Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Quote A Day #4 - The Emotional Life of the Toddler

The Book:

The Emotional Life of the Toddler by Alicia Lieberman.

Quote 1:

The toddler ... is constantly facing circumstances that make her feel either powerful and strong or small and helpless.  In one moment she can dart off and be reckless, and minutes later become clingy and whiny and want everything done for her.

When Johnny can walk from one end of the living room to the other without falling even once, he feels invincible. When his older brother intercepts him and pushes him to the floor, he feels he has collapsed in shame and wants to bite his attacker (if only he could catch up with him!).  When Johnny's father rescues him, scolds the brother, and helps Johnny on the way, hope and triumph rise up again in Johnny's heart: everything he wants seems within reach.  When exhaustion overwhelms him a few minutes later, he worries that he will never again be able to go that far and bursts into tears.

From the parents' perspective, this is a bewildering state of affairs.  If adults experienced and enacted the full range of feelings available to an average toddler in the course of a day, they would collapse from emotional exhaustion or be diagnosed with the weighty psychiatric label of 'emotionally labile.'  As it is, living with a toddler demands that parents be ready for anything.  Gradually, however, the child will come to an increasingly modulated experience and expression of emotions, and the turmoil of toddlerhood will subside into the relative harmony of the preschool years.

Quote 2:

Much of the emotional turmoil in the second year revolves around the difficult task of integrating the child's will into the family constellation.  The child learns that her personal wishes (so cherished, seemingly so right) need to fit reasonably well with what others want.  The parents learn that they, too, have to say 'no' with firmness and conviction but hopefully without harshness.

This is why temper tantrums are so important for healthy development.  Tantrums take a child to the very bottom of his being, helping him to learn that anger and despair are part of the human experience and need not lead to lasting emotional collapse.  If the parents can remain emotionally available even while firm in their position of denying something, tantrums also teach a child that he will not be left alone in his 'dark night of the soul'.

Quote 3:

Many parents are haunted by inner and outer demands to respond always in the same way and not give in to the child.  They cling to every inch of their wavering will power in confrontations with the child because being 'consistent' has acquired for them the aura of a transcendental virtue.

We have to acknowledge, however, that all of us make decisions in the spur of the moment that seem silly or unnecessary on further reflection.  Insisting on that course of action against our better judgment smacks of rigidity rather than consistency.  If another adult pointed this out to us we would agree with relief and change our minds.  Why not do the same when it is our child who protests one of our less inspired edicts?

Toddlers can be remarkably perceptive when it comes to parental shortcomings.  At 34 months, little Josh said to his screaming mother, tears streaming down his cheeks: "That is not fair, mommy.  You should do better than that."  His mother heard him and did do better.  She stopped screaming, put herself together, and explained: "Let me tell you why I got so mad, Josh.  I don't like it when you don't do what I say."  This mother's willingness to change her behaviour led to a very fruitful conversation with her child about what each of them was supposed to do to get along with the other.

Willingness to change our minds in the face of persuasive evidence teaches the child a higher form of consistency: the readiness to engage in dialogue about differing points of view."


I had trouble picking just one quote from this book - it is filled with so many interesting examples and insights into how the world looks from the toddler's perspective that even these three quotes together do not really do it justice.  

Lieberman is a psychiatrist and psychologist from California who specialises in mother-child attachment.  Her book is not a 'how to' parenting manual, but rather it takes you on a journey through common toddler behaviour and discusses what is going on inside the toddler's head.  

As Lieberman explains, at the heart of toddler psychology is 'secure base behaviour'.  Hopefully, over the first year of life a child has learned to trust and depend on his or her closest caregivers - usually mum and dad - and to feel confident that he or she can seek comfort and assistance from them as needed.   By the start of the second year, the child starts experiencing an increasing urge to separate from the parent and explore - and at the same time feels a powerful desire to feel safe and secure by being close to the parent.  Unable to accomplish both simultaneously, they alternate reasonably rapidly between exploration and clinging.  They need to prove to themselves over and over that they can feel safe when they need it, and be independent when they need to.  This is what will over time teach them healthy self-confidence.  The key is to try and allow exploration but be nearby and available, so the toddler can control the pace at which they explore and seek reassurance.

