Thursday, May 24, 2012

Attachment Parenting and The Continuum Concept

     I'd like to say that, having a degree in Antropology that I try to keep up on, or being the vigorous homebirth advocate that I am, or reading as much as I do, I already knew about this book.  But I would be lying. 

      I "heard of it" from an attachment parenting Ryan Gosling meme on Pinterest.

      I find the Ryan Gosling things really amusing even though (*gasp*) don't really know who Ryan Gosling is or why people attach all these grin-worthy feminist and AP taglines to his (admittedly super hot) pictures.

      Anyway, I can't find that particular Gosling pic now, but it was something along the lines of the one above, but involved tea and The Continuum Concept, and I thought, "how have I never heard of an attachment parenting book well known enough to show up here?"  And I immediately Googled it.  And I had ordered the book in the space of an hour (sadly, it was not available in ebook format so I had to wait for it to be delivered).

       As soon as it arrived, I excitedly dug in.  And I was not disappointed.  At first.  Then I was.  Then my faith was restored.  Only to be dashed again - but once again resurrected ...  And so on.

      In short, I'm up and down on this book.

      The basic precept, the concept I totally and completely get behind, is honoring and abiding by the instinctive needs of an infant.  The essentially equates to an "in arms" phase for the first 6 - 8 months of the baby's life during which the child's ancient and inherent need to be carried and touched is respected.  The baby is carried around with the caregiver most of the time and also sleeps next to her/his mother.  Once the child starts becoming mobile, the child is allowed to explore and progress at their own pace - neither restricted nor pressured.

       The overarching focus of this all being trust in the instincts of the child.  This makes perfect sense to me, as I believe that many adults in our culture feel out of touch with their parenting instincts - hence the rampant reliance on parenting books and gurus.  I think a much better answer than the book of the moment is to look to the child who, by virtue of their developmental state and lack of awareness of the pulls of the culture, is much more in tune with their own insticts.

      Babies know what they need.  They need protection (touch) of a caregiver.  They need food when they are hungry (not at arbitrarily scheduled times), they need to be clean and at an acceptable temperature.  They know when they are ready to creep, crawl, and pull up, it it would never occur to them to question the timing of this.  So rather than waste time worrying about what some book or guru says, the wisest place to lay your trust is with ancient and nearly perfect instincts of your child.

      That concept, what I feel to be at the very base of The Continuum Concept, I truly and thoroughly believe.  Indeed, I believed it even before I discovered this book.  If you need convincing, there are some passages in this book that will completely tear at your heart and SHOW you what it feels like to be a child deprived of your basest need for near constant contact.

      That is, if you don't get sidetracked by the other stuff in this book.  The Continuum Concept was first published in the '70's, and that comes through in the book.  The author, Jean Liedloff, references psychology doctrines that have long since been largely abandoned.  She makes some statements about homosexuality that made me reach into the book and shake someone.  Her style of writing can get a little hauty and overthought at times.

      Essentially, at every point where she is talking about babies, I'm pretty much on board, but when she tried to translate those concepts to adults, I think she failed.  As far as I know, Ms. Liedloff was/is not a trained as a psychologist, sociologist, or anthropologist.  That doesn't mean her work isn't still impactful and insightful, but the great flaws in her attempts to translate her revelations about infant care to the pains of adult life bear witness to a certain lack of - roundedness.

       Ms. Liedloff's inspiration for the book came from spending a cumulative 2 1/2 years among the Yaquana tribe in the Amazon river basin.  She was astounded by the difference between the children and babies of these tribes and the behaviour of infants and children in our own culture.  The children in these "primitive" cultures were calm, quiet, content, and had an inherent confidence and happiness that she had never before witnessed. 

