(Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! This Carnival of Breastfeeding, about parenting/breastfeeding book reviews, officially starts on Tuesday, November 27, 2007, but I wrote mine a little early because of personal commitments I need to make sure I’m keeping…)
There are a couple of parenting books I believe have really helped me along in my parenting journey. One of them is a general reference book, more of a refresher/affirmer of a lot of things I already knew (and some things I didn’t). This one is The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears. I will be reviewing it here.
The other book I’m reviewing was more of a revelatory, spiritual-experience, mind-altering sort of parenting book. The book’s title is Unconditional Parenting, and it’s written by a man named Alfie Kohn.
First I’ll talk about The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears. This parenting guide is written in the same spirit as the legendary Baby and Child Care book written by Dr. Benjamin Spock that was first published in 1945 under the original title The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. The major difference between The Baby Book by the Sears and Dr. Spock’s baby book is that the Sears book is much more mother and child-centered, whereas the Dr. Spock book, while it contains a wealth of information and was quite possibly the best parenting book available in 1945, is a little dated now in some of the assumptions it makes and the language it uses. For example, Dr. Spock’s book treats breastfeeding as important, yes, and highlights many advantages to the mother and child, but it also treats breastfeeding and formula-feeding as though they were pretty much equivalent choices. At one point in the breastfeeding chapter, Spock writes, as one example, “You may have heard that the baby gets some protection against disease from the colostrum. It may well be so, though it has not been conclusively proved.” Statements like this indicate to me that perhaps not enough attention and credit was given to the benefits of breastfeeding during that period of time, that the power of women’s bodies was, as a matter of cultural habit, dismissed, and this is reflected in the way Spock wrote about it. By contrast, the Sears book (original copyright 1992) states, “Colostrum, the first milk you produce, is the highest in white blood cells and infection-fighting proteins at the most opportune time, when your newborn’s defenses are lowest… Consider colostrum your baby’s first immunization.” This is a much more positive, life-affirming take on the very same subject!
The Baby Book by the Sears is clearly pro-breastfeeding, pro-mom, pro-dad, pro-baby, and pro-family. It goes into great detail talking about many of the known beneficial properties of breastmilk with reverence and awe at the miracle of human biology while also including discussion of the very important psychological benefits of lactation (for both mother and child). What’s even more remarkable about this book, though, is that it does all of this without alienating moms who should, for whatever reason, feed their infants formula. There is a chapter in the book dedicated to “Bottlefeeding with Safety and Love,” and it gives very good general advice regarding the proper and safe way to bottle-feed (breastmilk or formula).
Since The Baby Book is a book on general baby care, though, and not a book specifically on breastfeeding, the Sears have included lots of other really useful family-centered advice, particularly the advice on parental attachment to their children (and vice-versa: children’s attachments to their parents). It was the Sears family (not sure which of them — William or Martha — or both together) that coined the term “attachment parenting” sometime during William Sears’ career as a pediatrician and father before the first publication of their first book. Since the coining of this term, the philosophy of attachment parenting has evolved into a worldwide parenting movement, an organized yet relatively informal collaborative community effort among parents everywhere who agree that the attachment of the infant/child to the parent is tantamount to the child’s success at becoming an individual, independent being as an adult.
It is all of this together that makes this book, The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears, my #1 pick for a baby shower gift, especially for a first-time mom. No matter what a new mom may think of infant feeding before she has a child (even if it’s not her first), this book is an excellent, gentle encouragement in the direction of breastfeeding, without guilting, without shaming, and without any negative peer-pressure, especially since there’s so much more in it than just infant feeding. It’s got a lot of really valuable factual information that will help parents to trust and feel proud of their natural parenting instincts, and do it in a well-informed way.
Now for the other book… Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. This book talks about a very radical approach to child-rearing (when compared to the current dominant authoritarian paradigm), about how imposing contrived punishments and rewards as conscious disciplinary tactics is not helpful for growing children into adults who think for themselves. I went through a lot of mind-blowing realizations as I read the book, and I found myself wanting to disagree with a lot of it at first, but ultimately, I just couldn’t really refute the logic behind the intent of what Kohn was saying. I don’t think the book is perfect. Perhaps he could have worded some things differently, and maybe he could have provided more real-world examples of what an appropriately respectful parental response would be to a child in a situation that required parental guidance. But I’ve found now that I actually like the book better the way it is, without too many examples. I think specific examples would interfere with the message, because this isn’t so much a parenting guide of “What to do when X happens.” It’s more of an open-ended philosophical guide that informs you of the long-term (and short-term!) negative consequences of using punishments and rewards to try to manipulate your children into bending to your will… And then it assumes you the reader are intelligent enough to figure out how best to do that for yourself and your family. Really refreshing!
A brief summary of what I learned from it is: Teach your children to be considerate, thoughtful human beings without using punishments or rewards. “Because I said so,” is not enough for us as adults, so it shouldn’t be for children either. Teach your children to question all authority, even your own. You should be able to explain to them (or at least to yourself) logically and reasonably why you’re taking a certain course of action. If you can’t, then why are you not permitting them to do X thing? The beauty of thinking in this way is that it gets you really in touch with your own motivations as a parent. It forces you to think if a certain course of action is being done because you’ve always done it/seen it/observed it that way or if it truly is what is best for a given situation and a given individual child. The natural result of this is that if you explain everything to your children (within reason, of course) from the beginning, they get an intuitive feel for your reasoning and internalize this logic and love into their own psyche. The logic, love, and acceptance becomes their own, and it results in genuine morality from within instead of just parroted, robotic moral pantomiming that relies on perpetual, extrinsic motivation (reward or punishment) to continue to exist.
These are tough realizations to ponder, and if you dare to read the book Unconditional Parenting through to the end, you will probably arrive at more questions than answers. And that’s the whole point. It is a very worthwhile read, but only if you’re ready for it. It’s not for everyone, but it was great for me, and I highly recommend this read for all mothers and fathers who wish to parent conscientiously.
More Carnival of Breastfeeding blogs to whet your reading appetite:
- The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog discusses and recommends several parenting resources, including one I’ve been meaning to read: What Mothers Do, Especially When it Looks Like Nothing.
- Hobo Mama explores Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the way we Parent.
- Mama Knows Breast reviews Boobs: A Guide to Your Girls.
- BreastfeedingMums talk about several parenting and breastfeeding books, including the visually stunning A Child is Born.
- On School Street analyzes Blindsided by a Diaper, which discusses some of the changes relationships naturally undergo after a couple have a baby.
- Tales of life with a girl on the go writes about The Best Gifts, a beautifully illustrated and touching children’s book.
- The True Face of Birth reviews Mama Knows Breast, a pretty comprehensive, user-friendly breastfeeding primer.
- Breastfeeding 123 covers Baby Matters, a parenting guide that answers the “why?” of attachment parenting by explaining the science behind it.
- Crunchy Domestic Goddess asks, “What do babies want?” (Review for the book What Babies Want.)
Ladies, all these books sound fabulous!