By Tracy G. Cassels

While most of the topics on here have to do with real-life, I figured it would be nice to also think about parenting in the media.  It seems that parenting is one of those things that permeates our culture and thus our entertainment, but rarely is it explored seriously.  We often get caricatures of parent-child relationships and that does no one any good. So when I read the book ROOM by Emma Donoghue, I felt I had to write something about it because it is really an exploration of parenting through the eyes of a child.

For those of you who have not read it, the story is (no spoilers here, don’t worry) about a girl who was kidnapped at 19.  She’s been held in one room – an 11×11 room – for years.  She lives with her son, Jack, a product of the rape of her captor.  The story is told from the point of view of this boy who has never experienced the outside world and focuses on his life as he sees it.  From a technical point of view, sometimes the narration doesn’t quite sound like that of a 5 year old, but you end up forgiving that because the rest of the story is just so wonderful.  It is one of those startlingly beautiful narratives about how strong a relationship can be between mother and child.  It also touches on topics that are important to parenting, without being preachy (like me) or political (like those assholes in power).

While the story itself revolves around Jack and his view of the world, there are two notable parenting techniques that are central to Jack’s life that I want to highlight:

1)      Breastfeeding.  Yes, Jack is 5 years old and breastfeeds.  He also prefers the left because it’s creamier, but he’ll take the right if that’s what’s offered.  In a society where the majority of women aren’t breastfeeding past 6 months, and a sizeable number don’t do it at all, this can seem absolutely freakish.  And yet, when we look at the rest of the world, it should be noted that really it is our behaviour that’s on the freakish end.  The median age of weaning around the world is between 3-4 years of age; 5 is closer to that than 6 months is.  But while Ms. Donaghue doesn’t actually discuss the controversy of late breastfeeding, her beautiful writing of Jack’s love of the boob will hopefully inspire more mothers to consider what breastfeeding means to their children.  And then perhaps why it’s not so weird or wrong to continue until your child is older and chooses to wean him or herself.

2)      Co-sleeping.  In the case of the story it’s a necessity as there’s only one bed, but it’s not written as such.  It’s clear that Jack’s mom fully understands that sleeping with her provides her son with comfort and security and Jack echoes as much in his story-telling.  As I’ve written in other posts, co-sleeping is one of the most magnificent things you can do for your child.  As long as you do it properly, it can lower the risk of SIDS in infants, it can lead to better sleep for mom and baby, and even as children get older, it promotes the production of positive hormones while reducing the production of cortisol (the stress hormone) in children.  And while these are tangible benefits, one of the things I really enjoyed about ROOM was that it brought a voice to the simple pleasure and comfort that co-sleeping provides a child.  If you’ve co-slept, you’ve probably seen that look of happiness on your baby’s face when you’re both cuddled up together, but the story really put words to those looks.  As a co-sleeping mom, it just made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.  I can only hope that it can make others who don’t co-sleep think about how to get those warm and fuzzies too.

In addition to, and potentially more importantly than, supporting breastfeeding and co-sleeping, the novel also speaks more generally to the wonderful innocence in which children approach the world.  Because Jack has never been outside, his entire life has revolved around his mother and his relationship to her.  He thinks everything he sees on TV is fake (because it’s what his mother has told him), and that only him, his mother, Bed, Dresser, Bath, etc. are real.  While reading it I felt it was an excellent metaphor for how children must feel in the early years.  Yes, our children are exposed to the outside world, but really it is their family and home that remains the most important things to them.  The rest is just fluff—interesting fluff, but fluff nonetheless.  And sadly, we seem to forget how important these people and objects are to our children’s happiness and sense of security, just as Jack’s mother is unable at times to see beyond her own view of the room as prison cell to see her son’s love of the room as home.  Oftentimes we do the same with our children when it comes to weaning them off breastfeeding, or moving them into their own bed.  We forget that our children, who are sadly often babies when we force these changes onto them, do not know anything else and don’t understand why these changes need to take place.  All they know is what has been most comforting to them for their short lifespan thus far.  It is worth thinking of Jack when we do look to our children to make rather drastic changes.  To think about what their “room” is and how we can better help them expand it while maintaining a sense of security.  It’s a lesson that all parents can take to heart.

All in all, this is one of the best portrayals of a parent-child relationship I’ve ever encountered in the media.  It is also very real.  You can sense the love between mother and child while reading this novel.  It’s both beautiful and touching while allowing parents to truly think about and examine their own techniques and relationships to their children.  I highly recommend it for everyone.


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