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 (20 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.

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