On American Parenting and Independence

by Miriam Katz on February 18, 2011

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I’ve been reading Our Babies, Ourselves, recently, and it really drives home why Americans parent the way they do.

Land of the free, home of the brave. Our country was founded through a popular uprising against the British monarchy. Our credo can be found in the Declaration of Independence. And the economic system we embrace is capitalism, which generally equates to “every man for himself.”

Given that we’re born free and raised to be independent, it makes sense why we proudly pass this value onto our littlest ones – as part of their birthright.

There’s nothing wrong with independence, per se. It’s a value like any other, and like other values it has its pluses and minuses.

On the plus side, a child who learns to tie his own shoes, pour his own drink, and walk his dog is building life skills that create positive self-esteem and set him up for a productive adulthood, when his parents won’t be there to help him with everything.

It’s the minuses of expecting a baby to be independent that worry me.
A baby who is a few months, weeks or even days old, is expected to sleep alone, despite their developing digestive systems being set up for constant nursing.
A baby may be expected to nurse on schedule, and to use a bottle or pacifier whenever possible so as to free up his mother for her own right to independence.
A baby is expected to be able to self-soothe, and babies who demand too much from their moms are described as manipulative, tainting their parents’ view of them.

By assuming that babies are old enough to be independent, we place unrealistic expectations upon them, causing a build up of cortisol hormones that stress babies’ tiny systems when their *dependent* needs are not met.

As a result of our parenting, studies show, children whose needs aren’t met in early childhood become aggressive and, at worst, pathological.

How do we turn the tides on the shadow side of a culture of independence that is gaining popularity as industrialized societies race to become more westernized?

I’d love to hear your ideas on this topic. What other values might we embrace that are more gentle, loving and compassionate to our children?

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Miriam Katz (17 Posts)

A Boston-based WAHM who sees parenting as the most challenging career path she's ever chosen. In her spare time, Miriam is co-author of The Other Baby Book and works as a career and life coach to GenX women and moms.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer February 18, 2011 at 9:12 am

Thanks for this post. I recently have learned that most (if not all) the parents I know, including myself think this way on some level. What we often forget when it comes to children is the saying, “do unto others”. Our western culture tends to forget that children have feelings (developing feelings no less) and should be safe-guarded that much more when it comes to daily interaction. While it’s not something to stress about whether you’re doing it right or wrong, we as parents simply have to ask ourselves if we would want our actions or words done to us. The rest is left then to what our gut tells us.

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Kelle February 18, 2011 at 11:25 am

I loved the article-I believe if you live in a world with other beings-interdependence is a more important virtue!

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Lori February 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I like Kelle’s choice term “interdependence.” I think adults forget that they hate being ignored and pushed aside and are scared their children will end up “wrong.” I have the same difficulties with many in my life. It’s very hard to listen to, but I keep reminding myself: I don’t like being judged about my parenting skills, so what right do I have to judge someone else’s? It’s hard to remember, but I do try.
In terms of teaching my child values, I strive very hard for balance. My husband has the “female complex” of the family, i.e., trying to do and be everything for everyone but himself. And I have two boys. I want them to learn how to give to everyone, including themselves, and only when they can, not when they’re pressured into giving. It’s a tall order, but if having kids was supposed to be easy, everyone would be doing it :)

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