After the Time Magazine cover story, “Are You Mom Enough?,” the age-old parenting debate gained new momentum. The topic of child rearing awakens powerful feelings and memories, and how we raise our kids touches ground within our collective conscience.
On his website, Anderson Cooper poses the question,”Are you an unconventional parent?” Initially, the question confused me. What is unconventional? Is it the millions-of-years-old, affectionate, closeness-seeking child rearing? Or is it the less-than-hundred-years-old stimuli-response based non-affectionate style? And, more importantly, whose advice should we follow?
To choose between these two methods, we must understand their differences and their theoretical backgrounds.
When researchers made cross-cultural comparisons with the Ainsworth “Strange Situation Test,” which was the first measurement of the attachment type, they were not able to conduct the test with Bushman mothers and babies because the mothers were not willing to leave their babies alone for three minutes. It’s reasonable to believe that a baby left alone in the middle of the Savannah would face certain death.
Although the observation happened in our time period, the Bushman lifestyle is quite close to our ancestors’ lives. As our genetic changes are delayed compared to the environmental changes, our present genetic makeup is selected to function best in that hunter-gatherer environment. Everything that would have been bothersome then is stressful now. If a baby is left alone means certain death, we can understand why babies seek constant contact with their caregiver.
Sensitive mothers often report the reciprocal feeling; they experience the separation anxiety if they have to leave the child even in a secure place. Tribal culture and rural environments tend to follow the ancient pattern with lots of body contact and long lasting easy accessibility between mother and child. Nowadays, due to the woman’s work commitment, babies have lost their possibility to stay within reach of mom.
The opponents state that the baby needs to learn soothing on their own. The caregiver has to control basically everything without any concern whatsoever to the baby’s needs or wants. So, where do these ideas originate?
In the beginning of the 20th century when psychology only begun to unfold its wings, a powerful movement started in America whose objective was to purify the new science and investigate only those subjects that are scientifically measurable. This approach’s focus of attention was the behavior, at first only ignoring feelings, thoughts, evaluations and anything which can be reached by the sinful introspection. Later they denied the latter’s mere existence; even consciousness fell into this category.
What they discovered was incredibly trainable learning machines with consequent stimuli-response sequences with wide range of behavior that can be taught to lab rats and also taught to humans.
This is hardly a surprise. Behavior ecologists claim that one of the species specific characteristics for humans is the incredibly high capability of learning. From the evolutionary point of view, the lower a species is on the evolutionary ladder, the more its genetic inheritance leads its behavior. The higher a species is in the evolutionary ladder, the more learning controls the behavior.
Even though capability of learning can be the highest among people compared to the animal kingdom, it is a mistake to believe we don’t have anything else like feelings, instincts or inner motivation.
So which approach is valid and which one’s practical advice is worth to follow? Please read it here in Part 2!
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Aug 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Experts, Y. (2012). Which Type of Parent Are You?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 9, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/08/11/which-type-of-parent-are-you/