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Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent Paperback – May 4, 1999
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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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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I was hoping for an anthropological take on the subject and got it. OUR BABIES, OURSELVES also quotes from a number of scientific studies. If you never read scientific nonfiction, you may not enjoy this approach. If, like me, you do, then I think you will find this one a page-turner. OUR BABIES, OURSELVES kept me awake a long plane trip where I had expected to do much more sleeping! I called my husband to share bits and pieces that had me excited and thinking in a new way, and got him thinking too!
A quick glance at other reviews tells me that some people found OUR BABIES, OURSELVES overly prescriptive. I did not. I found it less prescriptive than some of the other parenting books I have taken a look at. While Small does come down favoring parenting that lines up more with the rest of the world (co-sleeping, more touch, responding rather than letting children "cry it out"), I found the sketches of parenting practices in a variety of cultures empowering. They were not all identical. The take away message, at least for me, is to listen more to the child and less to western prescriptions for "getting parenting right."
I highly recommend OUR BABIES, OURSELVES. It is a fun read, and a book that will make you think!
you read it more efficiently.
- Like most non-fiction the first third of the book lays the ground
work but can be boring (kind of like the first two years of undergrad
classes). You can skim the first two chapters if you want.
- Chapter three is where things start to get good.
- I especially like the sections of the book on crying, sleeping, and
eating. The author can get a bit preachy at times but she provides
good evidence and always cites her sources.
- The section on temperament was the only really boring part and can
be skipped in my opinion.
- The last quarter of the book is notes, so it's not as long as it seems.
Overall the book was extremely interesting and mostly validated how I
want to raise our kid, and more importantly it gave me good ammo for
arguing with people (mainly my family!) about why I'm "right" ;)
For instance, in our society we take for granted that babies should sleep in cribs and often in their own rooms, but it is startling to realize that this practice has only been around for the last 200 or so years in Western civilization, that babies still sleep with their mothers in the vast majority of cultures in the world today, and that this is what humans have done for ages over the course of our (successful) evolution. It points out the contrast between our cultural practice of infant solitary sleep and how infants have evolved biologically to sleep in close proximity to their mothers. This data leads us to question whether our modern cultural practices are actual compatible with the biological needs of infants, and what is actually best for meeting the needs of infants.
This relationship between culture and biology is the theme that guides the rest of the book. In addition to sleep, two other topics which are central to the lives of infants are covered: eating and state (crying, temperament, etc.) Each of these chapters was packed with interesting information from historical, evolutionary, cultural, and scientific perspectives. Some of the parts that stood out to me in the "eating" section were learning about weaning ages from a biological (looking at humans within the spectrum of other primates) and cross-cultural perspective (ranging from 2.5 to 7 years old), as well as the history of breastfeeding and formula in Western culture. I was also interested to learn that "insufficient milk" syndrome only has a physical cause in 5% of the reported cases and is not found anywhere other than Western industrialized nations. Rather, its cause is usually associated with separation from the mother at birth, interval feeding (rather than feeding on cue or "demand"), and artificial milk presented as a reasonable alternative. Such insights, if properly applied, could help us to prevent this frustrating problem for many mothers.
Another eye-opening topic was crying. Crying is accepted in Western culture as normal and expected for babies, but in many cultures babies hardly cry at all. Studies have shown that what helps babies to cry less is human contact- picking up a crying baby, promptly feeding a baby that is crying out of hunger, and carrying the baby for more hours of each day. This may sound like common sense, but it is not the mainstream way that babies are cared for in Western culture. Rather, babies' cries routinely receive delayed responses and "cry-it-out" is a popular and widely accepted sleep training method for infants.
It frustrates me that as many advances as have been made in Western civilization, in many ways it has failed us so miserably. I wish I lived in a culture in which I could trust the mainstream cultural practices for infant care (and everything else), but unfortunately that's not the reality we live in. By broadening our perspective on infant care to cultures across the world and our evolutionary history, this book allows us to view our own culture in a new light and begin to look more closely at what is actually best for our children.
The information and perspectives shared in this book went well beyond what you would find in a normal "Parenting" book, and it kept me interested from beginning to end. I highly recommend this book for parents and non-parents alike.