Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Bringing up baby… without even looking

A pregnant friend, back home in England has just texted me to say she is watching a programme, on Channel 4, that compares childcare methods. It’s called Bringing up Baby. One woman, not a mother herself, receives £1000 a day in exchange for helping parents with their new-born babies. She advocates no eye contact and four-hourly feeds only. She believes that one-day old babies are trying to manipulate their parents. So she advises mothers and fathers to be strong and not to give in to their baby’s cries. At one point the couple are sitting on the sofa while their hours-old baby screams in a cot next door. The parents are trying to enjoy a glass of wine "as it should be". Except that they are crying too. It is the saddest thing I have heard in weeks.

Perhaps it is because I am living in a country where thousands of children are receiving this same treatment in orphanages, or perhaps it is because I have a tiny baby of my own right now, but I cannot get this out of my head. Every time I look at her (in our bed at night where she sleeps, or during one of the 10 or so feeds she currently gets in 24 hours), I think of the baby who came out of the womb and straight onto an experimental TV programme, to be subjected to entirely unnatural and cruel parental neglect. Treating a child in this way is tantamount to abuse. They may as well be in an orphanage. It would be cheaper too.

I also feel for the parents – one day they will surely regret the choice they have made. Maybe tomorrow, if they decided to read up on the wealth of scientific evidence that shows how damaging this ‘parenting’ method actually is. Research, easily and clearly explained in Sue Gerdhart’s Why Love Matters; Margot Sunderland’s The Science of Parenting, and others, shows how the stress of prolonged abandonment can cause babies to suffer permanent damage to the brain cells. Neglecting to meet a baby’s emotional needs (e.g. eye contact and constant touch), and physiological needs (e.g. feeding and sleeping on demand), causes distress and trauma. This results in emotional and behavioural disorders, such as stress, lack of confidence, depression, addiction and anorexia, in both childhood and adult life. Given all this, and bearing in mind that half of Britain lives in fear of a whole generation of dysfunctional teenagers, I question why this sort of TV is allowed and whether this kind of advice should be sanctioned.

The thing that worries me the most, is that, if this baby does start to fall asleep on its own and sleep through the night, people will mistake this for a happy child responding to successful parenting (though given that they're only filming until 3 months we'll never really know anyway). The reality, however, is that babies who are deprived of love and whose needs are ignored, often become compliant and submissive. What’s the point of expressing their needs if no one is listening?

I find myself almost hoping that this child will respond in another way, also common. Children who never learn to express their needs appropriately can be unreasonably demanding and have frequent tantrums. This might put viewers off. Then again, tantrums, if not handled correctly (give lots of love and holding to help the child deal with their overwhelming emotions), can cause further trauma. So I must not wish for this either, as the poor child is even less likely to ever receive the small thing it is asking for: that its parents actively love him. So my last hope is with the other mentors on the programme, who advocate attachment and child-led parenting. Though I can’t help feeling that they are likely to be portrayed as fluffy hippies who breastfeed their school-age children. It all makes good TV right?


Nel said...

Every child is different! We took some friends advice not realising this - we left our first-born to cry the first night at home - in fact moved her into another room - reassured that she would go to sleep eventually. After a long time, and distress for everyone, back she came - now at the age of 8, understanding her character better, I see that she needed reassurance and security! Our twins were a different story - they shared a cot for 3 months and sleep was amazing from straight away - the one who needed the security was able to snuggle up to his brother - we just understand how all 3 were when we look back with greater understanding of their characters!

Georgie said...

Thanks Nel! So sorry to hear about the distress you went through. Boy have you made up for it though. You are the most lovely, affectionate mother - I always loved watching you with your kids. This is why I take issue with people who like to advise parents rather than let their natural instincts kick in. I agree all children are different. I'd also say that our children's characters are largely influenced by their life experiences and so we can have some impact over how secure or independent they do or do not become. How wonderful for your twins to have been able to sleep together. I am hoping that when the time comes for Bella to leave our bed it will be easier because she will look forward to sharing a room with Jemima! Here's hoping!

Pig in the Kitchen said...

I read about this programme on another blog (i'm in France so haven't seen it), and I signed the petition that has been presented to Parliament... if you want to do the same, the link is here:

Anyone who has had a baby and has half an ounce of instinct can understand that small babies need holding. At one point did did reality tv and the promise of fleeting celebrity replace instincts?

Izzy said...

I was shouting at the telly as well! I think the extreme living them to cry for hours approach is really abusive. In the programme they also tried out other approaches including one which was more like what you call attachment parenting, but they call it continuum - is it the same thing? Personally I liked the Dr. Spock approach - trust your instincts all babies are different.

Tara said...

This programme sounds totally outrageous. What conclusion are you supposed to come to after 3 months of re-mortgaging your house in order to pay some 'expert' to tell you what you will eventually work out for yourself anyway? Or can find for free on the internet or in books widely available? Or better still from friends who have had babies? And anyone who has had a kid knows that it all changes quite regularly in the early months - so what the heck! We should all be just encouraged to do what you suggest and hang out in bed more and let ourselves be child-led as much as possible.... Even that Hse of the Tiny Tearaways lady is saying she won't make any more progs as people are losing touch with their instincts. What we will do for 'good' telly, my word. Glad I can't watch it from here.

Georgie said...

From my mother, Melisa, who has yet to work out how to leave a comment.

"In 1963, I went to Sainsbury's in Paddington and parked Catherine in the row of prams outside and went and shopped and paid and walked home carrying two huge paper bags of groceries. After about 5 minutes I wondered WHY I was carrying these heavy bags?????!!!!! And I went back feeling very guilty! Those were the days - I wonder if there are any photos of those pram parks outside shops then? The Peter Jones one in Sloane Square featured very smart babies with monogrammed blankets and lacquered coachbuilt pram with leather suspension straps for good rocking etc and all the babies were pink and white and well-fed, strapped in chattering to each other and dropping their rattles! Nannies and/or mothers were upstairs trying on clothes.

It was absolutely standard procedure and nobody would have dreamt of pushing a pram into a shop! We never imagined anyone would steal a baby!........ Until someone did and it was on the news more and more: distressed women who couldn't have babies etc"

ellie said...

I noticed in the later programmes they put up a disclaimer about not condoning separate rooms for babies as it conflicts with official advice about cot death prevention, so maybe they realised just how potentially dangerous some of the advice is. It seemed akin to 'don't try this at home' - bit useless after giving King's methods so much airtime. Although to be fair, official advice says babies shouldn't share their parents bed for cot death prevention, and they showed that with continuum too.

The Dr Spock approach of instincts seems most flexible and realistic, but what if your intinct is to keep baby in bed with you like mine was? Then you're a 'nutter' I think the Spock expert said, or 'crazy' or something like that. I suddenly went off the Spock approach there and then.

Well he's nine now and totally fine. To all parents of babies out there 'Do what YOU feel is right, all babies are different, they are also individual people - yours on lone not to keep. Treasure those early sleep deprived days, they are over quickly but you will always remember them'. Thank you.