Friday, May 5, 2017

A Random Assortment

~ "Catching California's Superbloom" (and social media)

~ "Superbabies Don't Cry":

But Dr. Calhoun said the process is vital because it maximizes diversity. This way each person is 100% unique. This way some of us are immune to lethal plagues, and some of us are tall, short, fast, slow, good with numbers, allergic to wheat, nonverbal, uber-social, flatulent, fierce. Biology wants a wild mix.
I can still see Dr. Calhoun’s two index fingers intertwining and then untangling. In that moment, a new idea presented itself to me: Perhaps the point of life was not to achieve some kind of perfection. Perhaps illness was an integral part of life’s dance. Perhaps fragility was built into our very design. Perhaps fragility was also strength. Through the neutral lens of science, my kid’s genetic deletion was a product of diversity, and who could be upset about that?

On parenting and disability. Via MMR.

~ "Reciting Whitman at a Drug Court in Alabama"

~ McMansion Hell. Lots of good laughs.

~ "A View of Abortion with Something to Offend Everybody" (Walker Percy)

~ The Recreation of the Philosophy Chamber at Harvard

~ On a white woman identifying as black

~ "Further small steps toward designer babies"

~ "The Victorian-era Daguerreotypes of Women Breastfeeding" (We are breastfeeding positive around here.)

~ "Overlooked by guidebooks, Slovakia is a worthy European destination without the crowds" (I've been to most of these places and love them and miss them dearly.)

~ "Southern Despair" (Oh to write like Wendell Berry.)

~ "Who is the Victim in the Anna Stubblefield Case?" and "A Reply to McMahan and Singer on the Stubblefield Case"

~ "Buying a $500 house in Detroit"

~ "How Parenting Became a Full-Time Job and Why It's Bad for Women":

To some, this sounds like common sense. But the paradigm of believing that you can do X and Y to produce a child like Z is a suspicious twentieth century development. It has its roots in the 1920s, when childrearing advice exploded. With the rise of psychology, parenting experts (read: male) weighed in with vigor on the behaviors and decisions of mothers and how they were affecting (often adversely) their children. (Most famously, John B. Watson told women they should stop kissing and hugging their children because such affections would interfere with habit-training. The world would not kiss and hug them, so why should mothers?) As Paula S. Fass, author of The End of American Childhood, argues, “Male experts attacked women’s knowledge and made [mothers] suspects in the mismanagement of their children.” Right or (often) wrong, male experts became the informed bosses to whom mother-workers should submit.
The male expert reigned so supreme, in fact, that Mrs. Max West, mother of five and author of the Children’s Bureau’s popular pamphlet, Infant Care, saw her name removed from all editions published after 1919. An amateur mother could not possibly be a trusted voice of wisdom, copyright ethics be damned. “The new experts — psychologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, and others — would become each mother’s personal trainer,” wrote Fass. It seems far from coincidental that the influx of parenting advice occurs precisely when women were bobbing their hair and casting their first votes. By making parenting a daunting job for which women’s intuition couldn’t be relied on, and for which male experts had to be consulted, the culture tugged women back toward prescribed gender roles.


Miss Self-Important said...

The Paula Fass book that the last article cites points out that, before the "scientization of parenting," the infant mortality was about 10 times higher. Initial parenting advice literature and study grew out of the desire to keep more babies alive, and it was very successful at it.

I also wonder about these ubiquitous claims that women today are expending too much time and effort on parenting - compared with what? Spending four hours doing laundry in the pre-machine era? Was there ever a time when women (or men, for that matter) just "defined for herself how she wants to live her life"? Only if they had no obligations to other people, who are always infringing on your self-definitional autonomy. While I'm happy to endorse a general "make parenting less beholden to nonsense science" idea, I'm growing increasingly perplexed by the "people didn't used to care half as much about their kids" line of argument, which always seems to be selectively relying on images of a relatively leisure-poor past combined with imaginings of a hoped-for leisure-rich future that we could attain if we just stopped caring about our so-called obligations to others.

