Monthly Archives: December 2011

Why I gave my children homeopathic cold pills

The placebo effect is real and powerful.  For many conditions that won’t cause harm if left untreated, it would be perfectly reasonable to give the patient a placebo to help them cope.  The problem is ethics: doctors cannot give a patient a medication and lie about what it contains.  That would prevent informed consent and would be a serious breach of trust and professional responsibility.

However, as a mom I can give placebos with a pretty clear conscience.  It’s my job to take care of my children’s health without their informed consent.  Of course as they mature, I will solicit more and more input from them, but right now I basically run their healthcare.

My older daughter in particular has inspired me to explore placebos.  She has extreme sensitivity to flavors and textures, and is largely unable to take children’s medications.  Of course if she has a high fever or needs antibiotics, I work with her to make sure the medicine goes down.  But it’s not worth cajoling, finagling, and risking  some spectacular reverse peristalsis to get some cough and cold medicine into her when she’s uncomfortable at bed time.  I offer, sure, but she always declines.

So I started to think about placebos.  I was sure if I could give her something and tell her it would make her feel more comfortable, she would be more relaxed and less likely to obsess about her symptoms, and could go to sleep.  My first thought was Tic Tacs, but I knew she’d catch on.  She’s 8, and she’s already familiar with them.  The telltale shape and flavor would surely tip her off.

Then I thought of homeopathy.  It’s just water!  Hyland’s makes tablets that dissolve immediately.  Perfect.  Well, the one drawback I thought of at the time was, of course, putting money in the pockets of scam artists.  But my immediate need overrode my boycott circuits, and I grabbed some Hyland’s C-plus.

It worked really well.  I have since used it several times for cold symptoms, and once with my three year old for boo boo pain drama.  I never actually said they would cure anything – I told them that the pills would make them feel better, or make it easier to deal with being sick.  (But yeah, I essentially lied.  I’m going to just assume that our Santa honesty balances it out.)

But when I did a little more research on the C-Plus tablets, I discovered they contain Yellow Jessamine at a mere 3X dilution.  I started to think about whether 3X means that there could be some actual molecules of this poisonous plant in the tablets, but I only got as far as a vague notion that it would involve molarity and Avogadro’s number before I had to go lie down.  So I decided to just function on the supposition that there could be a trace of actual factual poison in these things.  Between that and the issue of supporting snake oil, no more homeopathic remedies for us.

I will however seek out a more ethical and safer placebo for those times when my kids can’t stop focusing on their snotty noses and can’t sleep, or when there’s much wailing and gnashing of teeth over a small scrape.  I’m open to suggestions – they must get by a fairly sharp 8yo, as well as being easy to take.

(And yes, I will be filling them in on the ruse at some point before they go off into the world and might try to buy such remedies for themselves or their children.)

An opinion piece

I believe that the vast majority of parents love their kids and do the best they can for them.  Parents might make decisions I don’t like based on bad information, or they might have a different set of beliefs that leads them in another direction.  And parents might make decisions I don’t like on first glance, but that I would make just the same if I were in their position.

I believe that babies and children are amazingly resilient and forgiving.  I think babies have a built-in assumption that their moms are doing everything they can for them.  I think babies have strong attachment and a good bond with stay at home moms, stay at home dads, working moms, working dads, divorced parents, single parents, gay parents, foster parents, extended family, and frequent babysitters, .

It seems to me that babies are most often happy, healthy, and secure, whether their mothers had natural birth or planned c-sections, whether they’re fed mother’s milk from the breast or bottle, donor milk, or formula, whether they sleep with their parents or in a crib, whether they’re circumcised or intact, have their ears pierced or not, wear organic cotton or Wal-mart polyester, eat mostly local vegetables or mass-produced beige foods.

It is my conviction that certain individual choices can introduce more risk than others, but the most important thing is the totality of the child’s life.  Sometimes “risky” choices are necessary to allow for other decisions that offer a better overall outcome.  Also, every parent puts a foot wrong now and then.  Some weeks it will seem like we fail to live up to our own standards every day, but parents keep giving it their best shot, and their kids can tell.

I believe it is wrong to spank children.  Yet I have spanked my children on occasion.

I believe routine infant circumcision is wrong.  I also believe that parents who choose it do so because they believe it’s harmless, healthy, and even necessary.