     Ms. Liedloff credited, quite rightly, I believe, these peaceful, happy traits in the children to the "primal" methods of care observed by the Yaquana - a complete in-arms phase where babies are in near constant contact with their cargivers, moving around, observing, always safe, but not coddled.  They are protected and touched without being the center of attention.  As they begin to move about on their own, they are given unrestricted and undoting freedom coupled with an unerring availability of the caregiver should the child feel the desire.

      There are points when she took it a little far (in my opinion).  She related stories of watching babies crawl around near deep pits and play with knives and fire as examples of trusting a toddler's inherent instincts toward self protection.  She posits that children hurting themselves is basically a self-fulfilling prophesy put forth by the parents with statement like "you'll cut yourself."

       I am torn on this concept.  On the one hand, I see the benefit in allowing a child a wide lattitude of freedom, avoiding undermining the child's responsibility for self protection with overbearing watchfulness.  Especially that - letting the child feel that the child is resonsible for her/his own safety so as to maximize awareness of risks.  BUT I do not think that justifies allowing small children to enter into inherently dangerous situations like playing with knives or being unwatched.  I also think that Ms. Liedloff failed to take into account some of the differences in culture (like kidnappers and dangers that children never see adults deal with, so do not understand how to avoid).

      The author also took the concept of the "Noble Savage" a little too far, striving to classify any exception to her notion as something caused by encounters with other cultures.  I do feel that there is MUCH to be learned from cultures and individuals who exist in a manner that might be called more in line with our evolutionary path - or something more sensical and eloquent, but basically less distorted by globalization, mass media, self-help books, and a culture of second guessing.  However, I think it is not only misguided and self disparaging, but also very disrespectful of these other cultures to speak of them as if their way of life is primitive or solely creditable to their isolation from our culture.

      For all it's flaws, I think this work - the portions of it dealing with the Continuum and the in-arms phase - gains much from continuing revelations and discoveries about child rearing and the needs of babies.  Ms. Liedloff's understandings of the importance of contact, in-arms involvement, lack of pressure on very young children to develop at a particular pace or in a particular manner, and responsiveness to a baby's cues are all strongly and continually born out by studies in skin-to-skin contact, after birth interaction, breastfeeding, bedsharing (by mothers not using alcohol or drugs), infant development, and a myriad of other topics.

     In that way, this book fit in perfectly with the growing body of wisdom supporting "natural" or "attachment" parenting.

      I could go on at length about many of the concepts and intricicies of this book, both the ones I liked, and the ones I didn't, but I feel I have gone on enough.  I do not recommend this book as highly as I might some others, but I DO recommend it for soon to be parents and anyone interested in child development and natural or attachment parenting.  Take some parts with a grain of salt and the knowledge that this book was written in a different time, but pay very particular attention to the author's skillful and stirring description of the young lives of babies.

     The long and short of it is this:  Trust in the unpolluted instincts of babies.

      For more information, including excerpts from the book and many other articles and interviews by the author, visit the Continuum Concept website.


MiMi said...

I'm up and down on the whole concept...I agree with it to a certain degree...but sometimes it gets whacky.
Also, I don't understand the weird feminist taglines on the Ryan Gosling pics either...I do know who he is but I still don't get it.

Emmy said...

I like your review of this- I have never read the book, but you can tell you put a lot of thought into it. And yes, kids do need to learn natural consequences but I sure as heck am not going to let my baby or my kids play with sharp knives.

Stacy Uncorked said...

Trust in the unpolluted instincts of babies." Amen to that! I'm finding with our 4-year old foster child (soon-to-be-adopted) that there's a significant difference between him and how our daughter was at that age - and it's not just boy vs. girl. I can only imagine how his baby-hood was considering his mother was (and is) a drug addict and alcoholic, and before the state stepped in and intervened when he was 2, they were living in drug houses and on the streets. His sleep patterns and behavioral modes show that his unpolluted instincts weren't paid attention to (especially considering his bio-mom is a "me, me, ME!" personality.) We have our work cut out for us, but he's making great strides - and in spite of his 'earlier' years, is a very happy and bright child. :)