It is not surprisingly, really.  Our own confidence is a mix of both learning we can do things for ourselves, but also knowing that there are those who love us and who are here and available when we need them.

I found the first quote really jumped out at me when I read it, because I had always thought of toddlers as little people with little problems.  But what it made me realise is that to the toddler, little problems aren't little at all.  They are overwhelmingly big.  This is not just because they don't have enough knowledge and experience to have a good sense of perspective, but because the parts of the brain that enable emotional control are only just starting to function (something I learned about when I was researching baby sleep).  At this age toddlers, like babies, rely on their closest caregivers to help them calm down when they cannot do it themselves.

It must be so supremely frustrating and scary at times to be a toddler.  To want what you want so strongly, and yet to be constantly reminded how ineffective, helpless, and out of control you are.  It's so easy to think because toddlers get waited on hand and foot that they have it easy, and to dream of have a parent to run around and pick up after me, make all my meals, cuddle me whenever I want, drive me everywhere...  But really, when it comes right down to it, I like my independence more.  I wouldn't voluntarily choose to be an emotionally unstable paraplegic, just because I'd get a carer, even if they were going to be a really good carer.

The second quote was interesting because tantrums are looming just over the horizon, and we are starting to catch a glimpse of them already.  To be honest, I didn't have the slightest idea what to do about tantrums before I read about them.  I had a vague idea of ignoring the child, or doing something like I'd seen on shows like Supernanny.  But what I now understand is that when toddlers start to tantrum some time in the second year of life - it is not manipulative - it is just pure, uncontrolled emotion.  (I've heard some people prefer to call them 'melt-downs', and in many ways this is more apt.)  Toddlers naturally grow out of tantrums as their emotional control improves and they learn alternative strategies to manage their emotions.  Manipulative tantrums develop down the track only if parents respond to the initial melt-down tantrums by giving the child what they want.  Hence, there is no need to punish tantrum behaviour, but just to be kind but firm in saying 'no' (you can't have that lolly, touch the hot oven etc.), and help the child learn alternative ways to manage their emotions.  Punishing the child for tantrumming is kind of like punishing them simply for being a toddler and having emotions.  

I picked the third quote because I think it is so common for consistency to be the catch-phrase with parenting advice, so it is interesting to get a different perspective.  It makes sense to me that consistency is better for a toddler than constantly changing the rules, but then there's consistency taken to a fault.  Consistency should not come at the price of endorsing stupidity or ignoring common sense.  And it is ok for parents to be people, not infallible machines.

I remember vividly the first time I won an argument with my mother.  I was about six or seven years old.  For some reason I was swearing - probably nothing too serious - something innocuous like 'damn' or 'bloody' - without really thinking, just because I heard the other kids at school say it.  My mother got really angry and we had a bit of an argument until she yelled, "I've told you not to f*cking swear!"  I remember we just kind of looked at each other, kind of stunned, then I pointed out the obvious, and to her credit she gave me a sheepish smile and said, "Well, just don't do it in front of other people then, because you'll get yourself in trouble."

In that moment, I did not respect my mother less.  I respected her more, and I felt closer to her than I had ever felt.  And I felt wonderful, because she had spoken to me person-to-person instead of as a dictator, and to know she saw me that way made me feel so grown up and clever.  I remember that conversation as a turning point in our relationship.  It set the foundation for a closeness with her based on listening, respect, and fairness that saved me in a lot of ways during my teenage years.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Quote a Day #3 - NutureShock

The Book:

NutureShock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman.

The Quote:

"At least 90% of American parents use physical punishment on their children at least once in their parenting history.  For years, the work of Dodge and others had shown a correlation between the frequency of corporal punishment and the aggressiveness of children.  Surely, out-of-control kids get spanked more, but the studies control for baseline behaviour.  The more a child is spanked, the more aggressive she becomes.

