Wednesday, April 18, 2012
The Undeniable Appeal of "Baby Wise"
I had one of those moments today.
You know the kind. The "mom" moment when you scream inside your head, or maybe out-loud, because you suddenly couldn't give another thing to anybody else without watching your own head explode.
It was around 3 o'clock pm when it all went down and I had just sat down to eat a hot lunch. (Warmed leftovers that nobody else wanted. You know me- I only get the best!) As soon as I sit down my daughter comes up and wants her hair done. She has a brush and rubber bands and even a mirror.
With my lunch balanced on my lap, a crawling baby behind me, and a little girl with her hair hanging over my food, I of course...oblige. Maybe I am a pleaser at heart. Maybe I am a shining example of a selfless mother. Maybe I just have a hard time saying no.
Well, you can imagine what happened next.
Some child opened the door leading out to the deck, the baby crawled out to the edge, someone else bumped me, and my lunch went crashing all over the just swept floor.
I think I actually cried. I was irritated. It was really just an accident but for freaks sake- I WAS HUNGRY. Everybody else had been fed food that they didn't appreciate and didn't finish. I finally take 10 minutes to eat something myself and I end up feeding it to the dog and cleaning the floor- AGAIN.
And that my friends, is my long introduction to why I see the undeniable appeal of "Baby Wise."
I have heard awful things about "Baby Wise". Really awful. Dead babies. Starving babies. Cruel parents.
But, since I had never read it, I didn't really feel like I could take an educated stance on the book so I picked it up second hand and started to read it.
Honestly, it gives me a creepy feeling. It really does.
I don't like books or people that put the mother and her child in an adversarial position. I don't like the word "train" in relation to babies. I don't like feeding "schedules" and I really hate it when people say that breastfeeding has no benefit after a year of age (pg 73). Somebody talking about "control" continuously when it comes to children- even NEWBORNS?! What the heck is wrong with this picture?
"Baby Wise" does all these things. And I can see how it WOULD lead to dead babies and starving babies and parents who shut down their basic mom instincts to follow a protocol thought up by a man who has never breastfed and never been a woman or a mother and who obviously doesn't know the first thing about the mother child dyad or the nursing relationship.
"Baby Wise" also uses fictional characters (introduced on page 20) to illustrate the horrible things that happen when you don't follow their protocol and the obvious benefits if you do. This simply doesn't stand up to any scientific scrutiny, but it is scary as all get out if you are considering feeding your child on cue more often than every 3 hours or dissenting from the program. These fictional characters are convincing even if they are not based in fact.
The book calls co-sleeping "passively abusive" (page 59) and recommends not nursing, rocking or swinging your baby to sleep claiming that such are manipulative and may cause children to bang their heads rhythmically (for reals!).
The book claims that babies can and therefore should sleep through the night by around 8 weeks of age (pg 53). It encourages mothers to nurse a slow to grow baby on a STRICT 2 1/2 hour schedule, but go to 3 hours and add formula if this 2 1/2 hour schedule doesn't work (page 93). There is a lot of mention of a strict feeding schedule "stabilizing metabolism" but no sources cited for this claim (page 101). Chapter 7, which covers the "routine" I found to be somewhat confusing and rather strict (though there is much talk about being flexible.)
Did I mention they make fun of baby-wearing (page 159)? They even compare circumcision to the PKU heel prick (pg 165).
All in all, I personally disagree with many of the claims of this book and I do see how the practices included could harm babies if followed and even harden a mother's heart and encourage her to ignore her intuition.
I disagree because my few years of mothering have taught me otherwise. I disagree because much of it is intuitively repulsive to me. I disagree because the way I view the mother/child relationship and particularly the mother/infant relationship is very different than those of the author. I wouldn't do this schedule because I am not really a strictly scheduled person myself. It doesn't fit my personality and my four babies have shown me that the schedule a baby ends up on is often related to their personality.
Not only that, despite the fact that I am a Christian, my views on what that entails in the realm of parenting is different than those of the author. I believe that God has given divine gifts to women so that they can mother. I believe that He will guide me through prayer and through my feelings as to what each individual child I have needs at that given moment. A strict "all the same" schedule does not jive with my views on the ability of God to guide our lives and our responses individually.
So what about the APPEAL of Baby Wise? What about my little "woe is me" story that I opened this lengthy post up with?
What surprised me when I started reading the book was that I honestly and truly AGREED with some of it.