I believe it is better to exclusively breastfeed babies until 6 months.  For me, it hurt, sometimes to the point of agony, every time I nursed for about 3 months.  I’m glad I managed to endure it, but I wouldn’t have blamed myself for stopping.

I believe the vast majority of moms have the phsyiological capability to breastfeed.  I also believe that many moms still truly can’t breastfeed because of bad information and lack of support on a local and cultural level.

I believe we should nurture, love, and appreciate our children.  And I know all of us are going to lash out and be impatient with our kids at some points, when they’ve pushed us to our limits.

Most of all, I believe that parents and children need plenty of good information and lots of emotional and practical support.  If we want parents to do what we think is best, the most useful approach is one of respect and a presumption of good faith.  If we want people to dismiss our information and continue as they have been, the quickest way to do that is to deliver that information with plenty of condescension, scorn, and contempt.

I don’t have any citations.  I’m not trying to strong arm you into agreeing with me.  It’s just what I believe, and I’m confident enough not to try to make it more.  Maybe Darcia Narvaez could use this model for her next Psychology Today article.  Those who agree with her will still cheer and post links to it.  And those whose behavior she wants to change might actually take her seriously and think about her arguments.

The Dangers of Being Insulting and Misleading

Darcia Narvaez, PhD, launched quite the volley two days ago with her Psychology Today article, “The Dangers of ‘Crying it Out’: Damaging children and their relationships for the longterm.”  Now, if you’re a reader of this blog, your first question might be, “Gee, that seems rather incendiary.  Does this person have a real PhD?”  Given that she’s a psychology professor at Notre Dame, I’m thinking yes.  But that doesn’t disqualify her from being a judgmental ideologue who has only passing acquaintance with honesty!


She starts out by poisoning the well, linking “Cry it out” with discredited 19th century exhortations not to touch babies, to withhold love, not to be too kind, and the sentiment that watching and entertaining a baby is a waste of time.  She refers to “Cry it out” without defining the term and also talks about “letting babies cry.”  This vagueness about the very heart of her argument isn’t helpful to her case.  What does she mean by CIO?  Ferber? Weissbluth? Ezzo?  “Letting babies cry” for how long?  Does letting a baby cry for 5 minutes on one occasion “damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term” and make the baby “less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated”?  Note she doesn’t give any citation as she lobs these firebombs.  She simply says “With neuroscience we can confirm [them].”  This is the debating equivalent of saying, “Increase the Flash Gordon noise and put more science stuff around!”  She’s trying to dress her philosophical opinion piece with science-y trappings without doing, you know, actual science.

Citing . . . herself, she declares that babies only grow when being held, and that basically you should never put your baby down, never mind sleeping apart from them.  Then she states, “There are many longterm effects of undercare or need-neglect in babies.”  While the terms “longterm,” “effects,” “undercare,” and “need-neglect” are left undefined, she has finally, in the fourteenth paragraph of her article about the risks of CIO, cited a scientific study that allegedly demonstrates the risks of CIO.  Well, it’s not an actual study.  It’s a survey of research used to make a public policy argument for early intervention “to provide an optimal environment in the first years of life.”

There are many longterm effects of undercare or need-neglect in babies”

The article by Dawson, Ashman, and Carter, does discuss postnatal stress as an influence on child development.  However, it’s difficult to pin down what is included in the term “stress.”  The authors discuss animal studies where “separation from the mother” causes a surge in cortisol and other hormones.  Unfortunately, some study abstracts don’t tell how long a separation they’re studying (and I can’t afford to buy all the studies!).  And of course that would have a big impact on our concern about the risks of CIO.  However, this one and this one  used a 24 hour separation, and this one used isolation for 6 hours daily during postnatal days 2-20.  The human studies of postnatal stress discuss the level of attachment exhibited by children, compared with their behavior and cortisol levels, but don’t inquire into what might cause poor attachment.  The most damning statement I could come up with was “later attachment security was related to greater maternal responsiveness and lower cortisol baselines,” i.e., maternal responsiveness, as measured during clinic visits, was associated with children showing greater attachment security when they returned for follow-up testing.  Needless to say, mothers who scored high on responsiveness during the day at the clinic might or might not have used CIO in some form at night, at some point.

