What’s it all about?

What’s it all about?

Simply put, this The Chronicles of Dahlia is about the life and development of my unborn daughter Dhalia, who is currently an 8.5 month old foetus residing in the obliging womb of my dear wife.

But by means of introduction, I think it is useful to tell a story that demonstrates very well what The Chronicles of Dahlia is not about.

The story begins at an ante-natal class at the Royal Free Hospital, London. My 8-month-pregnant wife and I joined a large group of other 8-month-pregnant people and their partners to learn about how not to ruin our imminently arriving babies. In the middle of the class, the midwife asked a question about sleeping positions: “what do people [i.e. you bunch of pregnant women et al.] think are the most important things to consider when putting baby to sleep?”

The room fell awkwardly silent. Presumably, most people try to quietly blend into their background in these sort of situations, hoping not to be called upon to provide an answer. Also presumably, a minority of people try to subtly draw attention to themselves, hoping for the opportunity to display their knowledge without seeming to care about displaying their knowledge. In this case, however, there was someone whose eagerness to voice her fascinating opinions took priority over standard question-answering etiquette.

“I just think-”, she burst out, drawing the eyes of her relieved classmates “-that the most important thing is for people to do what they feel comfortable with. If you feel like the best thing for your baby is to have him next to your bed, or to swaddle, or to have him in a different room, then that’s what you should do. I really feel that it’s so important for mummies and daddies to find their own style and their own way of doing things, and just do whatever feels right to you.”

She managed to keep talking for a good few minutes without communicating much more than the above. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it could be summarised as “good parenting = parenting based on intuitive parental judgement”.

As I hope to demonstrate in forthcoming posts, an apt metaphor for this statement would be a tiny granule of truth buried amidst a steaming heap of garbage. The tiny granule corresponds to the fact that yes, parents’ sense of childrearing autonomy is important[1] and that parental intuitions about what is best for baby may sometimes be a reliable (or at least better-than-nothing)[2] source of information. The steaming heap of garbage corresponds to the fact that there are often far more reliable sources of information about the likely effects of parenting behaviours on children than parental intuition. Parents often make intuitive judgements that are demonstrably false and that, if acted upon, would cause harm to their child. If a parent “feels” that their child would benefit from being denied vaccination or passed through fire in honour of the god Molech, then their feelings should be ignored. Stating that respect for parental comfort in decision making outweighs all other considerations is therefore nonsensical, at least if we assume any parental responsibility to cultivate the health and happiness of their children.

Apparently, the midwife at Royal Free’s ante-natal class disagreed. She saw a tiny granule of truth surrounded by millions of other grains of truth in a veritable heap of truth-gems, glistening beneath a glorious, truth-filled sun powered by the fusion of truth atoms at 111 Truth Street, Truthville, Truthistan, TRU 7H. I exaggerate – but she did ask the “I love parental intuition” lady to stand in front of everyone and repeat what she had already needlessly taken 5 minutes to say.

Fortunately, the midwife then completely contradicted the ILPI lady by describing a number of strict, empirically informed rules relating to baby sleep practices. There was a little room for parental judgement, but some practices were categorically (and correctly) defined as unsafe and unacceptable, regardless of whether they “feel right”.

This captivating tale reveals a tendency that exists among many parents, namely the tendency to rely on intuition and gut feeling above all else, often to the detriment of their children[3]. Across the forums of mumsnet and the communities of baby center; in the playground, in parent support groups and ante-natal classes; in parental advice websites masquerading as respectable institutions whilst peddling pseudoscience and claptrap, the disturbing ideology abounds: trust your gut and nothing else.

In later posts, I’m going to discuss at length the various problems associated with this perspective. But for now, suffice to say that it constitutes the near anti-thesis[4] of what The Chronicles of Dahlia is about. The aim of TCOD is to emphasise the role of science in informing parenting decisions. To be sure, there are websites that already do this[5], probably with much greater comprehensiveness and clarity than I will be able to achieve here. TCOD will (hopefully) be unique, however, in seeking to show empirically informed parenting principles in action over the course of the development of a real, genuine human.

The primary intended purpose of TCOD is to document the attempts of my wife and I to raise our child in the manner that, based on the available evidence and given various practical constraints, will be most beneficial to her. I aim to justify our parenting decisions and to elaborate on the research underlying them.

Note that the first sentence of the above paragraph is worded with a number of caveats. We will attempt to raise Dahlia in the manner dictated by evidence as most conducive to her wellbeing; this is an extremely difficult task, and we may not succeed – but we will try. Our parenting decisions will be based on the available evidence. I will discuss in later posts what exactly I mean by “evidence” (mainly, but not exclusively, data published in peer-reviewed journals). By “available” I do not mean evidence that is technically accessible; I mean evidence that is accessible to my wife and I and that we have the mental capacity and time resources to comprehend and evaluate. And I will set out in later posts what I mean by Dahlia’s “wellbeing”. “Practical constraints” refer to practical factors that may preclude the course of parenting action that is most beneficial to our daughter – it would be great to send her to the most awesome school in the world, for instance, but financial considerations may not be permitting.

Finally, the above is the primary purpose of TCOD, but not the sole purpose. Hopefully, it will be interesting and/or informative for some of the myriads of people on the internet.

So there you go – that’s basically what TCOD is. I might occasionally stray from this theme to write about general issues of relevance to parents or people involved with childcare in some way.

 

 

[1] A sense of autonomy and control over one’s life is central to personal wellbeing, and parental wellbeing is central to the parent-baby bond (O’Donnell et al., 2013; Parfitt et al., 2013).

[2] Intuition is generally a more helpful than harmful guide to accurate judgement (Dane & Pratt, 2007; Dunn et al., 2010). Some maternal and paternal instincts have evolutionary roots, having been genetically transmitted across generations by virtue of their capacity to enhance the likelihood of the child’s successful development (Feldman, 2015). This being the case, we can infer that a parent acting on instinct would be more likely to raise a healthy, happy child than a parent making random parenting decisions.

[3] For instance, parents who rely more on their intuition are less likely to vaccinate (Anderson, 2016).

[4] I say near antithesis in recognition of that tiny little truth granule beneath the steaming heap of garbage.

[5] The best such blog of which I am aware is parentingscience.com

 

 

 

References

Anderson, D. A. (2016). Analytic Thinking Predicts Vaccine Endorsement: Linking Cognitive Style and Affective Orientation Toward Childhood Vaccination.

Dane, E., & Pratt, M. G. (2007). Exploring intuition and its role in managerial decision making. Academy of management review32(1), 33-54.

Dunn, B. D., Galton, H. C., Morgan, R., Evans, D., Oliver, C., Meyer, M., … & Dalgleish, T. (2010). Listening to your heart how interoception shapes emotion experience and intuitive decision making. Psychological science.

Feldman, R. (2015). The adaptive human parental brain: implications for children’s social development. Trends in Neurosciences38(6), 387-399.

O’Donnell, S., Chang, K., & Miller, K. (2013). Relations among autonomy, attribution style, and happiness in college students. College Student Journal47(1), 228-234

Parfitt, Y., Pike, A., & Ayers, S. (2013). The impact of parents’ mental health on parent–baby interaction: A prospective study. Infant Behavior and Development36(4), 599-608.

 

 

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