However, those findings were based on studies of predominately Caucasian families.  In order to condemn corporal punishment as strongly as the research community wanted to, someone needed to replicate these results in other ethnic populations--particularly African Americans.  So Dodge conducted a long-term study of corporal punishment's affect on 453 kids, both black and white, tracking them from kindergarten through eleventh grade.

When Dodge's team presented its findings at a conference, the data did not make people happy.  This wasn't because blacks used corporal punishment more than whites.  (They did, but not by much.)  Rather, Dodge's team had found a reverse correlation in black families--the more a child was spanked, the less aggressive the child over time.  The spanked black kid was all around less likely to be in trouble. ...

To understand, one has to consider how the parent is acting when giving the spanking, and how those actions label the child.  In a culture where spanking is accepted practice, it becomes 'the normal thing that goes on in this culture when a kid does something he shouldn't.'  Even if the parent might spank her child only two or three times in his life, it's treated as ordinary consequences.  ... Conversely in the white community Dodge studied, physical discipline was a mostly-unspoken taboo.  It was saved only for the worst offenses.  The parent was usually very angry at the child and had lost his or her temper.  THe implicit message was: 'What you have done is so deviant that you deserve a special punishment, which is spanking.'  It marked the child as someone who has lost his place within traditional society.

It's not just a white-black thing either.  A University of Texas study of Conservative Protestants found that one-third of them spanked their kids three or more times a week, largely encouraged by Dr James Dobson's Focus on the Family.  The study found no negative effects form this corporal punishment--precisely because it was conveyed as normal."


NutureShock is probably the most interesting parenting book I have sitting on my bookshelf.  The focus of the book is to review some recent scientific research into parenting topics that is yielding unexpected results, and to present the findings that most challenge the assumptions currently prevalent in parenting advice. 

As my daughter starts to head into the toddler years, questions of discipline and boundary setting loom.  How am I going to handle this?  I was raised in a household where 1-2-3-smack was my mother's response to undesirable behaviour when I was little, and I have never had a problem with her using this method.  I have a close, loving relationship with my mother - I don't think it did any damage.  But these days not only does smacking seem socially unacceptable, my own personal feeling is that I just don't like the idea of smacking my baby.  My heart leaps when she injures herself.  To inflict pain on her deliberately just... feels wrong.

After reading NutureShock, I am still unsure about whether I want to use smacking.  But it reminds me of one thing - nothing is black and white.

I thought it was a great book, so I did some googling to see whether others agreed.  Overall, reviews are pretty positive.  However, one negative review (Christine Cavalier at PurpleCar) caught my eye.  She wrote:

Basically, I found the book to be the amateur, armchair science that is fun to read in small bites while on the train. Read it for entertainment purposes, but don’t implement the few approaches outlined at home; they aren’t tested enough, and the results have yet to be repeated to gain respect in academia.
The book does, unwittingly, bring up some good points about statistics, studies, and systemic judgments based on those studies. Statistics and study results are nothing to respect when presented alone. The best way to make decisions about anything is to weigh multiple instances of evidence, to never rely on one event. The authors do their best to rip up school district decisions on testing, anti-obesity and anti-bullying programs, by claiming these decisions were not based on scientific results but just made using traditional thought and instinct. While some programs in districts may be made more based on hope than science, the majority of IQ testing and other educational programs are based on years of study and a large meta-analysis of results of hundreds of studies. To suggest otherwise, as the authors do, is hasty, irresponsible, and insulting to educational scholars, teachers, and parents.
The authors proceed to cite a study here, a successful preschool program there, to illustrate their point that decisions about children should be based on evidence. I agree. But A LOT of evidence. Not an anecdotal story or two (which the authors provide), nor 1 or 2 labs that keep getting the same results for their handful of articles. The authors bemoan the lack of long-term studies in almost every chapter, yet fail to mention the very sophisticated and accurate methods of behavioral statistics answers this issue.  They sing praises of a preschool program called Tools of the Mind, but conveniently forget to list the challenges associated with the program.  This book is a thinly disguised attempt to steer the conversation toward a conservative agenda in education.

