Feminist or Babyist?

Feminism and Mothering 

-or-

When I tore up my Feminist card and exchanged it for a Babist card

138_3872I recently read an article by a famous feminist author that described attachment or “natural” parenting as primitive. She further described this attentiveness to Baby as likely a temporary fad, and so noxious to women that it must sometime be replaced by another style of mothering. She called for a release from guilt for women – there are no rules, therefore whatever you do and however you parent, is just fine.

Wrong.

So wrong I’m not sure where to start.

There are rules to caring for infants that make a difference in how they develop. Yes, it is America and there is the ability to ignore Baby Rules and assign Baby to inconsistent or institutional rearing in order to avoid inconvenience – but then the Adult is choosing to is to place his or her needs over the immature, fledgling baby needs.

Speaking of fledglings – what if the mother bird chose not to feed or keep the babies warm? They die. Feminist mothers certainly would not choose to deprive a child of bodily needs – but in the effort to escape guilt, they may choose to ignore the rules of attachment and deprive babies of important bonds upon which they base future development. It is life or death for some in the most extreme cases – see research on orphans kept fed and warm, but deprived of attachment (4).

What Does Feminism Miss?

I appreciate much of the first-wave feminist movement which secured voting rights, equal treatment and protection under the law and promoted equal pay for equal work. I question current-wave feminist voices who make their watch cry one of alleviating women from natural functions of child bearing and rearing and furthermore, alleviate women from men. And if a Baby comes to Feminist Mom and Mom chooses the no-rules and no-guilt method, she has also chosen to stay in abject ignorance of evidence-based truths of child development. Bowlby and Ainsworth (1 – 3) were studying infant attachment and publishing their finding before the feminist movement of the 1970’s. The need for infants to attach to mother was an established, evidence-based concept while the bras were burning.

I encounter many folks who, while well-meaning, just have not done their pre-baby homework. Others have done their homework, and opt out of substantial amounts of baby-raising-child-influencing activity – in other words they read the rules, did not like them, and reject them. While the main rule with the infancy stage is attachment formation and proximity seeking, these parents opt for their child to spend formative hours with caretakers who may or may not love them. That is what institutions are for. Feminist moms who choose to ignore Baby rules and leave the baby to the institution have that right. It does not mean others who sacrifice career and education for in-your-face-baby caring are wrong.

This leads me to why I tore up my feminist card.

Feminism has failed to provide me with a good answer to the question , “Who cares for Baby?” Feminism theory only talks about women and their opportunities to do all that men do and be treated like men. If everyone is running around seeking power in the workplace, there is no one left to take care of Baby.

So I signed up for the Babyist card.  I lobby for Baby.

Follow Feminist Advice? – But Who Will Raise Baby?

521Bearing and raising a child is a challenge. The feminist movement often advises women to avoid the challenge and turn the job over to…. Who? Someone is going to spend those hours with the child that was produced – who will it be? Where is the village? There is only a village if you pay people to act like the village – nannies, day care, etc.

While mom is powering to the top, using all of her advanced skills and education, is baby being taught by someone who has not even finished high school? The licensed care centers require less than one semester’s college work to care for and educate infants and preschoolers. I know, because I teach some of those classes. Preschool teachers are good people, but they are not the child’s parent. It has never made sense to me to clamor after advanced education and status just to place your treasure in hands with less education and less connection to the child.  …unless you believe that child care truly is menial work for an unskilled labor force.

Some may have love for your child, but most will not – and some may not even like your child. If you turn over an infant at six weeks of age to an institution while you work full time, your baby will spend most of his or her waking hours outside of the presence of someone who loves them. That is against the rule of attachment and proximity with mother.   Babies need to bask in the light of an adoring mother for the majority of their early years.

Excessive hours in day care creates stress in the infant and young child. The more hours away from the mother, the more secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone. Constant scanning of the environment, anxiety and seeking out their mother interferes with learning.

Without proper attachment, happiness is endangered through subsequent physical and psychological disorders emerging from anxiety than cannot be quite pinned down. unhealthy relationships, hyper-consumerism and other efforts to fill holes that should have been filled when they were babes in arms.

What Does a Babyist Want?

I want powerful women, secure in their gender and the abilities that come with it, to create homes and environments that yield attached babies who progress to healthy adults. Our world today is filled with people who engage in excessive consumerism and value vacuous celebrities. Children raised by parents who have not handed them off to institutions, but have remained attached, engaged and involved are blessed with strong sense of self and may find it easer to value relationships rather than constantly run after “things” to fill holes that weren’t filled in childhood.