Emily Hale said...

Well as a total attachment parent, it's probably hypocritical for me to share this article. (And I suspect that attachment parenting is one way for me to assuage guilt from being away from the kid so much.) BUT I don't think it would be possible to parent as intensely as I do and have more than one kid (or one kid every five years). I don't know, but I doubt someone with a bunch of kids parents each child as intensely. I wonder if this stuff is also times with falling brithrates.

Yeah, the advise stuff is tricky. On the one hand, in the birth and parenting industry, I think that women are not given good information to make good choices, but rather pushed around by professionals. On the other hand, the breastfeeding group that I'm (still) part of is all about evidence-based approaches that have been studied. So leaving science behind isn't the answer, but neither is assuming that women can't be educated to make good choices for their child and somehow need a professional to come take over.

Written on my phone and so riddled with errors

Emily Hale said...

The last part didn't make sense, but I just woke up from a nap--what're I slept with a kid who can't really nap by himself and my brain is foggy:)

Miss Self-Important said...

For one thing, I think some women actually like attachment parenting, or just being with their kids all the time. Joan Williams pointed out like 20 years ago in Unbending Gender that the kind of feminism which wants our culture not to demand so much from mothers so that women can give more time to careers assumes that women have really exciting and rewarding careers to give their time to instead. But most women, like most men, do not. They just have jobs and prefer their kids to their jobs, and wish they could spend less time on their jobs so they could allocate it to their kids. So that's another reason I'm skeptical of the "parenting used to be so much easier!" arguments, in addition to the problem that "other everyday tasks used to be so much harder!". Intensive parenting is probably quite desirable for a lot of women.

You're probably right that birth rate decline means more investment in each child. That is generally how it's worked throughout history. There is also the broad sense that the kind of parenting investment now required to ensure your offspring's socioeconomic survival is much greater than before, which might contribute to lower birth rates as well. But I don't think it's all just an irrational response to irrational parenting advice. And I also don't think that women are not trusted to make good decisions for their kids; in everyday life, they make most of those decisions. I think I own about as many parenting books written by women as by men; it's just that now all-comers to the field need to get an MD or PhD to attach to their name.

Emily Hale said...

Yeah--at the beginning of the piece she makes it a bit about stay-at-home parent v. working, but I don't think that's the right split. In fact, most of the women I know who stay home with kids have several little children and I don't know but suspect that there isn't really time for attachment parenting with several little kids.

So--I think what I was trying to get at earlier is that there are sometimes doctors recommendations which are supposed to be scientific. Then there are women who are mothers' practical recommendations. I think you've probably got to take both with a grain of salt. So for instance the idea that breastfeeding is really really important+AAP recommendations about sleep, which are now getting more open to cosleeping but used to be super against it. Yeah, you shouldn't cosleep if you aren't breastfeeding or drink or smoke, but it can be safely done and is almost certainly safer than falling asleep with the kid in a recliner in the middle of the night. But the pressure to both breastfeed your baby and not do the thing that for many women makes that possible to do is bad. It's both a particular interpretation of the research and assumes that women won't be able to sort out when cosleeping is safe for them and when it isn't.

I rarely told my pediatricians about my parenting decisions but when on occasion I let stuff out they were skeptical and condescending and didn't treat me like an adult who could make informed and reasonable decisions.

The MD/PhD thing is relevant, too--right--it's about elites/professionals. (I read this piece a few months ago when I was teaching Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism, and used it as an example of his arguments in class, which as you might imagine did not really excite my students. Who thought Lasch was pretty outdated, anyway.)

And I'm really not against attachment parenting, obv. But I do think it has some downsides. But that might just be any parenting of two year olds.

Miss Self-Important said...

Oh, yes, I agree about the dangers of co-sleeping probably being exaggerated. I'm glad I disregarded Official Rules about that. (Although why not do it even if you're not breastfeeding? I understand why you shouldn't do it if you drink or smoke, but why not if you formula-feed?)

