As a mother who threw out Gina Ford after a few weeks with baby one but has just had her first good night sleep in 14 months after 3 nights of controlled crying with number two I have a lot to say about Jay Griffith’s article in the British Guardian. The article is promoting her book, Kith: The Riddle Of The Childscape in which she makes the argument that societies ‘micromanagement’ of children is spoiling them by inflicting too many constraints leading to unhappy children.
Freedom or boundaries?
“Children need wild, unlimited hours, but this time is in short supply for many, who are diarised into wall-to-wall activities, scheduled from the moment they wake until the minute they sleep, every hour accounted for by parents whose actions are prompted by the fear their child may fall behind in the rat race that begins in the nursery. Loving their child, not wanting them to be lifelong losers, parents push them to achieve through effective time-use. Society instils a fear of the future that can be appeased only by sacrificing present play and idleness, and children feel the effects in stress and depression.”
I think the essence of what she says about leaving your kids alone is bang on – but it has to be put into the context of the world we live in. I have a very free-spirited child and I completely take on board what she is saying about the relationship between freedom and childhood happiness. But all children need boundaries. My daughter would just run off and never come back if I didn’t set those boundaries. Unfortunately, we live in a society where not very nice things happen to children and although I would love to let my children ‘roam’, I just can’t trust the world we live in. Perhaps I am exactly the mother Griffiths is making the point about but we do go outside, we do play, we are lucky to live near the beach and my children run (and crawl) but supervised.
Self-regulation or control?
In the book Griffiths continues: “Among Inuit and Sami people, there is an explicit need for children to learn self-regulation. Adults keep a reticent and tactful distance. A child “is learning on his own” is a common Sami expression. Sami children are trained to control anger, sensitivity, aggression and shame. Inuit people stress that children must learn self-control – with careful emphasis. The child should not be controlled by another, with their will overruled, but needs to learn to steer herself or himself.”
Although I do concur entirely with the idea that children need to learn self-regulation. It is our duty as parents to teach them how to be well-rounded, selfless, caring and social individuals. I have a very wilful toddler and without implementing tried and tested parenting tatics like time out I would be completely ruled by her. I don’t know how else she is supposed to ‘learn’ these things without my guidance? I’d be interested in the tactics the Inuit and Sami use!
Controlled crying or cuddles?
Griffiths dismisses controlled crying, or Ferberisation in the book. A few months ago I would have been with her but 14 months into child number two who also does not sleep through the night I have tried it and got results.
I disagree with Griffiths that the main motivation for parents doing controlled crying is work. My main work is my kids. I am a working from home mum of two who lives on the other side of the world from her family. I have no support and for the last year I have survived on 5 to 6 hours sleep a night. I live in a two bedroom place and I want my bedroom back – so my main motivation is sleep and privacy!
I have not read the book, but can’t help but think that although the point she is making about the Tojolabal-speaking Maya people of Chiapas in Mexico and the Aché people – forest nomads in Paraguay is interesting, these references are irrelevant in the developed world. I am not alone in having little family support so I am, like many others, the only one to hold the baby. I only have two arms so one has to be left to cry, sometimes…sorry number two but it’s you most of the time.