142_4201Having children requires choices – and the first choice is to become educated as to their needs –  or to choose to remain ignorant of their needs. Once a good measure of knowledge is obtained, the obligation to subjugate many of your needs, for a short time – becomes obvious.

Yes, I am speaking of sacrifice. Sacrifice of the ideal job, career track, perfect house, childless vacations, uninterrupted sleep. Children have needs that must be met if they are to reach their potential as secure, healthy adults.  If parents choose to meet those needs, rather than find ways to avoid the responsibility, the child develops into a more pro-social creature – that is one who is attentive to the needs of others – be that individuals or society as a whole.

There are rules. Babies need mothers and not villages and institutions. Babies do not care about your self-fulfillment – they just care about your presence. Attachment and natural-type parenting moms are fantastically creative at times with finding ways to feed their creative urges during the intense baby-rearing years.  I love the leadership of the strong women who seek to normalize attachment parenting, breastfeeding and natural childbirth in today’s society.

If society elevates motherhood, mothers find the profession more meaningful. I see groups of professional mothers taking this in hand and nurturing each other while providing education on how to excel at this profession. I also see career-bound mothers doing their best to make it all work. They really do love their children. The two groups can sometimesPicture 088 find themselves at odds during discussions – each defending their choices. It is OK to defend, but not to denigrate the other. Build up healthy attachment and engagement practices.

They will leave your bed eventually. They will not walk down the aisle in diapers or still breastfeeding. The struggles of the early years dissipate quickly with advancing development. Looking back, you will wonder why all the fuss – the years were so few.

It is OK to feel bad about missed opportunities for attachment and engagement. I certainly have my share. Here is where the “I did my best with the knowledge and circumstances I had at the time” talk comes in.

Perhaps a new terms should arise – perhaps I am a “Motherist” or a “Homemakerist” or a “Strong, in Charge, Womanist” – but certainly I am a “Babyist.”

 

1.  Ainsworth MD (December 1969). “Object relations, dependency, and attachment: a theoretical review of the infant-mother relationship”. Child Development (Blackwell Publishing) 40 (4): 969–1025.

2.  Bowlby J (1953). “Critical Phases in the Development of Social Responses in Man and Other Animals”. New Biology 14: 25–32.

3.  Bowlby, J. (1960) ‘Separation Anxiety’ International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41: 89-113

4.  Spitz RA (1945). “Hospitalism: An Inquiry into the Genesis of Psychiatric Conditions in Early Childhood”. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 1: 53–74.

When Babies Marry

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Around the time Babies launch, they usually date – and then marry. Now if dating leads to marriage, then parents of Babies tend to scrutinize every dating choice. It is at this time, parents start researching Arranged Marriages. That rarely works out unless it is already an integral part of your culture. So then, we are left with the role of Bystander. While they are underage, parents do have more control over who Baby spends time with – at least we want to believe that. However, there is no control over who piques the interest or plucks the love strings in the heart of your beloved Baby.

Counseling, cajoling and commanding are the most commonly used tools when Baby’s eyes are glazed over swooning about for a less than desirable Other. Your baby deserves the best. You can choose the best. Baby usually does not appreciate your choice. Now if Baby appreciates your taste and choices in characteristics of a future mate, and follows your advice carefully, then read no further. All is well and you can look forward to a long, smooth, trouble-free relationship with your future son or daughter-in-law. But that is as rare as a hen’s teeth.

The majority of the time, parents don’t choose Baby’s mate and have very few options when Baby chooses a worrisome future mate. You calculate the fine line between discharging your parental duty and pointing out the obvious. “Sally, you are buying a lifetime of trouble with this one because ______.” You fill in the blanks. This assumes you know what you are talking about. Beware the clouding that comes to the parental (especially mother) brain when entertaining the worthiness of a future daughter-in-law. Yes, you are going to lose that boy Baby to this woman. Can you really see clearly?

Let’s say you can see clearly. You see traits or qualities that you don’t believe Baby can see. Go ahead – discharge your duty – before the ink is dry on the marriage license.  Say it.  Point it out.  Check for understanding of what you have said. If you believe your words have been received and understood – you then sit down and shut up. Say no more. Go shopping for the beige mother of the bride/groom dress. Plan on shutting up for a long time – try forever. No criticism of Baby’s mate will be received with any gratitude. If Baby finds out years later you were right, and Baby is completely miserable, you still just say, “I’m so sorry.” – or – “I wish you well.” Nothing more.

Your next project is to welcome your new son or daughter-in-law into your family.  Often, the traits you found so disturbing, may be the traits that you share with this future baby-in-law.  This is the person your child chose and loves. And, perhaps even more important, this is the person that loves your child and is therefore deserving of your care. You are now his or her greatest supporter.  It is all quite simple, really.