When they discuss specific circumstances that cause stress for babies, Dawson et. al refer to babies in Romanian orphanages, and those with clinically depressed mothers.  Note that these are serious, long-term, global stressors, not simply a short period of stress, confined to a certain part of the day, for a limited duration.  Other circumstances they cite as influencing child development for the worse are fetal exposure to drugs and alcohol, developmental disabilities such as autism, poor nutrition, and violence.  So by “stress,” they seem to be referring to very long isolation from the mother, or significantly traumatic events and conditions.  There’s no indication that sleep training rises to this level, and Dawson et. al. never make any reference to sleep training or long periods of crying.

Moreover, the Dawson article undermines Narvaez’s confident doom-saying by noting that “the contribution of parenting factors to the development of self-regulatory brain mechanisms that have been hypothesized to relate to affective and attentional disorders is still poorly understood,” and “It needs to be determined whether psycho-biological measures such as neuropsychological performance, cortisol levels, autonomic responses, and brain electrical activity will be useful in identifying children at risk for psychopathology.”

So let’s go back to the statement she linked with this article: “There are many longterm effects of undercare or need-neglect in babies.”   It might more accurately reflect the article to say, “There may be many long-term effects of lengthy separation from the mother, maternal mental illness, and chronic deprivation in an institutional setting, but we’re not yet sure what those effects are, and while we are guessing that certain brain mechanisms relate to emotional and attention disorders, we’re not sure about the details, and we don’t know if or how much parenting affects such mechanisms.”

“What does ‘crying it out’ actually do to the baby and to the dyad?”

We’re told that “neurons die” due to “the toxic hormone cortisol.”  You know, that “toxin” that is needed for proper glucose metabolism, regulation of blood pressure, blood sugar maintenance, immune function, and inflammatory response.  Is it more charitable to assume that Dr. Narvaez is ignorant, thinking that cortisol is unremittingly evil, or that she’s disingenuous, purposely ignoring the beneficial, normal function of cortisol while focusing solely on its effects in cases of chronic stress, when the body is not given the chance to return to baseline after a stressful event?  I’m going to have to go with the latter, seeing as she follows up with the brazenly speculative cry, “Who knows what neurons are not being connected or being wiped out during times of extreme stress?” (That’s a fun game – I’m going to play.  “Who knows how many of my neurons have been wiped out due to reading Dr. N’s screed?”  “Who knows whether contact with her article might have given me an STD?”  “There’s no telling how much my credit score has fallen due to such extensive contact with this text!”  “Who can tell whether you’ll receive a pot of leprechaun gold if you write an angry letter to Psychology Today?”)

Next up, we’re told that “disordered stress reactivity can be established as a pattern for life.”  Again, both citations refer to extreme stress such as child physical and sexual abuse, psychiatric illness, and PTSD.  I admit I’m reading these late at night, but I’m pretty sure neither included “crying for 10 minutes” in their list of catastrophic stressors.

Likewise, when she argues that self-regulation is undermined, she cites a study that does indeed say “Stress during infancy that is severe enough to create insecure attachment has a dissociative effect,” but the stress they’re discussing involves experiences so severe they induce PTSD.

Next she argues that “trust is undermined,” referring to the philosophical work of Erik Erikson and delineating her personal belief that a baby left to cry (presumably for any period) learns to mistrust his caregivers, and the world at large.  Piling fantastic speculation on wild conjecture, she sums up, “And self-confidence is undermined. The child may spend a lifetime trying to fill the inner emptiness.”   Or, not.  Either guess is equally valid.

She is also concerned that “caregiver sensitivity may be harmed.”  Again, this is speculation.  It’s not totally nonsensical – it makes sense that becoming inured to your child’s cries in one instance could make you generally more insensitive.  On the other hand, every mom I’ve talked to who’s tried sleep training has agonized over her baby’s crying, and it’s equally plausible that empathy and good old mom guilt might make a sleep training mother more responsive, doting, and loving at all other times.  It would also make sense that a fatigued mother would be less responsive, while a well-rested mother would have more resources for engagement with her baby.  We’re dealing purely with “what-if” scenarios here, and Narvaez seems to acknowledge that by including the uncharacteristic equivocation “may,” and omitting any citations.

“But isn’t it normal for babies to cry?”

