Article: Family under the microscope

April 18, 2010 at 9:26 am | Posted in breastfeeding, co-sleeping, Controlled crying, Routine | Leave a comment
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Interesting article today in the Guardian from Oliver James:

To follow a routine or not – that is the question when it comes to your baby’s care. Several studies find that if parents do controlled crying (leaving the child to cry for gradually increasing periods), babies and toddlers will sleep for longer uninterrupted periods than ones whose mothers pick them up and cuddle or feed them. There is similar evidence for feeding: if you gradually increase the gap between night-time feeds, the child will eventually demand them less often, with larger gaps.

This suits parents, especially working ones. However, it’s not necessarily so good for the child. There is persuasive evidence that babies are more secure and less difficult (irritable, fussy, standoffish) if they are responded to quickly, sensitively and lovingly when they indicate they want attention (mostly by crying). Unresponsiveness has been proven to have long-term adverse consequences. To take an extreme example, a key indicator of personality disorder (called dissociation) is predicted 30 years later by unresponsiveness of care, aged 0-2.

Early unresponsiveness from carers makes us emotionally insecure in later relationships. In one study, maternal negativity towards their four-week-old baby predicted insecurity 30-40 years later. This is a bad sign: the insecure are much more prone to mental illness.

On its own, this evidence is strong grounds for concern about the modern vogue for taming the beast in the nursery with routines that suit the parents. The defence is that when a baby is left to cry it learns to “self-soothe” or “self-regulate”. However, this may be “too much, too young”.

Severely neglected orphanage children are prone to indiscriminate friendliness, a people-pleasing false self. One-year-olds who are not picked up and soothed sensitively when crying at night are significantly more likely to be insecure. Mothers who respond rapidly to crying in the night have babies at three months who are less fussy and irritable. Breastfed on demand, babies are more secure. It looks likely that, while it suits parents to get a baby to fit in with them, it may not be good for their state of mind and long-term mental health.

A comprehensive review of the evidence on co-sleeping bears this out. It demonstrates that having babies or toddlers sleeping in a separate room is completely at variance with human history. In 127 cultures surveyed around the contemporary world, 79% of the societies normally have their infants in the same room, 44% in the same bed. Despite social and medical pressures against co-sleeping in developed nations, as much as half of babies do so sometimes in the first months. Some developed nations still do co-sleeping normatively: 59% of Japanese under-fours are in the bed.

The review challenges medical advice on the danger of cot death, showing that co-sleeping may be safer. It promotes more and easier breastfeeding, and although both partners wake more frequently, when carefully observed they get more hours overall than if sleeping alone.

Babies do need routines, but originating in their needs, not the mother’s. If a parent-led routine is the only way a parent is going to stay sane, then that is ultimately best for the child – a depressed parent is even worse. But for those who can tolerate being led by the infant in the early months, that is best.

Co-sleeping review: McKenna, JJ et al, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 134, 133-161. Oliver James’ How Not To F*** Them Up is out in June,


Loving more than one child

October 19, 2009 at 11:37 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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9071f73c-d54c-4805-a5ee-d200a4d91621When I was expecting DD, I had this terrible fear that I couldn’t possibly love another child the way I loved DS – it often kept me awake at night. Talking to friends with more than one child, I realised this was a common fear, but couldn’t really believe their reassurances. The past 2.5 years, more if you include my first pregnancy, had revolved around DS. How would he share me with someone else, and how would I find sharing my love with another child – a girl? I really couldn’t begin to imagine it.

The first few months of DD’s life was a major change for all of us, but I especially felt the change in my relationship with DS. I felt guilty for adding another child to the family and not being able to give him my undivided attention, and also shocked at how I felt so protective of my little baby to the extent I was constantly having to reprimand her boisterous and over-enthusiastic brother.

Now that we are settled into our “new life” I can see that my children love each other and being together (the baby is very unsettled when DS is at nursery or out with family) and I can see that far from taking away from DS, I have added something far more valuable to his life.

After discussing my feelings with a mummy friend, she emailed me this  beautiful poem which I think sums it all up perfectly.

