An exploration of how parenting styles around the world bring into question our definition of normal infant behavior.
I was familiar already with a lot of the content of Our Babies, Ourselves, because Meredith Small’s findings crop up in a lot of literature on attachment parenting. However, it was still well worth reading because she delves so deeply into issues of evolution, natural selection, biology, and human development to demonstrate why parenting styles vary across cultural lines. She looks at tribes like the !Kung and the Ache, as well as urban cultures like the US and the Netherlands and shows the differing ways in which infants are cared for.
Small then builds a very compelling case that American parenting practices conflict with babies’ biological and evolutionary hardwiring in order to foster culturally important traits like independence. She sees a trade off, in that American babies reared in mainstream ways adapt and achieve desired independence, but tend to cry more than babies in other cultures that are more in tune with the natural rhythm of babies.
For a long time, I believed that all babies ate every four hours and needed to cry to fall asleep. This was because I spent years babysitting for formula-fed, sleep trained babies. It wasn’t until about 7 years ago that I began sitting for families whose babies were breastfed, and who coslept with their kids that I learned that there was another way to parent. Now I’m a mother who breastfeeds on demand with Superfast Baby in bed with me for most of the night. It’s so easy that way, and it was interesting to learn some biological and evolutionary reasons why it works so well.