As far as I can tell, ‘attachment parenting’ seems like a good thing to do. Though I’m not really into ‘parenting philosophies’ (the very term makes my skin crawl, tbh) I think keeping your baby close etc sounds pretty lovely and I know a lot of people that it really works for. I mean, some of it’s defo not for me. Your kids sleep in you bed? For as long as they like? Like, every night?? Er, thanking you kindly, but no. However, the whole emotional-bonding-closeness-communication stuff is fab. Obvs.
Like any ‘parenting philosophy’ though, about 5% of people who follow attachment parenting get a bit smug about it all. #understatement2015. Their way is no longer just ‘what works for me’, it becomes ‘the best way to do things’. Bleurgh. Not the stuff on the Attachment Parenting International website, that all seems very kind, thoughtful and inclusive to me. No no, it’s all the blogosphere-forum-comment-section chitter chatter that goes on about doing what comes ‘naturally’ and being in-tune with your baby’s needs. I mean, yeah, obvs, no one is purposefully being out of tube with their baby’s needs, are they? But does it not occur the writers of these comments that the very fact of describing what you’re doing for your baby as ‘natural’ is a pretty sure fire way of making another parent feel like they are doing something unnatural? And wrong.
One of the biggest and most vexing culprits of all this is references to what ‘cave women’ did.
Comments such as “I mean, cave women wouldn’t have (insert modern parenting practice here)” appear on blogs and forums regularly, usually in reference to attachment parenting. They are likely to have been inspired by articles such as the gem “Why Cavemen were Better Parents than we are Today.” (I know, Daily Mail, why do I even do it to myself?).
Somehow, we have come to associate the practices of our distant ancestors with the way of parenting that ‘nature intended’. More than this, that nature’s intentions are the ones we want to follow. You know: high mortality rate, fight-or-flight, survival of the fittest. Now, am I alone in not wanting to apply these principles to the care of my children? Didn’t think so.
So I’ve decided to outline a few reasons why you should not feel obliged to emulate cave people parenting. Commence ranting mode!
Not the brightest bunch.
These are human beings. Homo sapiens. Just like us. Except, guess what? They lived in caves. Caves people! They were yet to have developed the skills to pile some stones on top of each other and plait a few leaves for a roof. So, straight off the bat, I’m not really that keen to take their advice.
Co-sleeping as survival tactic, not bonding activity.
There’s a lot of very negative stuff out there about sleep-training and controlled-crying.* The cave-woman argument is often deployed in this vein. I mean, what do you think they did? Left them under a bush to ‘cry it out’, I don’t think so!
Firstly, why don’t you think so? Cave people were hard core, mate. I don’t find it beyond the realms of possibility that they would have prioritised foraging food, making a fire or fighting off a sabre-toothed tiger over cuddles with little one, you know, every now and again.
And even if they did keep their children close at night, do think they had a choice? Or that it is the instinctive and natural way to behave? It was cold (remember the whole living in caves thing) and there were bloody tigers, or mammoths, or foxes or something. I mean, if my Bubs was going to be exposed to below freezing temperatures and predatory carnivores I would absolutely, 100%, co-sleep with him. But we have central-heating and we live in South Manchester, so if it’s all the same to you, I’m gonna give it a miss.
Also, with the whole survival element to the lives of early humans, whittling wood for a cot, or chipping out a little room at the back of the cave weren’t really viable options. There simplt weren’t any box-rooms that they could paint white and hang bunting around. So, yes, they all slept in the same place. But that’s not a reason to say we should do it now, or that if we don’t we’re somehow neglecting our babies.
The wheel hadn’t been invented.
Baby-wearing – as it is now known, why does everything need a bloody name? – is fab. I still do it with Bubs as I like having him close and it is majorly convenient. Good stuff. I do not do this, however, because I am somehow channelling the ancient wisdom of my ancestors.
Do you know why people carried their children in this prehistoric era? Because there were no pavements and no one had invented the wheel yet! What else were they going to bloody do? I would put money on the fact that it wasn’t for any touchy-feely emotional bonding reasons.
You think it was? Well, I tell you what, invent a time machine, travel back to the ice age and offer a selection of cave-mothers a £799 Bugaboo off-road stroller and put some tarmac down between their cave and a stream. See if they still carry their 25 lbs toddlers 4 miles a day. Then we’ll talk.
We have pretty much no idea what they did.
Yes, they breastfed, that’s pretty clear, because you couldn’t pop to the Co-op for a packet of Aptimil back then (fact). And yes they carried their babies, because, as afore mentioned, they didn’t have much other option. But apart from that, what the hell do we know about the practices of cave women?
Maybe the did baby-led weaning, but equally they may have mashed up some fruit in a primitive pestle and mortar for baby’s first foods. Or even, according to one theory, chewed it themselves and spat it out again, like a mama bird. *gag*
The article I’ve linked to above claims that Neolithic children ‘weren’t spanked’. I mean, if that’s the case then how progressive of the Neolithic parenting community, congrats and all that, but how the hell could anyone actually know that? It’s not going to show up in bloody archaeological digs, is it? I can’t see anyone on Time Team saying “yes, as you can see from this faint impression on the right upper thigh bone this child obviously had a smacked bottom around the age of three-and-a-half.”
I won’t smack Bubs because I believe that you can discipline your children with physical violence. And hitting kids makes me sad. But I don’t need a bloody cave woman to teach me that, do I? In fact, what we do have evidence for is Neolithic practices of infanticide. And on that cheery note…
How do I put this gently? LOADS OF THEM DIED!
I’m pretty sure that infant mortality was a tad higher back-in-the-day than it is in modern Britain. You know, just a tad. Life expectancy in general was early-30s, so I think we’re winning in the game of life right now.
It’s easy to say to say things like ‘all women breastfed’ in these cultures, or indeed in First Nation groups today. But a lot more women died in childbirth and a lot more babies died too. So when someone tells me that I should be parenting like a cave woman, I tell them that, actually, I am eternally grateful for the hospital and the assisted delivery and the antibiotics and the infant formula and the clean water and the sterilisation kits and the warmth and security.
If you want to practise attachment parenting, go for your life! As I said before, it is a really great choice for you and your family. But when you make that choice, bare in mind that you have a choice to make. You’re making that choice in a place of safety.
Being a mother in the Western world, in the 21st century is a huge privilege. So excuse me if I get a bit tetchy when I feel guilt-tripped about choices I’ve made that are more ‘modern’ or ‘unnatural’. Nature is amazing and abundant. But she is also harsh and exacting.
So I’ll stick with the bottles and the baby monitor. If it’s all the same to you.
* For those of you who have actually described this practice as ‘child abuse’ in other comment sections, bring it on, Judgey McSmugpants.
Are you a hard core paleo-mother who thinks I just don’t get it? Maybe you’ve felt judged for doing things the ‘modern’ way? Or for doing things the cave woman way? Let’s face it, you can feel judged for just about anything in this parenting game!
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