Veronika ups the ante

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve already briefly met Veronika Robinson in this post; she’s the woman in the video who breastfed her two daughters until they were 7 and 8 years old. Robinson is also the editor of The Mother Magazine, which, judging by the articles on the website, is to Mothering Magazine as Mothering is to, say, Parents. Robinson is a True Literal Believer in (childless) Jean Liedloff’s The Continuum Concept and really truly believes that the worldwide average age of weaning is 4.2 years. Those facts alone should tell you great deal about her information-processing facilities.

Lately, I’ve been perusing her blog (which she seems to update even more infrequently than I do mine, hehe). The prose is stylish and flowing, and the pure…oddness of the content makes it an interesting read, but it’s sometimes hard not to cringe.

One entry in particular caught my eye. It deals with a style of parenting I’d not previously heard about, but which sounds like a like a somewhat kinder, gentler version (on the parents, that is) of AP called Aware Parenting. While generally subscribing to the principles of AP, Aware Parenting recognizes that parents have needs and wants of their own, and cannot possibly anticipate their child’s every need. Or to quote the website:

Aware parents accept the entire range of emotions and listen non-judgmentally to children’s expressions of feelings. They realize that they cannot prevent all sadness, anger, or frustration, and they do not attempt to stop children from releasing painful feelings through crying or raging.

“Aware” parents, when faced with a crying, inconsolable baby, are encouraged to hold her while crying, after checking she has no needs that they, the parents, can address to relieve the crying jag. The philosophy views this type of crying as the baby’s method of letting go of internal tension. This, of course, does not sit well with Veronika. In her view,

What they don’t seem to acknowledge is that crying is virtually unheard of in indigenous cultures where babies’ needs are instantly met, if not anticipated first. Even if advocates of Aware Parenting don’t wish to admit it, they are in effect encouraging ‘controlled crying’. They do not encourage comforting of the baby through nursing, jiggling or rocking the baby ~ all actions which come instinctively to a NURTURING mother.

Though she parrots Jean Liedloff precisely, the notion that babies in hunter-gatherer societies nerver ever cry is, of course, unmitigated nonsense. All babies are hardwired to cry in their early weeks, some more than others. Just because Liedloff didn’t happen upon a colicky baby during her stay with the Yeqana Indians, or Verokina Robinson’s daughters didn’t exhibit such behavior to extremes, doesn’t mean it never happens or is related to inattentive parenting. I imagine “Aware” parenting is very much in favor of not just holding your crying child like a lump, but all the jiggling, rocking and nursing in the world may not soothe your baby if the crying is a result of colic, or conversely, an ear infection.

But that’s not good enough for the likes of Veronika Robinson: If you can’t read your baby’s mind and immediately alleviate (or would that be, alleviate in advance?) the source of her tension, you’re obviously a defective parent and not sufficiently “bonded” to your child. She actually says this in a more recent entry:”…when we’re bonded with our children, then we have an ESP-like quality which means we can meet their needs ahead of time. They don’t need to go into distress mode. When we’re bonded, we instinctively know what our children need, and equally, we know how to meet that need.”

I wish life were that simple.

My daughter is normally a delightful child with a sunny disposition. But between the ages of 1-3 years, she would often wake up from her night sleep or more frequently, from naps, crying hysterically. The crying jag would typically last about half an hour, during which she would reject any of mine or my husband’s attempts to physically comfort her. Inevitably, she’d accept a glass of water offered for the 4th or 5th time, calm down, and return to being her usual happy self. It made no difference if she was in bed with us when she woke, nor that I anticipated her need for water and offered it – she herself probably had no idea that was what she needed. I remember a cousin of mine having similar crying jags as a small child, and talking with friends and patients, it seems like a fairly common toddler ordeal. According to the likes of Veronika Robinson’s and based upon a sample of 2, though, we must all – even “aware” parents – be child abusers.

Oh, incidentally: that cousin of mine? She’s about to celebrate her 29th birthday, has a wonderful relationship with her parents, aced medical school and has just started her residency in oncology. And she has 3 darling children of her own, who are a joy to be around. Even if they were subjected to “controlled crying” of this, and the more conventional type…whereas Robinsons daughters, reading between the lines of her blog, are having a great deal of difficulty dealing with the world outside their home/cocoon.

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4 Responses

  1. Love the blog.

    The thing I don’t get about AP is this idea that an ultra-attached child is some kind of ideal. I mean, yeah, you want to bond with the kid, but I worked in a daycare with lots of kids, and we had one who refused to be put down. Ever. Didn’t want to play with other kids, didn’t want to sit in a chair for snack– he always insisted on constant contact with an adult, to the detriment of his ability to interact with the other kids. Eventually the daycare teachers convinced his mother to STOP catering to his every need and to let him have tantrums if the alternative was to hold him all the time, and to make him walk on his own and sit by himself. It took him about three weeks of this before he stopped asking for the attention, but as a result, he was able to interact with his peers so much better and he actually played instead of simply wanting to cuddle all the time. And yet he was still really excited every time he saw his mother.

    As far as he was concerned, he would have been happiest never interacting with anyone but his mother and the adults at the daycare, but thanks to intervention, he’s acting like a normal, healthy kid– because his mother stopped treating him like a newborn.

  2. Well, supposedly, the idea is that at some point they’re supposed to become more independent than other kids on account of all the early attaching. I can’t say that has been my experience, though.

  3. Yeah, all the kids I knew with hovering, obsessive mothers fell apart the day they got to college. So much for that.

  4. I have heard my stepson’s mother refer to him as “very independent” and a “good sleeper” over the past several years. She is also a very vocal advocate of AP who breastfed him until he was nearly 6 years old and he continues to sleep in her bed on occasion even though this leads to sleep disruption for him at both households.

    Unfortunately for my stepson, the truth is that up until very recently he was neither independent or sleeping. He learned to sleep through the night at 10 1/2 years old and is only now, in the past year, starting to try things that are new without facing terrible anxiety. He has learned to sleep through the night on his own because he has learned this at our home where he lives 50% of the time.

    Each year since kindergarten his school administrators and/or teachers have commented on his lack of self-esteem until this year. I have to say that since he has started playing sports (which his mother was opposed to for years) and sleeping through the night he has developed a much stronger sense of self. We are all much happier and healthier. I certainly attribute this to encouraging his independence and self-soothing. For many years, he looked to us to calm him because he was unable to do this for himself another hazard of extreme AP, I believe. How would anyone learn to cope if people were constantly scurrying around trying to “anticipate” your needs?

    The real problem in assessing AP parenting, I believe, is a lack of honest self-reporting or surveys that can objectively assess “esteem” and “independence” in children. Of course, in our situation the mother took an extreme and dogmatic approach to AP and refuses to acknowledge the negative outcomes even when outside sources state that not only does he not excel in the areas, he has trouble with independence and esteem. I believe that there are many parents advocating AP who do not disclose anything that makes their style look less than perfect. I would like to see objective assessments that support the many claims made by the AP movement.

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