Love at Goon Park - Livin' the Good Life
Jun. 11th, 2013
12:46 pm - Love at Goon Park
My favorite speaker at the La Leche League conference highly recommended a book called LOVE AT GOON PARK. I bought several books written by the conference speakers at the conference bookstore and ordered GOON PARK off the Internet. GOON PARK gets my vote as the best, hands down. (And they were all good!) I will probably write more about this book as time goes on. I'm only about a third through it, but I can't wait to comment on what I've read so far.
I'll begin with a warning: This is a deeply disturbing book. The scientific content and information is upsetting, but the implications on my own life and history are equally upsetting. This is no reason to avoid the book, however. I think everyone should read it. Like, it's important to know about the Holocaust, even though it's upsetting. We don't want to repeat it, so we need to know about it.
This book was published in 2002, and it's a combination science/history/biography about the life of one scientist from the early 1900s and how he fought a long, hard fight against the prevailing "scientific" beliefs of that time regarding child care. His name was Harry Harlow, and he became obsessed with the problem of children dying like flies in foundling homes and hospitals during that time period. The prevailing scientific belief was that children were dying in such numbers (almost 100%) because of a lack of sanitation. This was before antibiotics or vaccines. So, the medical establishment said that the best way to protect children was to not touch them. Touching caused contamination. The psychologists of the day agreed. If you don't want your baby to die, don't touch them very much. Feed them and keep them clean, but otherwise keep them isolated in their cribs. Do not cuddle, coo, rock, or kiss your baby! That was the mandate. Not only would they be healthier, they will be a pleasure to be around because they won't be demanding. It makes "good" babies. And that is definitely what we want, right?
Here are a couple of quotes, to give you an idea of what the parents of children who were born and raised in the early 1900s in both America and England were being told:
John B. Watson, a psychologist of much influence back then, had beliefs that were in direct opposition to what Harry Harlow would develop later on. He believed that emotions could and should be strictly controlled and that parents and teachers "should concentrate on conditioning and training children." "He dreamed of a baby farm where hundreds of infants could be taken away from their parents and raised according to scientific principles....Ideally, a mother would not even know which child was hers and therefore could not ruin it." He believed that "nothing could be worse for a child than being mothered"... meaning cradled and cuddled. Mothers will cause their children to be weak, fearful and insecure. Mothering even caused "invalidism".
Three million copies of a pamphlet, "Infant Care", were distributed to families all over the country between 1914 and 1925 by the federal government's Child Bureau, responding to parents asking for parenting help. The advice was to "never kiss a baby... especially on the mouth". Never play with your baby. It makes them "restless". A mother should hold her baby quietly. If her arms feel tired, put the baby down. A baby is never to inconvenience an adult. Babies older than six months "should be taught to sit quietly in the crib".
John Bowlby, an English psychiatrist, who was beginning to question these ideas of how children should be treated later wrote, "The baby who is neglected does in course of time adjust itself to the unfortunate environment. Such babies become good babies and progressively easier to neglect."
Harry Harlow did his best to convince his peers that they were wrong about baby care and that children thrived with tender-loving care. It was a long, long time and many experiments later that he was able to change the tide, along with a handful of other scientists that believed as he did. I'll report more on what I learn as I go along. Fascinating.
One thing that kept coming to mind as I read this history is that MY PARENTS were raised with these extreme child-raising ideas prevailing. And probably THEIR parents were raised that way, as well. I, also, was raised with a bit of it. Certainly I was taught not to cry for attention. I cried myself to sleep regularly in the beginning, and I soon learned to comfort myself to sleep. I can't say that was a real boon to my relationship with my mother. But, I did survive it. My mother did cuddle me, and she was an exceptionally warm and affectionate person. So, I don't think I suffered too badly. Still.... I wish she had not let me cry. I bet anything that both she and my dad were left to cry also and were raised with strictness and a certain "hands off" policy, in general. My heart breaks for them.
Another thing that kept coming to my mind regarding this time period is that I've seen so many pictures over the years of children from the early 1900s, all black and white of course, and my first impression is that they don't look well. I've always wondered: What is wrong with those children? They don't look like children today. They don't smile. They look older than they are. They look tired and sad. They look closed off. Could it be the result of not being touched, cuddled, played with, kissed, and generally "loved up" by their mothers and fathers? I think it's entirely possible.