I'm not quite sure how she leaps to her conclusion about it pushing a conservative agenda, as the smacking excerpt is by no means representative of the kind of approaches that are defended or advocated.  In another part of the book, for example, the authors write about a study that suggests that children who are punished more harshly when they lie are no less likely to lie, but tend rather to lie more convincingly.  That would not be the conservative position.  At no point does the book suggest bullying is a non-existent problem or shouldn't be addressed - but it asks questions, fair questions, about the programs that are being rolled out.  Given that we are all required to send our children along to schools (or somehow come up with the resources to homeschool - not to mention homeschool competently) it is not disrespectful to be asking some questions.  It is entirely appropriate.  The reviewer does not point to the studies (or even where we could see the studies) behind these programs, despite asserting that the majority of programs currently used in schools are evidence-based and rigorously studied.

Cavalier is a research psychologist who specialises in educational psychology and communication psychology, and she is quite forceful in her view that non-psychologists should not write books that purport to deal with child psychology.  She criticises NutureShock for using 'colloquial language' instead of adopting a proper 'academic tone', which she finds 'jarring'.

I have to say I don't have a lot of sympathy for these ivory tower concerns.    If no one writes anything but articles in dry academic jargon (for the most part published in journals that ordinary parents cannot even access) then how does that help anyone?

Despite the vast majority of parents lacking formal training in psychology, let alone child psychology, we are expected to conduct all day-to-day parenting decisions, behaviour management decisions, relationship decisions, and generally be our children's most formative psychological influence. 

Don't implement the suggestions in the book! Cavalier warns.  But what exactly is she afraid of?  Most of the book is filled with dangerous, outrageous advice like - children who have longer attention spans do better at school, and: if you don't want your child to lie try not to model lying to them.  Seriously, no one is going to damage their child with this sort of advice, even if it's dead wrong.

More fundamentally, what does Cavalier think parents do all day?  Sit around doing nothing until a child psychologist gifts them with perfect advice.  There is no lack of popular parenting advice on how to approach parenting, most of which is written by persons who have only the vaguest idea of child psychology, given that the majority of it seems to ignore pretty fundamental parts of child psychology like attachment theory.  Smack your child.  Don't smack your child.  Unless you do it very violently or abusively and irrationally, your kids are probably going to be just fine.

But setting aside these quibbles with her review, Cavalier's overall point is fair: this is not a book that should be taken as a rigorous scientific tome.  But I don't think it pretends to be.    NutureShock is by no means a 'how to' guide for parents, but I found it one of the most useful books for reflecting on my assumptions about what I think I know about kids.  As the jacket title suggests, it is 'provocative'.

For an idea of the tone of the book and the kind of topics covered, visit the NutureShock website.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rotavirus, I think

Well, we made it to eleven months without an episode of food poisoning or gastro - and I'm not even talking about the baby.  I hate getting gastro because it knocks me for six, so the idea of getting it while managing a baby was not a fun thought.

Dealing with a crying baby while needing to convulse on the loo, or trying to avoid dehydration with gastro while breastfeeding... it all just seemed too complicated.  For the first couple of months after she was born, I avoided any food I thought might possibly, maybe be a little bit too old.  I have been eating normally now for some time, but if the food looks really dicey, I don't risk it - like the other day when I went to a barbarcue and the cook fried the meat then put it back onto the bloody chopping board where it had been chopped up.  It might have been fine, but I passed.

But you can't avoid these things forever, and the other night, at 4am, gastro struck.  At first it was just vomiting.  I threw up a few times and then went back to bed and slept.  Amazingly, Bethany decided on that evening to sleep right through to 7.30am without waking, so by the morning when I fed her, I felt kind of ok.

I had some water and sipped on some Powerade, and figured I'd just eaten something a bit off and it was over.  But an hour or so later it was back with a vengeance.  I was feeding her again and I could feel the nausea rising.  After the feed, I quickly delivered her to my mother in law, and dashed to the loo.  It was as though my body was a sack filled with water, and someone had poked a couple of holes in it, and all the water decided to fountain out at once.  It wasn't pretty and it wasn't pleasant.

