Why "Our Babies Ourselves" Is My Favorite Parenting Book
Book Review of Our Babies Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way we Parent by Meredith Small
This is without doubt one of my all time favorite parenting books. I read this when my first son was only about 4 or 5 months old and it really helped me deal with the often unsolicited advice I was given by family and friends regarding how I was mothering my son.
Meredith Small’s analysis helped to put my parenting practices and my mothering intuition into a much larger context–offering an historical, anthropological and evolutionary basis for the kind of parenting that naturally felt right to me. Our Babies Ourselves carefully documents how the practices that today might be referred to as attachment or responsive parenting are actually part and parcel of our species’ biological expectations.
Small’s book suggests that responding to our babies needs through practices such as co-sleeping, baby wearing, and nursing on cue are not products of some new-age parenting style, but instead are rooted in the very biological and evolutionary imperatives of our species.
The breath and reach of this book, for me at least, was crucial. By showing how many AP practices have been the norm across time and place we can more easily place current mainstream approaches to parenting into historical perspective. Most importantly, one can see that the mainstream parenting practices touting cry-it-out; time-outs; formula feeding or early weaning; early sleep independence; and long hours away from mother or the primary caregiver, are themselves very recent inventions driven by historically and culturally specific forces.
Small’s anthropological approach thus helps to reveal just how culturally specific certain practices we take for granted as universal in the West really are. Sleeping away from your child was simply not the norm for most of human history and it remains unusual in many countries today.
In short, Small’s book has the potential to give parents the validation they need (and are too often lacking in today) to parent in a way that meet’s our babies’ biological and physiological needs and expectations. If her book does no more than show readers that what is often advocated by sleep experts, trainers and baby whisperers here in the West is in fact only a recent and culturally-specific innovation generated by particular historical conditions, than she will have done more than her fair share in helping to bring about lasting change in our society’s approach to parenting.
For more info on the book: Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent by Meredith F. Small on Amazon