I walk along holding your 2-year-old hand, basking in the glow of our magical relationship. Suddenly I feel a kick from within, as if to remind me that our time alone is limited. And I wonder: how could I ever love another child as I love you?
Then he is born, and I watch you. I watch the pain you feel at having to share me as you’ve never shared me before.
I hear you telling me in your own way, “Please love only me”. And I hear myself telling you in mine, “I can’t”, knowing, in fact, that I never can again.
You cry. I cry with you. I almost see our new baby as an intruder on the precious relationship we once shared. A relationship we can never quite have again.
But then, barely noticing, I find myself attached to that new being, and feeling almost guilty. I’m afraid to let you see me enjoying him—as though I am betraying you.
But then I notice your resentment change, first to curiosity, then to protectiveness, finally to genuine affection.
More days pass, and we are settling into a new routine. The memory of days with just the two of us is fading fast.
But something else is replacing those wonderful times we shared, just we two. There are new times – only now, we are three. I watch the love between you grow, the way you look at each other, touch each other.
I watch how he adores you — as I have for so long. I see how excited you are by each of his new accomplishments. And I begin to realize that I haven’t taken something from you, I’ve given something to you. I notice that I am no longer afraid to share my love openly with both of you.
I find that my love for each of you is as different as you are, but equally strong. And my question is finally answered, to my amazement. Yes, I can love another child as much as I love you—only differently.
And although I realize that you may have to share my time, I now know you’ll never share my love. There’s enough of that for both of you – you each have your own supply.
I love you—-both. And I thank you both for blessing my life.

—Author Unknown

A Friday rant

October 16, 2009 at 9:18 am | Posted in tantrums | Leave a comment
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f9f50af4-2cfd-4633-9b3b-b246ba86aa1bMy pre-schooler has officially driven me crazy this week. He had a reaction something at the weekend and the nursery didn’t want him in for his usual 3 sessions as the rash *could* be contagious. There is nothing wrong with him  at all so he’s been my lively, loud, energetic shadow all week – 24/7. Don’t get me wrong,  I enjoy his company, he’s a beautiful boy – funny, full of life and an absolute joy in most ways …… until he wants to do something himself and then his independent and totally irrational streak takes over. Some examples:

  • When getting dressed or undressed he must not be assisted. Even if he shouts “HELP! My head is stuck!” – you must not help his head through the hole. Helping him (even when his top is the last thing on) means he has to TAKE IT ALL OFF and start again. Not calmly and methodically, oh no – he’ll scream, cry real tears, turn red in the face and make the most pitifully unattractive face possible.
  • When baking a cake together, even though he KNOWS he can’t do the ‘oven bit’ and has been allowed to do almost everything else in his own way, failure to be allowed to touch the oven will result in a huge tantrum.
  • When reading a book together, he must turn the pages. If you so much as touch a page, another paddy will ensue (this gem lasted about half an hour!)
  • When getting into/out of the car he must not be touched for any reason. Even if he is about to fall when getting in – you MUST NOT save him. Touching him (saving him from falling) means the entire task has to be started from scratch – out of the car, back to the front door, walk back to the car, climb in without falling etc….

This last one has happened a few times this week, most recently in the supermarket car park in town, when it was raining and the baby was tired and grizzling too. I tried talking him down, reasoning (that one never seems to work), even the bribe of watching a DVD when we got home, but no – he had a total top-of-lungs screaming fit. By now we were all getting soaked, the baby was crying, I was feeling frazzled, and we were drawing a lot of attention. I picked him up and put him, kicking and struggling, into his car seat and strapped him in. To my absolute horror and embarrassment he started repeating “HELP ME! GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!”  at the top of his voice . To several passers-by it probably looked like an abduction. I did the only thing I could do – smiled at them, and got away from there as soon as I could.

Mother in law, of all people, happened to witness one of these outbursts. “Have you tried getting down to his level and talking to him, dear?” was her brilliant contribution. What does she think I’d do? Slap him and lock him in a room like they used to “in her day”?!? – GRRRRRR!

At the end of my tether, and unable to channel Zen Mum however hard I tired, I sought advice from my  greatest confidants – my DH and my Mum, and guess what they both said… “Oh yeah, he’s just like you” (I think Mum muttered something about revenge too) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I know ‘they’ say what we detest in others is a mirror of what we are like ourselves, but I was quite astounded by this. And if it’s even half true, my DH deserves a medal.

So my task for the next week (half term) is to find an effective way to deal with the tantrums …. and to work on being less independent myself. Tips welcome.



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