I started to feel light-headed.  I hadn't held down any liquid since a drink I'd had at about 11pm the night before.  Fortuitously, both my mother in law and my father were on hand to help out with Bethany that day.  Bethany went off with her granny while I tried to get some rest.  When I just chucked again, and I was feeling woozy, we decided to go to A&E, as I figured I might need a drip if I was going to continue the breastfeeding.

I hate A&E.  It's not the place to sit and feel comfortable, particularly with gastro.  But they were very nice.  They checked my blood pressure (a bit low), and then offered me a shot of Maxolon, which I took.  Within 15 minutes the nausea had completely disappeared.  I held down a hydralite ice-block, then powerade, and then later that evening some rice with soy sauce.  I do wish they'd told me about the side-effects, which was not only that I'd be super groggy, but it could go through my breastmilk and make my baby groggy.  She spent the afternoon increasingly frustrated as she'd fall down every few steps.  On the other hand, one of the side effects of Maxolon is to increase milk supply.  Not sure if it did, but even though I was feeding Bethany a little less frequently and she was topping up with water after, she still slept pretty well that night, as though she'd got enough to eat.

The next day I was well enough to go to work, and managed to do bridesmaidly duties at a wedding rehearsal that afternoon.  I moved from vegemite on toast, to mushroom soup, to an ordinary dinner.  I felt a little queasy at times but put that down to my tummy still being a bit sore.

But the next day, between being on my feet all day with wedding preparations, carrying a 10kg baby around while wearing heels in the heat, nibbling on rich cheeses and cakes, and drinking perhaps half a glass of champagne, by 5.30pm I was not feeling well at all.  I had to leave the wedding about 2 hours into the reception.  I tried to get rid of the nausea by resting but no luck.  By 11pm I was chucking again.

Thankfully, my husband took over the night shift.  I was so glad I had done the partial night-weaning, because I knew I could hand her over to him, go into a room and shut the door, he could give her water if he needed and I could just worry about myself until morning.  I chucked again at almost 1am then had a good, solid night's sleep.  (Haha, you know you are a mum when a 'good, solid night's sleep' means uninterrupted sleep from 1am to 7am, and includes waking briefly at 5am then going back to sleep.)

My husband was not so lucky.  Both he and Bethany have head colds - so she was snuffling and waking frequently, and he was having to deal with that while being sick himself.  Having been there and done that, I felt for him.  But I also knew that unless I got some uninterrupted rest, there was a strong chance I'd be back in A&E.

Today I am back on hydralyte ice-blocks and vegemite toast, and still feel slightly queasy but not too bad.  I am thinking now that this may be a rotavirus, given how liquid things have been, and given how long it's persisting.  Bethany may not be sick because she was immunised.  She did have mild diarrhoea a couple of days before I got sick, so maybe she picked it up and gave it to me.  Breastfeeding is also meant to be protective against rotavirus.  I don't know how well that works if my own antibodies are so weak that I get it this strongly, but it can't have hurt.

After the unpleasantness of the first dose of rotavirus vaccine (two weeks of diarrhoea), I looked into how essential it was, and found that the vaccine was believed to only be about 60% effective at preventing severe rotavirus, and that some studies showed breastfeeding offered about the same degree of protection.  I ummed and ahhed for a bit then decided that the unpleasantness was worth that 60% bonus (although I did wonder when we then got a month of green diarrhoea), and vowed to try and persist with the breastfeeding as well for as long as possible.  I don't know if it was these choices, or sheer luck, but I can say right now that I am very grateful that I am only dealing with the symptoms myself, and not attempting to manage a dehydrating baby also.

In future, I know to keep a stock of hydralite ice-blocks, to give my tummy a rest for several hours if I've been chucking rather than trying to get the fluids down, and if things get really bad I can ask for the Maxolon shot.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Quote A Day #2 - Parenting For A Peaceful World

I'm going to keep calling these a quote a day, even though my blogging frequency probably makes them more accurately Quote A Week.