Here Narvaez really lays into parents, setting an impossible standard.  She states that if your baby cries, or even “displays discomfort,” it’s clearly because you are depriving them of something they need.  And she makes sure to remind you that your baby is rapidly growing – implying that your callous deprivation is particularly disastrous and cruel!

She continues, stating that any parent whose baby cries a lot is inexperienced and ignorant.  If only you stupid incompetent parents had researched how to properly soothe a colicky, fussy, or high-needs baby, your infants would hardly cry at all.  Get on that, would you?

Why Narvaez’s article is a double-scoop of obnoxious.

To sum up, this article really irritates me because it combines two things I hate.  First of all, you guys know it irks me when people abuse citations.  What’s billed as a research study supporting their assertion turns out to be an opinion piece or simply doesn’t say what the citing party says it does.  I’m annoyed that to get a real picture of the supposed “science” here, I had to spend hours combing through abstracts and pony up $6 to rent an article.  Narvaez no doubt has greater access to scientific publications than we lowly parents do – is it too much to ask that she not misrepresent what the studies say?

The second thing that makes me twitch is her intrusive, judgmental tone.  I’ll be the first person to present the evidence showing formula feeding is statistically more risky than breastfeeding, or even to opine that routine infant circumcision is unethical.  But I don’t charge into someone’s facebook status about their son’s bris screaming that they’re child abusers.  I don’t post here intimating that formula is “junk food” and accusing bottle-feeding moms of not loving their kids enough, or being ignorant and callous.  I acknowledge that people can choose parenting options that may be demonstrably inferior, all things being equal.  But I don’t live their lives, and I don’t know what factors are interacting to ensure that all things aren’t equal.  I just know that all things aren’t equal for most people, most of the time.  The vast majority of parents love their kids like no tomorrow, and make the best decisions they can given their unique circumstances.  The last thing they need is someone twisting the facts in an effort to make them look uncaring and stupid.

(By the way, that “formula is junk food” concept comes from another of Narvaez’s articles, which inspired a PhD in Parenting post saying that Narvaez was judgmental, vague,  ignorant, and lacking scientific support for her statements, and that she “gives greater legitimacy to the argument that lactivists are cold-hearted, uncaring, uncompassionate, ‘Breastfeeding Nazis.'” Whoa.  When a distinguished lactivist like Annie says you’re exemplary of the meme that lactivists are jerks, you know you’ve gone way overboard with the AP zeal!)

Cry-it-out, Ferber, and balancing risk

Look at most attachment parenting resources, breastfeeding-friendly forums, or crunchy mom refuges, and you’ll likely see people decrying “Cry-it-out” sleep training (“CIO”) for babies.  While deliberately letting  baby cry in distress is not a great approach to parenting when all things are equal, there are a couple problems with the knee-jerk hate this idea inspires.

First of all, when someone says, “CIO is terrible for babies,” what do they mean by CIO?  My sense is they’re picturing parents dumping their infant in his crib, shutting the door as they leave, and gritting their teeth as he cries for hours until falling asleep due to exhaustion.  And while many people associate Dr. Richard Ferber with CIO, this isn’t at all what he advocates.  I think a lot of concerned moms wind up demonizing Ferber when they should be reserving their strongest disapproval for Marc Weissbluth, who’s much closer to the “dump and ignore” method of sleep training.  But even he doesn’t just say you should drop your kid and run – his suggestions incorporate everything from what to do when your baby wakes up in the morning to understanding normal sleep patterns and using them to establish routines supportive of good sleep.

Secondly, there’s not really much evidence that letting older babies cry as they adjust to falling asleep unaided causes lasting harm.  It’s important to note that young infants need to wake during the night to drink milk.  There is no consensus on when a baby can go the whole night without caloric input, but estimates range from 4-9 months. In older babies, there is speculation that sleep training involving crying may introduce some risk because the baby is experiencing stress, including elevated cortisol levels, during the crying.  However, for babies whose cries are generally soothed, and whose physical and emotional needs are met on a regular basis, there’s just no evidence that a few days or weeks of nighttime sleep training causes any harm.

It is true that experts like William Sears and James McKenna have written about sleep training in very critical terms, indicating that it has been shown to cause lasting harm.  However, their philosophical zeal seems to have colored their reading of the literature, as the studies they cite either involve children suffering severe abuse or neglect, or don’t actually support the arguments they’re cited to bolster.

