By Tracy G. Cassels
You hear people say that it’s the most important thing you can do with your life, that nothing else compares with the highs and the lows associated with it. It is arguably the most central act that a species has as it allows for the perpetuation of the species – without parents, offspring die and the species dies out too. So one would think that because of this central importance, evolution would have made it as natural and effective as possible, right? It shouldn’t be rocket science. It should be instinctual. And this is exactly as it looks in the animal kingdom – animals care for their offspring intuitively and ensure their offspring have the necessary tools to go out on their own. And while most animals may not have the lifelong bond that the human animal does, they certainly do look out for the young ones. Arguably more so than we do. Our modern-day practices, with a focus on ignoring our instincts, seem to have made us rather incompetent when it comes to parenting. There’s been no progression here, just a very bleak landscape where family and children don’t hold the same value that they used to or do in other parts of the world. (And to be clear, we’re not talking about the type of “family values” discussed in politics, we’re talking about taking the time and effort to ensure your kids grow up to be functional, secure, moral, empathic, happy members of society. Something that is on the drastic decline.)
When was the last time that you heard on the news a story about a child dying or being severely injured due to neglect or abuse? Probably today, but maybe yesterday if you’re lucky. I’m perpetually shocked by the number of incidents involving children that make it to the headlines because for each one of those, there are probably 10 or more that never get reported; indeed, some researchers have stated that most abuse and neglect cases never come to light (Hopper, 2010). In the United States, children in the birth to 1 age range have the highest rate of victimization, with 21.9 victims for every 1000 children in that age group (US Department of Health and Human Services). That’s over 2% of babies reaching a critical stage whereby the government becomes aware of the problem and finds the child to be abused or neglected. In Canada, the reported rate is even higher with rates of abuse or neglect of 25.31 per thousand for females under age one and 27.45 per thousand for males under age one. However, if you jump across the pond to England, the rate of children on the child protective registers drops (which consider children who have been or who are likely to be abused or neglected); you find a rate of 23 per 10,000 children (or 2.3 per thousand) and only 10 percent of those are under the age of one. That is approximately 10 times less than here in North America.
What’s happening? Isn’t North America supposed to be a beacon of modernity and advancement? Do we not look down upon other nations for not being as progressive as we are? In Canada, the fact that gay marriage is legalized (as it should be) is championed, but they can’t seem to do much about the fact that children continue to be abused and exploited and that these rates are higher than in other areas of the world. As another example, information from the World Health Organization (2002) on child homicide incidents (which are a good indication of abuse) show Sweden with 3 per year, Canada with 24 per year (and 3 times the population of Sweden, so a comparable number would be 9), and the USA with 723 (and 20 times the population of Sweden, so a comparable number would be 60; the USA also has 10 times the population of Canada which would allow for 240 as a comparable number against Canada). Again, one must ask, how and why is this happenning?
I don’t think anyone knows for certain at the moment, but we can hazard a guess. Let’s look at the practices we (sadly) employ with newborns in North America. We put babies in their own room to sleep alone, we bottle feed even when not necessary, we use strollers and car seats to hold our children for us, and we somehow think it is okay to “train” babies to sleep, and much more. Babies become an accessory to parents and one that comes second to work, household chores, mom’s schedule, etc. When you decide that a baby must bend to your schedule instead of vice versa, you’re probably more apt to neglect and abuse them in a variety of ways. Let’s consider the policies in place, too. Parental leave in the US is abysmal with some the best you can hope for being the Family and Medical Leave Act which allows for 12 weeks UNPAID to care for a baby (but that doesn’t actually apply to everyone). In Canada, the shortage of daycare spaces and the high cost of what is available (in major cities it costs between $1000-1500 per month), children are being placed in centers with little regulation or training.
But what about the non-abusers? Most people don’t do things as extreme as abusing their children. But does that make you a good parent? Does the simple act of not explicitly hurting your child make things okay? No. The fact remains that some parenting practices are superior to others. And here is where I believe we have one of the biggest problems: modern-day North American parents seem to think that they’re beyond reproach. If you suggest bottle feeding isn’t good, you’ll get ten other people talking about how mean that is and that there’s too much “mommy-guilt” going around and can’t we just respect each other’s decisions when it comes to parenting? The problem with this is that the evidence suggests these responses are wrong. Rates of childhood anxiety, depression, and behavioural disorders are ever increasing; for example, the rates of Conduct Disorder, a serious problem in which a child acts out aggressively, can be manipulative, violent, and is a prerequisite to the adult diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder, has steadily increased over the last ten years (Ingersoll & Previts, in press), a fact that affects all of society. It’s time for parents to take responsibility and it’s time for the State to allow parents to fulfill their roles as parents to the best of their capacity.
Much of what will be said on here isn’t new. The practices I plan to talk about are as old as human history – it’s why it’s called Evolutionary Parenting - we just seem to have lost our way more recently. Some of these practices are also talked about by other professionals – the Sears family and their focus on infant-parent attachment comes to mind first. But we need a radical change to the way we approach parenting, and by extension, pregnancy and delivery. However, unlike other ‘experts’, my approach is really a reversal; looking to the past to see what worked and why and promoting parenting practices that have helped the human race thrive for millenia.
That said, I’m a firm believer in having the facts and there are cases where things like co-sleeping and breastfeeding aren’t ideal, but these are so few and far between that they don’t account for the lack of prevalence in our society. I also believe that we need changes to the systems in place (or lack thereof) that deal with family in our society. I’m not one of those people that thinks the government has no role, but rather that the government’s role is to allow parents the best opportunity to be parents, not to parent for them, but to also be there to step in when necessary. I also want to add that this site is for PARENTS; it’s for anyone who cares for a child. Although mothers still remain the primary caregivers for most newborns, fathers/partners have critical roles that are all too often ignored.
Bit by bit, entry by entry, I hope to tackle these issues. I hope people will comment and engage in discussion about these practices and recommendations. Without discussion, there’s will be no change. And if there is no change, we will all suffer.