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I am a huge book nerd. Therefore, as anyone who loves to read and suddenly finds themselves pregnant would do, I read a lot of books to help "prepare" me for motherhood. I read books that were solely on nutrition, others which were full of women's birth stories, midwives' struggles, breastfeeding issues, vaccination choices or even infant potty training. (For more information please see my list of recommended reading for new mothers.)
Yet, of all the books I read before Athena was born I can tell you hands down the book that has most influenced my choices as a parent, thus far, is Meredith F. Small's Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent.
|See it here.|
Small is a professor of anthropology at Cornell University and as such the perspective she takes in her work differs from most books on raising children. She examines parenting through the lenses of "ethnopediatrics" which strives to understand the practice of raising children as it is around the world and as it has been throughout time. The essential premise of the book is that while there may be variance among individuals in a culture, generally speaking the way a culture raises their children directly reflects the life values and priorities of that culture. The book examines a vast array of cultures from the !Kung San of the Kalahari to the average American family and a great variety of cultures in-between.
In the beginning...
The first two sections of Small's book ('The Evolution of Babies' and 'The Anthropology of Parenting') are an examination of the relationship between parent and child that exists due to the complete and utter dependence newborn humans have on their parents. Our relationship to our young is very different from all other primates. All over the world infants are in need of complete care for every detail of their existence. All across the world parents respond differently to these needs. She states, "we treat our babies as we treat ourselves, and so our ideas about parenting and infant care are as culturally constructed as what we wear, what we eat, or how we dance. "(41)
Their are myriad ways to parent, the goal of ethnopediatriacs (and Small's book) is to examine these different "caretaking styles" to see how they affect the "health, well-being and survival of the infant" (Xi). Our Babies, Ourselves strives to look at the different parenting choices and see how they truly affect children, to gauge what choices yield what results.
Other parents, Other ways
In the third chapter of her work, 'Other parents, Other ways', Small examines different cultures and a few of the choices they make in parenting. She examines an incredibly vast array, including the !Kung San of the Kalahari, the Ache of Paraguay, the Gussi of East Africa, the Japanese and even parents in the United States.
This section of her work is by far my favorite. In my opinion, it is incredibly fascinating to learn about other cultures in any context, but examining the choices made as parents reveals so much so quickly about a culture's values and general psyche. I won't go into details about each culture here because that is the whole fun of reading the book. But, if you are at all interested in anthropology or ethnopediatrics I cannot recommend it highly enough. Truly, every parent could benefit from reading about other parents' choices because it helps one to examine one's own decisions. The better you are at examining your own culture the better you are at understanding it and therefore understanding yourself.
The Triumvirate of Infancy
There are a lot of ideas Small express in this "Triumvarate of Infancy" that are highly controversial for many parents in our culture's generation. She challenges many common parenting practices, arguing that they might not be best for baby. She argues that how we treat our children when they are babies directly impacts the adults they will become, and thus we need to make our choices wisely.
Unpacking the Caretaking Package
In the last and final section of the book, 'Unpacking the Caretaking Package', Small takes a step back from all the cultural examination in order to help her reader understand how to "navigate through the information". She states:
Parenting is a veritable circus of interacting egos and needs, biological constraints and evolutionary expectations. As in all things in life, parenting, too, is a series of trade-offs; there is no perfect way, only a series of options, a bundle of possible pathways, that pilot adults through the hazardous job of bringing up babies.... If we as parents accept this fundamental truth- that having a baby and bringing it into adulthood is a major constraint on life, on resources, on our physical and emotional selves, and a big job not for the squeamish- we are then essentially in line with and accepting of our evolutionary heritage. (228)
Rather than leaving her reader overwhelmed with information or choices, Small leaves them feeling empowered to make choices using the information and knowledge she lays forth. All of parenthood involves making choices on a day by day, week by week, minute by minute basis. As she states, parenthood is a "slow and dedicated voyage". It is one not for the faint of heart, but for those willing to learn and grow.
|Buy it here.|
|Buy it here.|
This book has made such a positive impact on my day to day decisions as a parent. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you would like a copy for yourself or for someone you know and love you can get one here through Amazon.
(Note: Small has also written a book on parenting children past the infant stage titled "Kids: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way we Raise Young Children." As of yet I have not read it, but I am fully planning on doing so when I have the time.)
If this book sounded interesting to you, be sure and visit Meredith F. Small's blog (http://www.ourbabiesourselves.com) where she shares fascinating articles and stories along the same vein as what she discusses in her book.
What one book (or person, or film...) that has most influenced you as a parent thus far? And why?
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