For instance, in Sleeping with your Baby, McKenna states on page 38:

Some studies have suggested that elevated levels of cortisol in infancy can cause physical changes in the brain, prompting a greater vulnerability to social attachment disorders.  At the very least, the energy lost in crying could be better put into growth or maintenance.

McKenna cites J Pediatr. 1988 Mar;112(3):457-61.  “Effects of crying on cerebral blood volume and cytochrome aa3.” Brazy JE., which concludes “Thus crying alters cerebral blood volume in all neonates in a pattern consistent with cyclic obstruction to cerebral venous return; it decreases cerebral oxygenation in infants with respiratory problems.”  No mention of cortisol, changes to brain structure, or social attachment disorders. (It’s also worth noting that the study involves only newborns, who should never be sleep trained anyway, and that the scary-sounding “cyclic obstruction” is a result of the Valsalva maneuver, which infants regularly perform when coughing or pooping as well as crying.)

Now, it’s perfectly valid to decide against sleep training that allows extended crying, just in case that stress could cause long-term problems.  But you can’t honestly lambaste a parent who chooses sleep training with the threat that they’re causing permanent damage to their babies.  There’s no foundation for that claim.

The other problem with blanket rejection of sleep training is that it doesn’t account for balancing of risks.  My personal story is a good example.  (Yes, I used sleep training, in case you hadn’t guessed!)  When Claire was almost 6 months old, her sleep periods started to become shorter and shorter.  Overnight, she was sleeping for mere 90 minute intervals, requiring our help to get back to sleep with each waking.  As you can imagine, this sleep deprivation had extreme effects on my husband and me.  I remember being totally unable to form a coherent sentence and convey what I was trying to say.  My husband has always been regarded as a wizard at work, but suddenly he was screwing up even relatively simple tasks, and his bosses were taking notice.  In addition, to attend to our responsibilities, both of us needed to drive, which is very dangerous when one is suffering sleep deprivation.  Bed sharing was not an option for us due to several different issues.  We decided that any risk to our baby from crying for 10 minutes at a time was less than the risk of having an unemployed father or getting in a wreck.

I’m not saying that I love the idea of letting babies cry, even for a few minutes at a time.  But in our circumstances, it was the best solution to a bad situation.  Note also that we did our own version of Ferber’s plan.  Not only did I pat or talk to Claire between crying periods, I picked her up, nursed her, rocked her – did anything to soothe and calm her, just being careful not to put her to sleep.  I also didn’t let her cry for longer than 10 minutes, because that was the limit of my personal comfort zone with letting my baby cry.

And that’s something I want to emphasize: I think philosophical beliefs are a fine basis for deciding against CIO.  If you just think it’s wrong or can’t bear to leave your baby to cry, more power to you.  Just as there’s no real evidence that sleep training causes permanent harm, there’s no real evidence that soothing your baby to sleep or bed sharing (safely!) cause any harm.  If CIO doesn’t feel right to you, you shouldn’t do it.  If you try it and it doesn’t seem to be working for your individual baby, you should feel comfortable stopping.  For me, it’s not something I would choose as a first response, but only became a viable choice when our situation became extreme.  Other parents will have different parameters.  Thankfully, almost all our babies will do just fine.

(This post was written before I learned of a new anti-CIO article by Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D.  Her article is far worse than the articles that I criticize here: hysterical, judgmental, and lacking in the research department.  I will follow up this post with a critique of the full article.)

Babywise: Feeding Philosophies

Miss Scarlet: Why?!
Wadsworth: To create confusion!
Mrs. Peacock: It worked.


Earlier we saw that Babywise attempts to reduce the large array of real parenting options to two polar opposites: Babywise, or anything-goes. As Ezzo embarks on a discussion of feeding babies, he switches to the opposite approach. He flails around wildly in an attempt to make feeding babies seem ridiculously complex and confusing. He works hard to manufacture bewilderment among readers, so the author can then offer a seemingly sensible, clear solution.

“Demand-feeding. Hyperscheduling. Cry feeding. Breastfeeding and bottle. . . . why all the confusion? One reason might be the overabundance of parenting theories. With so many options it is no wonder parents get confused.”