The Book:

Parenting For A Peaceful World by Robin Grille.

The Quote:

"In a detailed and comprehensive study titled The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe, sociologists Samuel and Perl Oliner interviewed over 400 individuals who had placed their own and their family's live at risk in order to hide and rescue Jews.  These rescuers were compared to a group of non-rescuers, who disagreed with the persecution of Jews but took no action to protect them.  Both groups were asked an exhaustive battery of questions about a wide range of personal attributes, their personal and family backgrounds.  ...

[T]he Oliners found that there were no significant differences between rescuers and non-rescuers in almost any of the categories of attributes.  The two groups were not dissimilar in economic status, in exposure to opportunities for rescuing, in religious faith, or in risks involved.  Rescuers and non-rescuers were equally likely to live among Jews and know them as friends or acquaintances.  Members of both groups were asked for help by Jews with the same frequency.  So why if both groups were equal in their circumstances, was one group's care and conviction strong enough to motivate life-risking action?  The only distinguishing feature that set apart the rescuers from the non-rescuers, was the way they were reared as children. ...

Rescuers reported that their parents had placed much less emphasis on 'obedience'.  They tended to describe their relationship with their parents as closer and warmer.  Both groups reported being 'disciplined' by their parents with equal frequency, but the parents of rescuers had used non-violent methods of 'discipline'.  Rescuers reported having been beaten a lot less as children, and certainly not with objects such as rods, wooden spoons or birches.

There is probably no clearer evidence that childhood shapes society.  There is no more compelling and convincing imperative to abandon violent and punitive child-rearing methods.  The willingness to take altruistic action, even when this poses a risk, and the willingness to defy dishonourable authority, these are signs of emotional maturity - the product of non-violent and respectful child rearing.  If more Europeans had been raised in this way around the turn of the 20th century, there would not have been a Holocaust."


I feel this quote really sums up Robin Grille's book.  It encapsulates his key argument: that they way we are raised has an impact on the kind of society we create, where respectful parenting produces more peaceful societies and violent, abusive parenting produces violent, abusive societies.  The book is fascinating and thought-provoking, but it also takes small, selective pieces of evidence and uses them to jump to big conclusions.

I agree with the idea that child rearing practices do have an impact on society.  We think of schools with timetables and bells as being a normal way of life, but when I studied history I was fascinated to learn that schools as we know them were an invention of industrial society, and they were specifically invented to train children in a way of acting that would make them good factory workers.  Today we instill in our children a rigid sense of time from a very early age - an idea that every second counts, that one must always know what the time is, and that time is precious and can be wasted. But it wasn't always this way.

Only a couple of centuries ago, prior to the industrial revolution, even in Western society time was seen as a gentle, cyclical thing.  Ordinary people did not have clocks.  People followed the rhythms of the sun and the tides, the earth turning, and recurring religious events.  When a job had to get done, people often worked at it the way uni students often do: piss farting around for a while, then pulling together and working intensively to make the dead-line, then celebrating with a party afterwards.  In the early days of the industrial revolution, many factory owners lamented the phenomenon of 'Saint Mondays', where their workers preferred to take the day off and drink.  Historians have questioned how wide-spread 'Saint Monday' absenteeism actually was, but the debate itself is a record of a society grappling with a changing concept of time.

This history of time is why I am always a little sceptical of advice that children must have strict to-the-minute schedules or they feel disoriented.  I think many children can be very happy with schedules, but it is unlikely that a way of organising the day that was not even possible until the early 19th century is something that your child absolutely must have.

To return to Robin Grille, he makes an argument that human societies have gradually developed greater moral and emotional health, and as a result greater peacefulness, but that we are yet to reach our full potential (for peacefulness and for respectful, nurturing parenting).  This is at once an attractive and a terrifying idea for parents.  On the one hand, as you change the umpteenth pooey nappy and engage in yet another repetitive game of peek-a-boo, it is a wonderful thing to think that parenting really does make a difference.  On the other hand, we spend so much time worrying about the way we parent, do we really need to feel that if we get it wrong we may be contributing to World War 3?

