this, he proposed the construction of special institutions where children could be raised by “experts” ( nurses, teachers, psychologists). It’s a chilling, and somewhat sci fi, picture of the cult of expert taken to it’s ultimate conclusion.
    He had a pretty rotten concept of marriage and the family.
    I think I read that his son suffered devastating mental illness as did two of his grandchildren.

  2. Thanks Clare that’s really interesting.
    I haven’t read up on AP yet. I’m sure there are books around our house on it as Al had to study it. I didn’t know one of the ideas was never to let a baby cry. Well, I failed there then! Like you, I need the loo sometimes or have other children with a probem that took priority at that time. Would I be right in thinking AP from experts assumes a max of 2 children spaced a good distance apart then? Otherwise how on eartth would a mother do it?
    I couldn’t sling my younger kids much because of my fibro. Jolly painful. I did have a sling for when we were out and I was in the wheelchair, but even then I had to stop and take them out often just to get back on top of the pain.
    So I guess I would get F- in AP. LOL 🙂

    I suppose a book that says, do whatever works for you, wouldn’t be experty enough. Although I think that’s the Dr Ray approach.

  3. I’ve never been a fan of “experts” of any kind – but especially those who think they know how your children should be raised. While I definitely fell/fall within the “AP” camp (nursed both my boys for about three years each, co-slept, etc.) – I’m far from being a poster child for it. Raising a child by any “book” isn’t going to be practical as EVERY child is unique – never created before, and no one exactly like them will ever walk the earth again. Their unique DNA only has one chance at childhood (which is not only a time to play but a time to learn how to be genuinely human – to grow into the life God has planned for them)… I wish more parents realized how precious that is. Mothers naturally know how to parent their children if nothing has “messed with” their innate knowledge – whether that something is a book by the “experts” or something more sinister. While it’s wonderful to get advice from older women who have been mothers before us, it’s also wise to realize that God has given us our children for a reason, and He’ll let us know what is best for them if we’re listening. 🙂

    • I sometimes wonder if the “experts” see what mothers tend to do and then write their books with pop-psych jargon to make it look terribly scientific and make it very prescriptive.
      There’s a Catholic couple (I wont name names) but they write and ‘preach’ on what is good parenting in a very my-way-or-you-fail way. I can’t stand listening to them- so I don’t.

      What happens to parents whose children are just more of a challenge, need harder work and more time? They must feel dreadful when their little darling is still a small and very loud tornado no matter what they do.
      And then there’s the easy kid who barely needs a stern look to get out the polish for his halo; do those parents then think they have earned the A* in parenting?

      It all seems a bit unhealthy to me. At least mums who get advice from older women tend to get it from mums who know their children. They can say “With Tom, beccause he does this, I would try…” Whereas the books are general and one size fits all.

  4. Pingback: Confessions of a working mum « Thinking Love, No Twaddle

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