It goes on like that, with Ezzo reaching for odd, academic-sounding terms and italicizing them to emphasize their strangeness: demand-feed, demand schedule, self-regulating schedule, natural feeding, hyperscheduling, rigid feeding, cry feeding, responsive feeding, bottle-feeding. Seriously, he italicizes “bottle-feeding” like it’s an exotic foreign term. He wraps up the obfuscation triumphantly: “Who can decipher all the terms and techniques?” No one, when you describe them Gary.

I Googled these supposed terms of art. The results were not surprising. “Demand feeding” and “Cue feeding” are treated as synonyms – they are two ways to refer to the same practice. A search for “rigid feeding” turned up some articles about whether to demand feed or feed by a schedule, but the term “rigid feeding” as a separate philosophical approach did not appear. All the other terms failed to return any references to them as feeding philosophies, except in articles quoting Ezzo himself.

Here’s the bottom line: the first choice in infant feeding is whether you will nurse exclusively or use formula. The second choice is whether you will feed on demand (looking for baby’s hunger cues and responding), or feed the baby on an imposed schedule. And that’s pretty much it for choosing between feeding philosophies. Everything else is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. And I trust you remember who tells a tale like that.

So why the huge effort to create confusion? It’s simple – the smoke and mirrors are meant to create the illusion that Ezzo’s approach is a sane middle ground. In reality, Babywise is well known as the most rigid, schedule-driven advice around. To dodge this criticism, Ezzo must create a fantasy landscape of crazy, diverse feeding philosophies in which to situate his approach as a sensible compromise.

It seems I’ve written at least a post’s worth on the very first page of this chapter. I think I’ll save the rest for another post. There’s an awful lot of trickery to unpack in this chapter!

Adventures in skeptical parenting

One Million Dollars!

We were watching someone do something magical on a TV show, and Chloe said, “People can’t really do magic, right?”  I told her about the James Randi Education Foundation and their 1 million dollar challenge.  When I told her that anyone who can demonstrate paranormal powers under controlled conditions gets $1M, she immediately started plotting how to fool the judges.  “You could have something in your hand, and then have a trap door down here, and you’d go like this, and it would disappear!”  For the moment, I decided not to address the ethics of this plan, but to point out the practical drawbacks.  I told her that they require controlled conditions, so do you think they would miss the trap door?  I also told her that Randi is a professional stage magician with decades of experience, so the problem would be coming up with a trick he couldn’t see through.  She allowed that that might be difficult.

Christians & Penguins

Chloe was chattering about Christmas, the carols they’re singing at school,* and, most importantly, which Beanie Ball she wanted to buy with her allowance. She couldn’t decide between the penguin and the reindeer.  As she listed the pros and cons of each, she said, “I think most of the Christians in my class like penguins.”  Nonplussed, I said I don’t think Christianity has anything to do with penguins.  I understood that Christianity kind of has a link with reindeer: Christian–>Christmas–>Santa–>reindeer.  But I assured her that there was no Christmas-related penguin lore that I was aware of.

The same week, she read the part of Bridge to Terabithia where May Belle says, “If you don’t believe in God, you’ll be damned to hell!”  Chloe was shocked that such bad words would be in a kids’ book.  So I got to explain that “damn” and “hell” have serious meanings to some people, and not just as swear words.  Then I tried to explain the basics of substitutionary sacrifice, sin, hell, and “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.”  It’s remarkable how hard it is to convey these concepts to a child who hasn’t been indoctrinated as she grew up.  She got stuck on Jesus being Yahweh’s son and Yahweh himself at the same time.  But as she furrowed her brow and said, “That doesn’t make any sense!” I said, “Look, it’s magic, just go with it.”  She accepted that as far as it goes, and now knows a little more about Christian doctrine.  I told her it’s important to understand the beliefs of 80% of your countrymen, and she seemed to get that too.

Luckily, she didn’t ask specifics about what hell is.  The conversation was already pretty dense with new concepts, and I’m glad I didn’t have to tackle that at the same time.  When it does come up again, I plan to use Dale McGowan’s brilliant inoculation against the fear the concept could bring: “Hell is silly.”

