Jun 18, 10
Read from June 04 to 18, 2010
I wish I had read this book before I had babies, but I'm definitely glad I'm reading it when they're still little. It is about the field of ethnopediatrics, the comparative study of parenting across cultures, with the ultimate goal of determining where mismatches between biology and culture exist so that we can better meet our babies' needs.
A major tenet of Small's argument is that the biology of babies has evolved at a pace much slower than our culture's technology and lifestyle. As a result, we have accepted as the norm many parenting practices that simply do not jive with what our babies really need from us. That chapter about the evolution of babies isn't quite as interesting as later chapters but it's important for understanding and appreciating them (though I decided to skim after awhile).
An interesting fact: The SIDS rate is lower in countries where babies sleep with an adult.
"The United States consistently stands out as the only society in which babies are routinely placed in their own beds and in their own rooms; in one survey of a hundred societies, only parents in the United States maintained separate quarters for their babies, and in another study of twelve societies, all parents but Americans slept with their babies until weaning." WEIRD. Equally weird: I feel almost ashamed to tell people that my babies sleep with me. I've learned to keep that little tidbit to myself just to avoid looks of concern from people who have been convinced by pediatricians--and crib manufacturers--that I'm going to roll over and suffocate my baby. What is our deal! Oh, it's our obsession with fostering independence from day one. I even know someone who said to me, "My job as a parent is to teach my kids life skills. Sleeping is a life skill and he may as well learn it now." This when his son was just a few months old and wailing in his crib for an HOUR.
Perhaps the most important thing I gleaned from this book was the simple realization that almost all traits, both good and bad, are culturally defined. What Dutch parents consider to be an "intelligent" child is far different from what Kipsigis Africans think, or even Americans. What we consider a "difficult" baby is completely different from the way even Italians define it. It makes me look at milestones and all of our other expectations of our babies in a completely different light. The things we take for granted because of the culture in which we are raised, really aren't granted. They're just cultural.