As mentioned in my last blog I am reading a fascinating book called, Triumphs of Experience.
In reading the book, one of the fascinating things to emerge for me was how psychology fashions have changed since the 1930s. Over the years there have been a number of philosophies which have risen, become fashionable, become dogma and finally failed.
In the 1930s there was a strong belief that racial origins and social standing were predictors of long-term success. It was also thought that these origins were then enhanced by physical attributes. Being fit as tested on a treadmill and having a masculine body shape were all aspired to and thought to be hallmarks of lifelong success. None of this turned out to be true. The most accurate predictor of success in life was to be raised in a loving and nurturing home.
My point in this blog is to note that a philosophy or belief structure can be held by society but in the absence of evidence may eventually fail. Some philosophies which have held sway in the last hundred years now seem slightly curious and even comical. The belief in white racial superiority, or a superior physique or a Freudian relationship with the mother or sexual orientation have all been suggested in the past as explaining social and lifetime success. None of this has been validated by life experience and all of these beliefs have been abandoned.
In my work caring for young families I teach a philosophy of care which is generally called ‘behaviour modification’. I help parents teach their children high-quality sleep and then I encourage appropriate eating and patterns of behaviour. This philosophy has been extensively studied over a period of more than 50 years and has been shown to be the most effective, fastest and safest mechanism for teaching these important skills.
In recent decades the philosophy of ‘attachment parenting’ has arisen. This philosophy claims to improve attachment between parents and children and therefore have long-term benefits for the child’s emotional well-being. It is suggested that a parent should respond to the child’s every need and that children should never be left to cry while settling. It has never been tested in a robust manner and I am unable to find medical literature showing benefit for families or children. Attachment parenting is a belief structure. The sadness is that, on occasions, proponents of attachment parenting attribute emotional damage to the teaching of sleep skills. There is actually no evidence of this in the medical literature. Despite this absence of evidence, parents are naturally and appropriately risk averse and messages which convey a warning of risk find a ready audience in vulnerable young parents.
The tragedy here is that attachment parenting or what I refer to as ‘high contact’ parenting leads to poor sleep, parental exhaustion and long-term disruption to family relationships. Now I cannot say that I have evidence that attachment parenting damages a bond between mother and child in the long term. I have no evidence for that statement. I can report is that I have seen very large numbers of parents who have attempted an attachment parenting style of care who have become exhausted to the point that are unable to parent appropriately. An exhausted mother means that every person and every relationship in the family is under some degree of duress and stress.
One of the chief messages of the Harvard study is that a loving and nurturing home is correlated with lifelong success. It is my hypothesis that a mother who is exhausted, has limited confidence in her skills and is unable to achieve the joy of parenting, is less likely to create a loving and nurturing home and less likely to achieve the long-term benefits which that provides.
Dr Brian Symon
The Babysleep Doctor.