Science fair

When Chloe comes home from school, I always tell her to wash her hands.  Recently she countered, “Why? I’m just going to do my homework and get school germs all over my hands again anyway.”  Instead of saying, “Just do what I told you,” or “OK, nevermind,” I said, “You know, we could test whether that’s true.”

Together we’ve worked out a protocol for swabbing her hands at certain times and comparing the amount of bacteria they’re harboring.  We’re going to compare and see if her hypothesis is right.  Not only will it be a kickass science fair project (timing was perfect – the fair is on 1/23), but if it turns out she’s right, I’ll lay off her about washing her hands – at least until she’s done with her homework!

*Yes, they sing carols at her public school.  No, I don’t mind.

Gary Ezzo wants the ta-tas all to himself

I wish I could put a still from the Mitchell and Webb Look sketch, "Bitty." Go look it up, it's hilarious.

OK, having dealt with the obvious flawed premises, logical fallacies, and internal contradictions, I promised to unpack the subtext of Chapter 1 as well. Let me start by simply laying out relevant quotes, and see if you follow these to the same conclusion I did.

“The husband-wife union is not just a good first step toward child-rearing. It is a necessary one. Too often, parents lose sight of this fact, getting lost in a parenting wonderland of photos, footsteps, and first words.”

“Marriage is unique – totally without parallel. It transcends all other relationships.”

“Where the marriage is intact, keeping this relationship a priority is your starting point for successful parenting.”

“Too often when a child enters a family, parents leave their first love: each other. The spotlight shifts to illuminate the children, and the marriage gets lost in space.”

“Date your spouse. . . . Continue those loving gestures you enjoyed before the baby came along.”

See where I’m going with this? And don’t for a minute think that Ezzo is concerned equally with each spouse’s happiness. It seems very clear to me that these are exhortations to a new mother not to focus too much attention on her new baby, but to make sure she keeps her husband satisfied. See: (emphasis added in all quotes below)

“With child-centered or mother-centered parenting, parents intensely pursue the child’s happiness.” Seriously, he just throws “mother-centered” parenting in as an equivalent of child-centered parenting, without comment.

“When you become a mother, you do not stop being a daughter, a sister, a friend, or a wife. Those relationships, which were important before the baby, still must be maintained.”

“Date your spouse . . . The baby will not suffer separation anxiety from one night without mom.”

“If you buy a special something for baby, select a little gift for your mate as well.” Who generally buys items for the baby? Yeah, Mom. Or maybe I should call her Wife.

Oh, and I almost forgot this bizarre statement: “Since infants are entirely dependent on parental care, their dependency creates for new parents a heightened gratification.” What the hell? I can only guess, but this seems to be another jab at mothers being “overly involved” with baby care (i.e., taking appropriate care of a newborn), as though properly responding to an infant indicates some pathological need on the part of the mother. If someone can explain this non sequitur, please enlighten me.

I’ll just quote here the marginal notes I made when I twigged to all this: “OMG! This is written by a man who feared/resented having his boobies/mother figure taken away. What a weak, fearful, grasping man.”

Really. This book seems to have been written by a man so insecure, immature, and petty that he is jealous when his wife buys a present for their baby. So sad. And sadder still that he has conned thousands of people into following his, “NO, I want to be the baby!!!” philosophy, under the guise of responsible parenting.

Babywise, dissected

It’s generally a bad idea to judge things based on hearsay.  And yet, I really hate the Ezzos and their stupid book Babywise just on reputation.  I’ve read enough excerpts and seen enough stories from healthcare providers about babies having Failure to Thrive on this program to make me very concerned about anyone using their advice.

But, in the interest of fully informed vituperation, I obtained a second-hand copy of Babywise.  I started reading it and picking it apart years ago, but then I needed a break.  Well, I’m back in fighting form and ready to proceed.  Obviously I admit that I have a strong prejudice against this going in, but if they make a decent argument I’m willing to change my mind.  And I have no doubt there’s some good ideas in there – even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.  But the whole philosophical basis is of concern, and the arguments they’ve made so far are laughably weak and fallacious.

Reading the Preface, I’m seeing two themes. First, the focus is on results, results, results. And for them “results” means the baby sleeping all night long without any parental intervention, and the mother being well rested. No mention so far of meeting baby’s needs, fostering empathy and closeness, or listening to one’s mothering instincts. The other focus is on how they are right and everyone else is wrong. La Leche League gets called out specifically, and the tone seems to be, “Go ahead, look at what those other methods get you” – any mother who is stressed or tired, and any child that has any behavioral hiccup must be the result of inferior baby training methods.