Most humans are free to make big choices, and then to live with them. There is a reason why we get to make those choices and it is called agency – the ability to choose. A parent has very few years to influence a child. After that, the agency thing kicks in with robust force. You were able to make your mistakes and then meander through the consequences, reaping the rewards of growth and hard-earned wisdom.  And so will Baby.

Just keep the love lines open.

 

Photo credit:  Tammi Jensen Photography

Early Reader Babies

131_3173Upon Baby’s arrival, at least one parent begins to plot how to teach Baby to read.   Flash cards are made with broad stroke sharpies that label the refrigerator, sofa and the dog. Books have been read aloud to Baby since conception. It is a goal pursued with vigor.

Then, the play dates begin. Mothers with an Early Reader Baby chat away about when Baby began to read – often around age three or four. They regale their audiences with stories of the Early Reader Baby and the newest four-syllable word that has been mastered. While mothers of not-yet-reading Babies are amazed and appreciative of these stories, they internalize the message that their baby must be behind because he is not reading and he is already three and a half.  Mothers who do not have a Reading Baby go home distraught or with a vow to double down on the reading instruction. Early Reader Babies appear to be brilliant while the not-yet-reading Babies look like…well, Babies.

Take heart, mothers of the Non-Reading kind – some Babies come pre-wired to read.

It is unlikely that the parents of Early Reader Baby did something phenomenal – although good modeling of reading behaviors, rhyming, singing and the like all stimulate those brain reading centers. But the fact is you can’t really stop Early Reader Baby.  They are surrounded with letters that can be combined into words and they have the keys built-in to their brain to decode them. I know, because I have lived this.

As I was pushing around Baby #1 in a fabric store cart, she looked up and declared to me, “Look, there is the “Exit” sign!” I chuckled. So cute. She often watched the kids’ TV shows de jour and I figured she had been taught “Exit” in some episode. Soon, I noted that the Hop on Pop book that I thought she had memorized, was actually being read. I tested her with new material and discovered that indeed she was reading. There you have it. I had an Early Reader Baby – and she was just short of three years old.

Life moved on and I did not make too big of a deal out of it. I found a nice little preschool and she had a good time. Then, off to kindergarten she went. One day the phone rang; it was Kindergarten Teacher.

“Did you know your child can read?”

“Why yes, “ I replied (I was thinking that they all could read by Kindergarten).

“No, I mean she can REALLY read. She is sitting in a corner reading a book to a group of children.”

Again, I didn’t see how this merited a mid-day phone call, but I certainly picked up that Kindergarten Teacher thought it was unusual. It was the tone in her voice that tipped me off – a combination of amazement and alarm. The school (hereafter known as “Big School” which is something like Big Pharma – all powerful and life controlling) decided to test her with the Woodcock something or other reading test – she tested at tenth grade level.  It was the end of the school year and so they really didn’t have a plan. They sent home a sixth-grade reading text in an effort to respond to the needs of this strange Early Reader Baby. It was a perfectly boring book to a five-year-old and it gathered dust over the summer while we dove into more Dr. Seuss.

In first grade Baby #1 tested at a twelfth-grade reading level. Now what? Do we go straight to the graduation ceremony? Big School decided to move her to second grade for reading time. Even as a young mother, that did not make sense to me – but she went to second grade for reading time and was not too happy about it as I found out much later. Kids don’t like to stand out and be weird at that age – maybe not at any age.

By the following year, Big School had convinced me she was special. So I transferred her out of Big School and into Cooperative School, an “open plan” school where multiple grades studied together and she could easily move between age groups for different subjects. It was a lovely place where parents participated freely and Early Reader thrived.

There is much more to the story, of course, and Baby #1 ended up a bright student with lots of nice talents. However, once her classmates mastered reading, she did not stand out so vividly. She was mainly an Early Reader and public schools then and now are not geared for Early Reader Babies. I know this.

Fast forward to Baby #5, also known as Early Reader #2.  Upon entering the Kindergarten classroom for the first time, she noted many boxes labeled with wonderful words: “Feathers,” “Sequins,” “Glitter.”  She started reading the labels out loud and proceeded interrogate Kindergarten teacher regarding the use of those materials and exactly when would she would be able to start projects.  I got the Phone Call that day. Kindergarten teacher thought it best if Early Reader #2 be moved up to first grade where they sat quietly in rows of desks and did lots of reading.

I said, “No, you keep her in Kindergarten where she is happy, and I’ll keep her reading.” Fool me once…

Because the school really wanted her to try the first grade-reading group, I consented.   Upon completion of the first day of this experiment, Baby #5 came home crying because she had missed Kindergarten arts and crafts time.