Go ahead. Tell me you hate me.
Let's talk about what I thought was true in this book-
I actually do believe that the most important thing I can give my children is a happy, stable, family with a mother and father who love each other and love all their children. I believe this is more important than pretty much anything else we can do. It is the reason I try to have a good marriage despite how difficult it can be (pg 19).
I believe that sometimes parents focus so much on the baby or children that they forget about their spouse, themselves, and sometimes even the other children. I don't believe that this is good in the long run for anybody (pg 21).
I believe that we should continue dating our spouse after children come (pg 27).
I agree with him that not every cry is a request for food or the breast (pg 34).
In fact, I even agree with what Ezzo claims are his basic premises, "First, we believe that when a woman becomes a mother, she doesn't stop being a wife, daughter, sister, friend or neighbor. Second, our conviction is that a baby should be fed when he or she signals readiness."
Shall I make you hate me even more?
I also believe he is right- sometimes so called "Attachment Parenting" does yield overwhelmed, overtired mothers with a suffering marriage and a very "me centered" child.
In full disclosure, sometimes I feel like that mom is me. That is why I told that story in the beginning of this post. Sometimes I, probably like some of you, give to my kids to the point that I don't even take time to eat. And sometimes my children, frankly, act kind of bratty and even selfish.
In those moments I realize that something has gotten out of wack.
You know, there is a lot in this book that I disagree with at a very gut level, and other stuff that just rubs me the wrong way, and other claims that he makes that I believe are scientifically false.
But there is some truth in it, and that is why it resonates with people. That is why it resonated with ME.
I would NEVER recommend this book to anybody. The truth is so tightly wrapped in some ugly lies that it is really difficult to sort things out if you are not a confident mother.
I remember being a very insecure mother. I remember being a mother to my first child.
I was committed to an attachment style of parenting. But I really didn't know anything about babies. I couldn't read my baby. No matter what was going on, I tried to feed him. Sometimes he would SCREAM at the breast. But all I knew to do was nurse. I couldn't read his cues. I couldn't tell when he was just tired, or needed to burp, or even just needed to be left alone. It was absolutely mind boggling.
I also lost myself in parenting. I think that selflessness and sacrifice are beautiful things- and I think they can purify us and teach us. But I also know now that a woman needs balance.
But I didn't sleep for two years and I didn't know what I was doing and I literally felt crazy.
I understand why somebody would want to avoid that and I understand the appeal of something that promises you can, and couches it in Biblical importance.
We who embrace the tenets of attachment parenting must realize that sometimes people take that method (attachment) to unhealthy levels too. Some do let their marriage fail. Some do forget about their own basic needs. Some act like setting any kind of boundary for a child is some kind of abuse, rather than a healthy framework that makes a child feels safe and loved.
I wish that women didn't need books in order to raise their babies and children in a healthy, loving, but balanced way. I wish we could give but recognize our own needs. I wish we could be perfect, confident, and fabulous all the time. But we aren't always.
Is this book capable of being dangerous when taken too literally or to the extreme? Most definitely.
But I have to be honest- sometimes attachment parenting TOO can be taken to extremes or to the point where the family, or the mother, or even the child suffers.
This book, "On Becoming Baby Wise" doesn't really teach wisdom. But it does have some truth in it.
Babies like routine. (I believe this IS true.) I also think they will quickly make a routine.
Babies need a loving family that loves each other and them.
Babies need a mother who takes care of herself and the other people she loves and who herself is nurtured in her relationships.
Mothers sometimes do need help finding the wisdom in motherhood or learning to read and understand their babies. It can be a long, hard road.
I wish I could tell you exactly how to do it. I wish I could write a book with a schedule and some rules that worked for every family and every baby-
But I can't. And I don't think you should trust anybody who says they can.
I hope and pray that we can find our own wisdom in our own families and our own babies and our own hearts. I think we CAN become baby wise, but I don't think it comes from strict adherence to any tenants from any book.
I think it comes with time. It comes with sacrifice and learning and openness to re-assess. Wisdom comes as we recognize our limits, accept our imperfections, and find a balance between our needs and the needs of all those that love us.
We are wise. We can find this. We can be happy and we can raise happy children and have husbands who also feel loved. But this journey is never easy or cut and dried. It is a journey. Let's find our way, listen to our instincts, and love our babies and ourselves through the process.