For me, the biggest problem will probably be differences in basic assumptions. They assume that babies should sleep all night without any intervention, and that tired parents are the greatest problem to be avoided. I assume that babies are primates who are wired to need parental intervention quite often when young, and that this intervention brings benefits. It also becomes less frequent, on average, as the baby matures, and the key at the beginning is finding strategies to deal with the need for intervention, rather than trying to extinguish the baby’s calls for help.

Chapter 1 – Your Baby Needs a Family

First, let me note that Ezzo uses two “examples” of children raised in different ways. I put examples in quotes because they are not real children, just made up characters crafted to support Ezzo’s views. Chelsea has the perfect parents according to Ezzo – married, committed, and bound and determined to be her authority figures, not her friends. Marisa, meanwhile, is apparently the daughter of unmarried lesbian democrats who crave her constant approval and dare not thwart her. Got it? Let’s proceed.

Ezzo starts by painting all other parenting approaches as ineffectual, naive, and downright stupid: “You think [these parents] are too sweet. Too kind. They all have the best of intentions. If wishes and dreams were bright lights and lollipops, every day would be bliss. But there’s much more to parenting than just high hopes.”

He then goes on to lay down the prerequisite to parenthood: good old Judeo-Christian marriage. “The husband-wife union is not just a good first step towards child-rearing. It is a necessary one.” OK, pretty clear – traditional marriage is absolutely indispensable to good parenting. Except two sentences later, when he tells single parents they can use his method too. OK – marriage is completely vital, except it’s not really. I didn’t expect things to go off the rails this quickly.

(Credit where credit is due, I can see a lot of wisdom in promoting a solid pair-bond in parents to make kids feel secure and prevent excessive anxiety. A stable home is important to kids – not the most profound revelation, but I’d say they’re right as far as that goes.  Of course, they’re wrong about it having to be one man and one woman united by holy matrimony, though.)

Assuming you’re starting with a solid heterosexual marriage, Ezzo remarks, “To be a good mom or dad, all you need is to continue as before.” Seems like he is echoing a sentiment that seems prevalent in our culture – having a baby shouldn’t cause even a ripple in your life. Anything a baby does to disrupt your sleep, your schedule, or your leisure time is a problem to be fixed. This is confirmed when he trots out “Marisa” as a bad example. He describes her parents making room for her needs in their lives (not going out for a few months because she doesn’t do well with sitters, and not force-feeding her a food she rejects) summing up with, “Welcome to the circus.” Yes, these parents have done two things to accommodate their baby – mass chaos will surely ensue!

I’m coming to see that Gary Ezzo is extremely fond of the False Dilemma fallacy. In fact, it appears to be the foundation of all his parenting advice. Follow Babywise, and your child will be secure, cooperative, kind, good, charitable, honest, honorable and respectful. She will be “a joy to have around.” Fail to follow Babywise, and instead follow your instincts or “the La Leche League attachment-parenting style” and your parenting will be “disabling . . . emotionally crippling . . . devastating.” You will be catering to your child’s every whim, making her totally self-centered and selfish for the rest of her life.

Clearly Ezzo is unfamiliar with the actual tenets of attachment parenting, which emphasizes loving guidance, which can include using authority and behavior modification techniques. Surely there are parents out there who ascribe to a passive, lazy approach, or who consider their little darling a creative genius not to be squelched with the slightest redirection. But these are by no means essential to attachment parenting. More to the point, wherever attachment parenting falls on the continuum, it is patently true that there is a continuum of parenting choices ranging from the very permissive to the very authoritarian. There are a lot of points on the continuum between Ezzo and utter permissiveness, but he refuses to acknowledge them.

All in all, this first chapter paints a picture of an author terrified of losing control. The implication is that one must keep utter mastery of children, from the moment of their birth, or all will be lost and the child will be unruly, selfish, and miserable forever. To him, placing an infant at the center of attention and care in a family, even for a few weeks or months, is a recipe for disaster, never mind how utterly dependent newborns are.

There is another subtext to this chapter, but I’ll leave it for a separate post, as this is quite long enough already.