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Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent Paperback – May 4, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

How we raise our children differs greatly from society to society, with many cultures responding differently to such questions as how a parent should respond to a crying child, how often a baby should be nursed, and at what age a child should learn to sleep alone. Ethnopediatrics--the study of parents, children, and child rearing across cultures--is the subject of anthropologist Meredith F. Small's thorough and fascinating book Our Babies, Ourselves.

Small asserts that our ideas about how to raise our kids are as much a result of our culture as our biology, and that, in fact, many of the values we place on child-rearing practices are based in culture rather than biology. Small writes, "Every act by parents, every goal that molds that act, has a foundation in what is appropriate for that particular culture. In this sense, no parenting style is 'right' and no style is 'wrong.' It is appropriate or inappropriate only according to the culture." Our Babies, Ourselves is a wonderful read for anyone interested in the social sciences, and will be especially meaningful to those swept up in the wild adventure of parenting. --Ericka Lutz --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this thoroughly researched and well-referenced book, anthropology professor Small (What's Love Got To Do with It, LJ 9/15/95) explores ethnopediatrics, an interdisciplinary science that combines anthropology, pediatrics, and child development research in order to examine how child-rearing styles across cultures affect the health and survival of infants. Small describes the different parenting styles of several cultures, including (but not limited to) the nomadic Ache tribe of Paraguay, the agrarian !Kung San society of the Kalahari Desert in Africa, and the American industrialized society. In discussing these societies, she illustrates that although there are numerous ways to care for babies, some cultural norms of care are actually at odds with the way infants have evolved. Thus, parents should expect "trade-offs" when they act in opposition to how babies are designed. Small speculates that the custom of mothers in industrialized nations to wean early or not to breastfeed at all may be responsible for the higher incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, more medical problems and fatalities, and more crying than is commonly noted in babies of more agrarian societies. She urges parents to recognize that although their native culture does have an impact on their parenting, they can adopt aspects of child rearing from other cultures, if they choose. Highly recommended for all anthropology and child development collections and appropriate for general audiences as well.?Ximena Chrisagis, Wright State Univ Libs., Dayton, OH
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (May 4, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385483627
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385483629
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Meredith F. Small is a science journalist, anthropologist, and professor at Cornell University. Her previous books take an anthropological look at parenting, mental health, and human sexuality. She has recently published her first work of fiction, a mystery novel starring police Detective Grace McLeod, a troubled, angry woman trapped in a small college town waiting for someone, anyone, to be killed.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

174 of 175 people found the following review helpful By Richard Berndt on January 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
Although it is isn't a "How to" book, "Our Babies, Ourselves" is by far the best book I've read on baby rearing. Meredith Small presents different cultures' techniques for raising children, then analyzes them using an anthropological perspective. Small examines how these cultures differ in such areas as nursing, where babies sleep, carrying babies, and how quickly to respond to a baby's cries.
Small names specific studies as evidence. She uses research evidence, as well as her experience, to draw conclusions on benefits and drawbacks to these various approaches. She is not "objective" as one reviewer states -- she has her opinions, but she informs the reader what evidence and reasoning she bases her conclusions on.
The main message I get from the "How To" baby books I've read is "You should raise your child the way we say because we're smarter than you." Whether it's "What to Expect the First Year," the Sears books (which I agree with much of) or others (not to mention "Babywise"), the most evidence these authors give is "(unnamed and unexplained) studies say we're right."
Small presents the evidence in favor of quick response when baby is hungry, crying, or has another need. She also favors co-sleeping and slings for carrying babies, based on the research she presents. You can disagree with her conclusions (though I agree with most), but at least she is open with her evidence.
Besides further opening my eyes to other cultures and other ways to raise babies, this book was most beneficial to me in emphasizing that evolution determines how the human race developed and why babies have the needs they do.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 30, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I highly recommend "Our Babies, Ourselves" to any parent interested in an anthropologically and biologically-oriented approach to parenthood, especially motherhood. It provides numerous data on how biology affects the parent-baby relationship as well as the baby's behavior and objectively presents how various cultures (including the United States') worldwide accommodate and/or neglect these biological factors and the impact that accommodation or neglect has on the parent/baby relationship.
I got this book when my baby was 3 months old and for me it confirmed every instinct I had as a first-time mother who knew nothing of raising a child prior to having one. I carry my baby in a pouch any time I can; I breastfeed; I'd let the baby sleep in my bed if I could (my husband and I have a waterbed and it's not safe for babies), etc. All of these behaviors are highly, highly beneficial to babies for specific biological reasons.
This is not a "how to" book, nor does it promote any particular approach to child rearing. It is objective and actually rather academic in nature, yet intriguing and easy-to-understand.
Read the book! It's worth it!
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By AMG on July 5, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love this book! From day one with my son, I felt the instict to breastfed him on cue, hold him all day, and co-sleep with him at night. Needless to say, I received much unwanted and ill-advised advice to do just the opposite. Thankfully I am stubborn and I refused to do anything that went against my mommy instinct. This is a wonderful book that not only validates all of the above practices, but explains why our US culture is so adamantly against them. I have given this book as a gift to moms-to-be to show them that there is another way to parent. Thank you Meredith Small!
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Kimberly on December 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Small's book on the biological and cultural influences on human development and parenting provides some real food for thought. I found it so fascinating that I finished it too quickly and wished I had more to read. The extensive reference list should be helpful in that respect.
It can be so hard to get out of the rut of what you are used to, even when you actively attempt to do so. This book provides some real examples of how parenting is done in other parts of the world, as well as what the biological reality of the infant is (which often clashes significantly with Western practices). I found the anecdotes very helpful for adding to a repertoire of mental responses for various situations - the story of the gorilla raised in isolation from other gorillas who couldn't breastfeed her baby properly (can be used to argue for our society's need to be more exposed to breastfeeding) and the story of the "difficult" and "easy" Masai babies, in which the difficult babies were much more likely to survive a famine because they were best at alerting others to their needs (helpful in arguing with people who think "demanding" babies are bad babies).
I also enjoyed the photographs. A very nice touch.
This was honestly one of the most riveting books I've read. I hope that others will read it and give some of the perspectives a chance.
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Kelly VINE VOICE on January 1, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've really enjoyed this book - its extremely interesting and thought provoking and well written. However, it is also gets pretty in depth into evolutionary science and biology. I have enjoyed that quite a bit and learned an awful lot, but it is definitely not light reading as far as that goes. It is more scientific than I expected, which I actually like a great deal, but it is different from what I originally thought I was buying. This book is less of a "how to raise your child" type book and more of an "evolutionary and biological cross cultural study of infants and children and how different child rearing practices influence personality and culture". Which I found absolutely fascinating myself. I highly recommend the book - but with the caveat that you need time to sit down and concentrate on it, which is hard to do with small children around!
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