Robin Grille is a clinical psychologist, not an historian, and it shows.  Rather than simply showing that there may be a relationship between the way children are treated and the rules of a society, he picks selective examples to argue that we are on an ever-advancing path to progress through different stages of social violence.  He talks of humans starting in the 'infanticidal mode', progressing to the 'abandoning mode', the 'ambivalent mode', the 'intrusive mode', and today to the 'socialising mode'.  He hopes we can evolve to the 'helping mode'.

History has to be told very selectively to produce a march of progress like this.  There are societies practicing infanticide today - it is not a matter of ancient history.  And the reasons why infanticide is practiced are complex.  Infanticide was purportedly a heinous crime in colonial Australia, but it was also very common and everyone was aware it went on under the guise of baby farming.  Why?  Because of very strong economic and social pressures on poor young women to work and not have babies out of wedlock.  In some ways, attempting to live up to the moral ideals of colonial Australia was the very thing that caused infanticide.  Infanticide is also practiced in some societies because they do not have birth control or safe abortion, and they are trying to pursue quality of life with limited resources.  This is not so different from the reasons why our own society allows abortion.  Evaluating a society's morality involves dealing with all these tricky, fraught examples, and Grille does not deal with them - he studiously avoids them.

There are other problems.  How he is judging morality is not entirely clear.  I am not sure that abandoning a child to death or to controlling them through severe abuse is really that much of a moral advance on infanticide.  Then there are the grand conclusions he draws, such as in the quote above, where he unequivocally states that abusive parenting practices caused the Holocaust.  He says this despite not even knowing how widespread abusive parenting practices were in the pre-Holocaust generation.

The study by the Oliner's was specifically of people who were sympathetic to Jews and had Jewish friends.  This was not a study of what motivated the Nazi party.  It was not a study of who stood up and fought the Nazis, or who was Anti-Semitic and why.  It was only a study of who, in the situation of Nazi Germany, would risk their lives to secretly hide and smuggle Jews to safety.  This behaviour is only a small part of the picture of what was going on during the Holocaust, and if you think about it, smuggling Jews does not describe actions that would have either prevented the rise of the Nazi's nor would they have caused their demise.  Hiding Jews was brave and humane, and it shows free thinking rather than mindless obedience.  I agree that the study does show us something about human nature and parenting practices.  But I do not agree that is shows that parenting practices caused the Holocaust.

Grille's examples and argument are interesting enough that the book is worth reading just to mull over, and to get some perspective on one's own parenting practices.  But I do feel that as a call to action it is flawed, because it inspires through fear and prejudice, not the compassionate principles it advocates.  It makes people think: 'I don't want to be authoritarian with my children because then I'd be like a Nazi' rather than because I want to be compassionate.  The difference is that when you do it out of fear of being a terrible person, you also feel entitled (if not compelled) to judge other parents for not following Robin Grille's recommendations.

I find myself caught in this quandary sometimes.  Reading a book like Robin Grille's can really open your eyes as to the flaws in many popular parenting practices, but it also makes me inclined to judgment. I was reminded of this harshly in a recent online debate, where I mentioned I was partially night-weaning my 10mo baby (cuddling rather than feeding her for 5-7 hours of the night until she got used to going that stretch without a feed), and someone else responded by quoting Robin Grille, who was stating that nothing less than a child's "emotional wellbeing" rested on being fed on demand 24/7 until they were 2 years old.  When I asked if this was perhaps overstating the case, given there were many, many more securely attached children than the number fed on demand for this long, the scorn and outrage shocked me.  I was not meeting my child's needs.  Other mothers must be warned that what I was doing was dangerous.  And there was no point even arguing about it.

It made me reflect not just on the kind of mother I want to be, but the kind of person I want to be towards other mothers.  I don't want to be the person who passes out judgment.  Sometimes it is a fine line between sharing information and offering judgment, and in the heat of the moment it's hard to tell the difference, and we don't always get it right.