But I wonder if there isn't something else besides the hegemony of (male) "expert advice" at play here? One thing I noticed with infant care advice was the extreme emphasis on the DANGER of everything, especially products. Everything came with a million warnings, down to plastic grocery bags with those labels that say DO NOT ALLOW CHILDREN TO PLAY WITH THIS OR THEY WILL DIE. Now, I understand how it is possible to suffocate with a grocery bag, but the danger that grocery bags pose to most children in practice is pretty much zero. But there are two forces that animate these hyper-cautious warnings: The first is legal liability, which is much higher for makers of baby stuff than adult stuff b/c babies can't be held to any standard of reasonableness like adults can (if adult suffocates with grocery bag, it is his fault, but if baby does, it is bag-maker's fault). So that increases the incentive to put alarmist labels on everything, to pre-empt lawsuits. The second thing at play is the sense that even one child killed in a preventable way is too much, and from the perspective of any given mother, the desire to protect one's own child from accidental death as much as humanly possible leads to high risk-aversion. So they in turn want the danger labels on everything b/c they want to know the risks.

I think this dynamic is also in play in "expert" or "scientific" childcare advice. Everyone emphasizes that the actual incidence of SIDS is very low, but no expert wants to recommend any practice that might in any way contribute to it for fear of being held legally or morally liable for a child's death, while at the same time, mothers don't want to try anything that is even remotely linked with risk of SIDS, even if that link is very remote and presented as such. So it's a perfect storm that results in all educated parents dutifully putting babies to sleep on their backs in cribs, even though it becomes clear very quickly that most babies sleep better on their stomachs and with their mothers.

If high expert/manufacturer liability fear and extreme maternal risk-aversion are also forces that shape the character of childrearing advice, then it's less that women are being pushed around by professionals and at least in part that women's expectations and professionals' fears shape the advice and how it is conveyed.

Emily Hale said...

Yeah, so according to the cosleeping expert all the crunchy mamas love at Notre Dame, it has to do with breastfeeding parents being in touch with a kid's needs and responsive to the kid in a way that a non breastfeeding parent (including fathers) aren't. So this applies to sleeping directly in the bed with an infant. So this expert uses science, too I think. I think he has a cosleeping lab:) Not really sure. So we had the kid in bed with us and he was never near his father, but only by me. And I would react to the kid every time he stirred, often without waking up. His father would not.

I don't think we should be overthrowing science or experts. But that we have to be really attentive toward what these experts are guiding us. And I don't think it's just male expertise that's a problem.

Another example is the Baby-Led Weaning thing, which we did. Plenty of experts hate this. But the baby-led weaning people use science and do research too and are experts of some kind. And it's pretty scary because that risk-averse thing that you're talking about is really compelling and you feel like you might choke your kid. Heck, you feel like you might choke your kid after you feed him a grape cut in half in the wrong direction. Because a scary fb article told you this might kill your kid.

I think legal liability plays into this. And I think a motherly desire to protect your kid play into it. But I also think that the experts can either play into your fear or tell you to calm down. I think the latter is really important. And so I love that woman who writes about Free Range Parenting. She argues that the world hasn't actually gotten less safe and so it's reasonable to teach your kids to be independent from a young age and that it's terrible for the government to intervene in parents' reasonable decisions. And so we get into the whole debate over whether you can leave your kid in the car for five minutes while you run into a store. And I suspect that while the law (often) tells you you can't, for safety reasons, it can in some instances actually be safer to leave your kids in the car with the windows down for five minutes.

I guess I think that experts should be educating women and parents in order to make wise decisions rationally, rather than out of fear. And realizing you can't get rid of risk entirely. I think parents should learn to trust themselves. Whether or not some experts caused the fear and risk-aversion problem (and maybe it's not just them causing it, as you point out), they shouldn't be feeding into it to sell books, but should be pushing back against it.