Done. No more. Developmentally, she needed freedom to be a free-playing, song-singing Kindergartener studying arts and crafts much more than she needed first grade reading.

If Babies read before Kindergarten, they have accomplished at least fifty percent of all tasks for the next three years. Big School just needs to keep them engaged and happy. Parents are often the only ones that can protect Early Reader Baby’s overall development through age-appropriate activities.

Their peers will catch up.

Zoey Aimee Lucy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading Promotion Behaviors

  • Love your Baby.
  • Allow for many free play opportunities.  For Babies, play is their work and that is where important brain processing takes place.
  • Teach phoneme awareness – which can be accomplished by talking to them – and then talk about your words.
  • Sing to them.  Singing words allows another part of the brain to light up and support the word processing.
  • Make silly rhymes.  When you rhyme two words, neurons connect in supportive pathways that enhance memory of those words and understanding of the sounds those letters make.
  • Read to Baby – again and again – the same story if it is requested. Again.
  • Let Baby “read” to you – point to words as he or she tells a story which connects words out of the mouth with writing on a page.
  • Read signs as you are driving – STOP is a great first word to read. Or, “Stop Ahead” stenciled on the road can turn into a hysterical discussion of “Stop – A Head! Where is the Head? Did we stop before we hit the Head?”
  • Love your Baby – just the way he or she is. Many boy Babies don’t bloom into efficient Reader Babies until age seven or eight. It’s OK.  They are doing their work but not showing it to you yet.

 

The Reading Mother

by 
Strickland Gillilan

 

I had a mother who read to me

Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,

Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,

“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.

 

I had a Mother who read me lays

Of ancient and gallant and golden days;

Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,

Which every boy has a right to know.

 

I had a Mother who read me tales

Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,

True to his trust till his tragic death,

Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

 

I had a Mother who read me the things

That wholesome life to the boy heart brings–

Stories that stir with an upward touch,

Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

 

You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be–

I had a Mother who read to me.

 

This poem is in the public domain.

Baby Boy has a Birthday

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Here is a bit of a sing-song ditty written for my youngest son when he was in full toddler mode.  As my fourth child, and youngest son, he had the attention of a more mature mom who watched in wonder at all the things he could accomplish in one day.

 

Kolby Capers

A certain Shakespeare, wise and sage,

Claimed that “all the world’s a stage.”

But Kolby with a small red stool

Knows all the house to be his school.

 

Just give him pen in pudgy hand

And we’ll have drawings, great and grand.

Over cupboard, wall and chest;

A beaming smile – he’s done his best!

 

Now, art is through; it’s music time!

He’ll make a melody sublime.

Out come pot lids, spoon and pan,

Concerto swells – give him a hand!

 

Discover science all around.

Opportunities abound!

Can kittens fly when deftly thrown?

Can teeth be brushed with a comb?

 

With bowls of beans and wheat and rice,

A chemist, mixing potions – nice!

No matter that they were apart;

Together now, a soup they’ll start!

 

Now P.E. is important, too.

No trampoline?  The bed will do.

A climbing urge that just won’t stop

From oven door, to counter-top!

 

For Mom and Dad, four walls compose

A room to sit, to talk, repose.

But Kolby with his toddler yearning,

Finds this a place of higher learning!

Karen Walker, 1981

Forever Babies

baby-blue-eye_w520Sometimes we are blessed with a Forever Baby.  This may occur with a genetic defect, illness or trauma.  The child may be a Forever Baby literally because that is how their brain will remain developmentally.  Sometimes, their brain development proceeds normally, but their body is dependent on the care of parents – forever.  Sometimes, as with autism spectrum, it is suspected that there is complex thinking going on, but there is a thick, opaque curtain that does not allow speech to escape and filters actions and responses.

Plans Change

No matter the cause, there are times when we find ourselves with Forever Babies.  Realization of a different future than the one anticipated is like the diverted vacation.

You purchase tickets for Hawaii.  You read the brochures, shop for the right sandals, bathing suit and then you pack lots of sun screen.  You take ukulele lessons.  Images of islanders singing and dancing to a backdrop of waves crashing onto the shore at sunset fill your mind.  You are definitely going to Hawaii and you are prepared.  Then, just as you are about to land, the pilot comes on with an announcement:  Sorry folks, but we will now be taking you to Alaska where you will spend your vacation days.  “Trust me,” he says.  You will still have the experience of your life.   You are shocked, disappointed and loudly protest (in your mind only because you don’t want to get handcuffed by the Air Marshal).  Beads of sweat form, heart races, tears well.  Fear.

