Monday, December 10, 2007

Are we reparenting ourselves?

This was another interesting passage from Judith Warner's Perfect Madness (pp. 104 - 106):
What became obvious to me after listening to these women was that much of what we do these days in the name of perfect motherhood is really about "reparenting" ourselves. It's about compensating for the various forms of lack or want or need or loneliness that we remember from our childhood.

I'd agree with this statement in so far as how we act is usually influenced by how we've been treated in the past. My mother used to yell at us a lot probably because of the stress (I don't really know) but I made an effort to remember to not to do this when I became a parent. No one really likes being yelled at but sometimes I do lose control (and it's more often than I'd liked) and I'm afraid of the effect it would have in future on the kids.

Later on the next page:
Why did attachment theory take root so deeply -- and how did things get so out of control? Jerome Kagan, the Harvard University child psychologist, has some interesting theories. He argues, in part, that attachment theory became so big -- so very life-defining -- in our time because it reinforced what we naturally feel to to be true about babies (they need their mothers). Partly, he says, it was accepted by the psychological establishment and has endured so well because, in a "soft" field of science always eager to produce demonstrable results, the major testing method of attachment theory -- Mary Ainsworth's Strange-Situation test, which could evaulate babies in a laboratory setting to see whether they were "securely" or "anxiously" attached to their mothers -- was easy to carry out and replicate.

My take is that attachment theory is very intuitive and I remember feeling lonely up through my elementary school years without my mom and yes, it does affect how I feel we should take care of our kids. (Our as in ours not generally.) Even having her around but napping was better than not having her around and in the later years we did grow up in some "latchkey" manner which I am afraid of doing to our kids. This has very little to do with testing of the theory and all of it is due to personal experience. I actually take tests with some skepticism as with all standardized tests -- for instance, does it really measure what we want it to measure? Is the construction of the test really valid (not in terms of its psychometric properties) but does it translate into some measure of insecurity that is intense and long lasting and affects us into the future. In other words, does it affect their lives as adults? After all, I've seen books that say that kids are resilient and can survive many things that are thrown at them by life's experiences.

On p. 106 she writes:
Social science doesn't exist in a vacuum. It doesn't spring from an absolute universe of "pure" inquiry and observation. Instead, it tends to hew closely to social anxieties -- what Kagan calls "historical nodes of worry." And these nodes of worry determine not only what social scientists study but, often enough, what results they find (because of the way research is focused), and also, afterward, which of their findings are picked up by the media, and, which ideas take hold and became popular with the public at large.

Again, I'd agree with this. Research funding is partly funded by organizations that have a tendency to want to find something in particular and they will in general keep looking (and funding) until they find it. Also the funding may become part of some politicized process. She goes into this somewhat in her book -- about how general economic and security anxieties translated into the need to control our environment and protect our children and shaped our beliefs as to what is best for them. I actually found this to be the weaker part of the book.

No comments: