New Zealand is a safe country: police don’t carry guns, threatening wildlife is nonexistent, healthcare is free and the people are relaxed. So, when a yellow-bellied sea snake washed up on a North Island beach recently it became the top story on the national news – after all, the locals have never seen a snake on their own soil before.
But, many peculiar things are happening. Record-sized marlin, tuna and never before seen tropical fish are being seen in New Zealand’s waters. Spring bulbs are sprouting in autumn and I swam in the ocean in early winter as if it were the height of summer. Nowhere is safe from the grip of climate change, even these innocent islands bobbing in the South Pacific.
With our oceans slowly warming, it terrifies me to foresee what other once strange happenings may be considered normal in my son’s future. Yet, for decades we’ve been debating whether climate change is even real: whether we believe in it, as if it’s a religion. It’s inconvenient to change our habits, and those who profit from our global warming obsessions wildly protect their interests.
But, even if climate change weren’t real, where is the harm in behaving in a caring and responsible manner? In treating mother earth with the respect she deserves, ensuring she’s healthy for future generations and all living things. Where is the harm in being kind and gentle with our planet?
It’s a human trait which mystifies me: attempting to prove something isn’t really that bad, so we feel justified in our actions, which deep down we know aren’t right.
It reminds me of a recent study by a group at Murdoch University in Australia. The study has reignited the debate around the long-held recommendation of ignoring babies, giving them no option but to cry themselves to sleep. The practice, known as cry it out (CIO) or controlled crying, has been freshly examined to determine whether it has long term effects upon mental and emotional health of children.
The authors claim their results prove the practice is safe, doesn’t cause chronic stress nor result in attachment issues later in life. In short, the study gives doctors and sleep trainers a green light to continue recommending the practice to desperate, sleep-deprived parents.
Many suggest, and I agree, the conclusions drawn and statements made in the media are grossly misleading. What concerns me most is the real aim of this study is to use science to encourage parents to carry out a practice, which a dash of common sense, humanity and thousands of years of evolutionary biology tell us is not only harmful and unkind but also dangerous.
Blaming parents is short-sighted. Sleep deprivation is a killer, especially when we’re trying to keep up with the demands of modern life. Parents are seeking a solution to what they’re told is a problem and when paediatricians, who have a responsibility to know better, assure them ignoring their baby is not only acceptable, but unavoidable, it’s a convenient truth believed with little resistance.
The real problem is a phenomenally unrealistic expectation about what normal infant sleep looks like combined with a culture doing very little to support new parents. Mother nature designed newborns to wake every two hours, feed, seek comfort and go back to sleep: she didn’t do this as a cruel joke to harass or torture parents. She did it to protect babies, to keep them safe as they learn how to breathe and to nurture an unshakeable connection with their ultimate protectors.
Parents inevitably feel like failures when professionals mislead us by suggesting young babies should sleep longer or more deeply than nature intended.
CIO has been sold to parents for over a hundred years as a necessary tool to “teach” babies how to sleep. It has become ingrained as a rite of passage for new parents with well-known paediatricians asking parents of eight week old babies if they have the “guts” to do it. Forgetting for a minute, that this is, excuse my French, a load of bullshit, what are the repercussions for our babies and society if we believe this misguided advice?
In the referenced study perhaps the most concerning statistic uncovered was only 58% of the six-month old babies were securely attached to their parents, and presumably vice versa. As a parent, this is unacceptable and as a member of society, it’s terrifying. What kind of a community are we shaping when even our youngest children don’t feel connected to their parents? And why are we voluntarily having babies if not to care for them in the way they need?
Babies who learn early in life that their needs don’t matter are predisposed to experiencing insecure attachment, which often leads to a myriad of negative mental and emotional outcomes. As parents, our babies are given to us as blank canvases, as clean slates. We have the responsibility to care for them in a way which encourages a rock-solid parent-child connection, in a way which protects their growing minds and in a way which honours and nourishes their innately kind souls.
It saddens me to think of the number of babies who will cry alone tonight in dark rooms. And I’m disappointed for the parents who will miss out on the soft intimacy and intense bond conscious parenting brings. If we believe the myths that babies’ cries can be ignored without consequence or they are somehow trying to manipulate us, we poison our relationship with them for the rest of our lives. Children are born innocent, craving only love, attachment and respect.
If we accept this truth we set the stage for a lifetime of joyful connection. If not, we create a lifetime of struggle.
Our children are babies for such a fleeting moment in time and speaking personally I want to look back on this experience as one where, despite sleep deprivation, I took every opportunity to comfort, snuggle and honour my baby’s needs. We get one shot at parenthood and attempting to take short cuts at the expense of our children’s emotional well-being will surely come back to haunt us. Parents need society’s support, not judgement. And babies need compassion, not coercion.
I feel incredibly passionate about opposing cry it out not only because of the harmful aspects of the practice itself but because it is the tip of the iceberg of a multitude of disengaged parenting advice. If we can bring ourselves to ignore our most vulnerable babies, where does it end? If we harden our hearts at such an early stage of parenting, how will we engage with our teenagers when we’ve already severed our parent-child connection?
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass
If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in reading my new book, The Lost Art of Natural Parenting, which delves deeper into this and related topics.