I am prepared for Hawaii – not Alaska.

Most parents, anticipating the birth of a baby, prepare for a certain destination.  Their minds picture certain physical forms, eyes and ears that function, bodies that can dance and play sports, minds that can progress in thinking capabilities.  They see T-ball games, birthday parties, graduations, weddings and grand babies.  Then the Great Pilot of the Universe announces that the plane will be flying elsewhere.

Now What

So now you have reached the destination not planned for.  Sure, with any baby acquisition, one never knows the outcome.  One thinks a little about the “what ifs” but those horrors are usually pushed down into those places reserved for the unthinkable.  Then reality presents itself and adjustments begin.

And that is when the hidden blessings begin to appear.  That is when the heart-stealing begins.  The wild and fantastic beauty of Alaska begin to rise.  Who is this unique individual that does not conform to the thought processes or physical actions of Other Babies?”  Can it be that I and this Forever Baby will be happy?

Research by Children’s Hospital in Boston suggests that parents of children with Down syndrome (Trisomy 21) live with a positive view of life and 79 percent reported that their outlook on life was more positive since having a child with Down syndrome.  In surveying people with Down syndrome, 96 percent responded that they were happy with their lives, who they are and how they look (1).

Other research indicates that IQ does not equal happiness.  Seeing and hearing do not equal happiness.  A gentleman who was a competitive skier and had become blind spoke at a gathering I attended.  He said he was often asked if he could turn back the clock, would he choose to have his sight back.   In answer to that, he wove a story of a game, where each one of us are required to place three of our troubles in a big pile in the middle of the room.  Now, we had to take three back out of that big pile.  He contended that we all would take back the three troubles we had put in – as would he.  By the way, he had developed a system where blind folks could still ski by listening to electronic clicks from the skier ahead of them.

No Fault Zone

Each disability is different and presents a unique set of challenges to a family.  Among the most challenging are those that involve communication and behavior disorders.  Science formerly placed blame on the mother.  I remember sitting in a class with an instructor of psychiatric nursing and hearing how certain types of mothering caused schizophrenia.  I am happy to report that I have lived long enough to see those scientific-based facts taught to me in 1985 disproved – as scientific facts often are if we wait long enough.

Currently, the womb is often seen as a bastion of safety only if the mother does the right things.  Landsman (2009) points out that public health messages reinforce the concept that Mother has much control of whether the baby is perfect.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presents messages about preventing birth defects, but then reports that at least 70% of birth defects are from unknown causes.  And then, there are birth injuries.  And then there are accidents, infections – the list is endless of what can deliver us a Forever Baby.

There is nothing to gain by engaging in the blame game. Or the “if I only had” game.  Speculation of cause is of no help to the family living with Forever Baby.  Forward movement is key.  Support systems are required to avoid parent and sibling fatigue. Deeds and words count.
And love.  Lots and Lots of Love.

 

  1. Skotko, B., Levine, S., & Goldstein, R. (2011).  Having a son or daughter with Down syndrome:  Perspectives from mothers and fathers. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A.  Vol 155 Issue 10.
  2. Landsman (2009). Reconstructing motherhood in the age of “perfect” babies:  Mothers of infants and toddlers with disabilities.  New York: Routledge
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/prevention.html
  4. http://www.free-picture.net/cute-babies/baby-blue-eye.jpg.html

Babies Need Living Things


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Puppy!  Puppy!  (sounds like “Buppie”)

The two-year-old Baby squeals with delight when she sees Maggie, the half-shepherd-half-rolling-stone dog. Baby LOVES Maggie and her shepherd-appearing brother Henry and they mostly love Baby also.  Maggie tolerates some mighty eye-poking and only occasionally places both paws over her eyes to avoid Baby.  Henry makes certain that he is busy with dog activities when it is eye poking time.

Maggie and Henry are the supreme ranch dogs and they are in charge.  Henry is a dog’s dog.  He does all things perfectly.  He knows exactly what is expected of him and only occasionally strays from the perfect dog path – as in when he photo-bombed the wedding.

Wedding Party dash_annie-1354 wHenry

Maggie is fairly neurotic and hates all loud noises.  Should someone slam a door a half mile away, she cowers and runs in the laundry room – which of course delights Baby because that is where some of the best eye-poking takes place.  Maggie does not know how to behave like a dog.  She needs to watch Henry more often.

Babies need dogs.  I should say that they need tolerant, non-nipping dogs.

The house cats just won’t cooperate and allow cuddling around here.  They hide and remain aloof.  Babies need soft furry things to squeeze.

Nadia on Railing

Buppies allow squeezes.  Cats escape to the most unreachable point in the house.