Wednesday, 17 October 2007

My Future Career as an Expert

I think when I grow up I'd like to be a child-rearing expert.

I've been watching and enjoying [translation: my partner has been forcing me to watch] Bringing Up Baby, a documentary series examining six real families put into practice certain doctrines on babycare in the interest of finding out "which era got it right": the 50s (the Truby King method), the 60s (Dr. Spock) and the 70s (the Continuum Concept). (It seems like the 40s, 30s and 80s just never got a look in.)

For those not "in the know", the Truby King method is all about routine, discipline, and not allowing the baby to get in the way of your life. The Dr. Spock method is all about doing what you instinctively feel is right. (I think Dr. Spock was just so lazy he couldn't be bothered coming up with advice.) The Continuum Concept was developed by an anthropologist called Jean Liedloff, who visited tribal groups in South America and decided that their methods of bringing up children were just, like, totally organic and natural and awesome, and that parents all over the world should copy them.

By far my favourite is the Continuum Concept. I'm definitely going to put that into practice when I become a child-rearing expert. You can come up with all kinds of spurious, touchy-feely, unproved and best of all unprovable assertions, parcel them all up into one goopy package, and get paid millions for advocating it. Over the past few weeks we've heard, for example:

    • If you put a baby in a crib rather than sleep with it in the bed, it will "develop a sense of wrongness about itself." See what I mean? Just try proving that false.
    • You should carry your baby everywhere you go in a specially designed sling, because that way it will feel properly loved and cared for, and will also be able to take in, sponge-like, all the skills it needs for adulthood. And this is literal. Going to a dinner party at your boss's place? Bring baby along - the other guests won't mind it resting in a sling with you at the dinner table, or if it starts crying, or pukes. Not at all. They'll understand it's all just part of the "continuum".
    • Babies have to be involved in everything - by going everywhere with you, they absorb everything, and thereby become "confident and competent" adults.
    • It's fine for parents to "be physically intimate" with baby in the bed, though, because the baby won't absorb that. It's not old enough to notice, so don't worry about freaking it out. This might sound contradictory to the previous point. But that's the beauty of the Continuum Concept.
    • It's fine to let two-year-olds play with knives, because they will have seen mummy doing that and will understand to be careful not to, say, trip and fall over and impale themselves.
See what I mean? You might call the Continuum Concept half-baked, illogical, and just plain daft, but never fear - there will always be people gullible enough to believe it, and they'll be willing to pay you hand over fist for your "advice".


In other news, Sir Menzies Campbell has been "persuaded" to resign as leader of the Liberal Democrats by his party. Ming Campbell probably isn't very well known abroad, and neither are the Liberal Democrats, who are the perennial third party in British politics, with exactly the kind of wet, floppy image you might expect from their name.

I'm interested in the story because it tells us that there is something very wrong at the heart of Western democratic politics: that image has not only become as important as policy - it has become more important. Ming Campbell is an incredibly intelligent, eloquent, dignified and honourable man, you see; but he's committed the cardinal error of being old. Nearing 70, in fact. And from the moment he was elected leader of the party, he became subject to a cynical, deliberate policy of ridicule by the two main parties - with the collusion of the media - for the sin of not being young.

The British political system seems willing to forgive any flaw in its politicians - you can lie, steal and cheat, and yet still find a home in parliament and even in the heirarchy of your party. But if you don't look smooth, boyish and bouncy, there is nowhere for you to go but the scrapheap.

In resigning, Sir Ming spoke of his frustration at the "quite extraordinary concetration of trivia which seemed to surround leadership". If that isn't an indictment of British politics as a whole, I don't know what is: a serious and heavyweight politician who just wanted to do his job seriously but couldn't escape from the obsession with the thing that matters least - image.


zero_zero_one said...

Why wait until the future, it's clear that you're ready to be an expert now!

Bilbo said...

The plethora of child-rearing theories has been on my mind recently with my daughter's new baby. She (my daughter) is, of course, extremely well-read on all of the latest child-rearing theories, according to all of which, none of us born before, say, 1955, should be alive today. All the things our parents taught us, and we learned to raise our children, are now scientifically proven to be not just wrong, but hideously dangerous to the health and well-being of a helpless infant. It just goes to prove that anyone can be an expert on any topic, with or without knowledge. Just PowerPoint yourself a certificate, add a few letters after your name, and publish your theories. Someone out there will buy anything.

noisms said...

Just PowerPoint yourself a certificate, add a few letters after your name, and publish your theories. Someone out there will buy anything.

That's exactly my goal. I'll be a millionaire before I'm 30. ;)

zero_zero_one said...

With a bit of work you could be a millionaire by the time you're 28, just pull your finger out!