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Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and…

Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent

by Meredith Small

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I read this for an anthropology class at my university. Although I'm many many years away from parenting, I consider reading it a paradigm-shifting moment. I have so many ideas now about how I want to raise my children. And although I try not to be a proselytizing student of anthropology, I cringe whenever I see babies crying alone in their strollers, neglected by their caregivers and the world around them. I have to resist the urge to shove this book in the parents' faces. Please parents and future-parents of the world, put down your [b:What to Expect When You're Expecting|174703|What to Expect When You're Expecting|Heidi Murkoff|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1298458822s/174703.jpg|257399] and read [b:Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent|407854|Our Babies, Ourselves How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent|Meredith Small|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1320470493s/407854.jpg|397161] instead. ( )
  IAmChrysanthemum | Jun 8, 2013 |
this is such an incredible book, despite its unfortunate title (it has nothing to do with the classic "our bodies, ourselves"). it is an anthropological look at parenting and is supported by evolutionary biology too. it is full of interesting facts, many pertaining to our unique (and sometimes bizarre) american parenting practices, such as putting babies to sleep in their own rooms. however, it does not take a judgmental tone and is neutral in its presentation of facts of child-rearing across cultures. i learned so much from reading this (for example, SIDS and colic are virtually unheard of among people who hold their infants more often, nurse regularly, and sleep next to them at night) and enthusiastically recommend it. ( )
  julierh | Apr 7, 2013 |
I will preface my review by saying that I recognize that I might be biased about this book because it reinforced many things about parenting that I already believe.

That being said, I really found this book enlightening. Small, an anthropologist at Cornell University, outlines research done here in the West about parenting practices and the nature of human infancy and describes parenting practices in cultures around the world. Her basic premise is that, while parents (and even those without children) often believe that there is a "right" way and a "wrong" way to raise children, what is right and wrong in parenting varies dramatically across cultures.

As a mother, I find myself now looking at my relationship with my daughter through a cultural lens. This book has helped shift my perspective so that I feel better able to recognize when I'm doing something contrary to the best interests of my family because of cultural influences, and I feel more free to make choices that contradict those paths deemed right by my culture. I've actually reevaluated our family's sleeping arrangements when I realized that the changes I had made and was planning to make in the near future were more based on cultural pressures than on what seemed right for my family.

I especially appreciated the inclusion of James McKenna's research on cosleeping/infant sleep. Small's discussion of SIDS was much more logical and based more on research and evidence than a lot of the information parents receive about SIDS from physicians and public health agencies, which is often way too dependent upon scare tactics, in my opinion.

For those interested in reading more about James McKenna's research and about safe cosleeping, check out his 2007 book, Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent's Guide. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Dec 31, 2012 |
This book provides a fascinating perspective on the effects of biology on culture and vice versa. The author cites studies, and provides explanations of biological processes, that all relate to the questions of how babies grow, develop, and learn, and how the different attitudes toward childrearing in different cultures affect babies, adults, and society. There is some really interesting information here and it is especially enlightening to read about other cultures -- some fairly similar to ours, some radically different -- and how people in those societies conceptualize babies, parenthood, infant behavior, and so forth.

As a parent in modern Western society, if you are familiar with the concepts/philosophies of "attachment parenting," you will find a lot of the ideas in this book familiar and validating. From that perspective it can sometimes feel like the author is subtly pushing an agenda -- this might be the book itself, or might just be in the eye of the beholder. Certainly the author does a good job of presenting the pro's and con's of particular parenting practices from the perspective of the Western world (for example: breast-feeding is widely acknowledged as superior nutritionally, but can be difficult to manage in the context of a working parent's lifestyle). What is perhaps most interesting about this book is the way it really highlights the fact that most things we might think of as universal -- our ideas of how a baby "should" fit into a family unit, how parents "should" raise a child, and so forth -- are very much cultural constructs. This book is bound to get any intelligent person thinking, and prompt him/her to take a hard look at his/her assumptions about parenting, and about society's attitudes toward children in general.

As another reviewer wrote, the book does get repetitive at times and tends in certain sections to rely too heavily on a single researcher or study. In a few places the same information is reiterated repeatedly over the course of a chapter or section. On the whole, though, it's a very worthwhile read for anyone, parent or no. ( )
  mamajoan | May 7, 2008 |
A great introduction to ethnopediatrics (the study of how culture and evolution affect parenting). My judgement is skewed by the fact that my wife read this first and couldn't bear to not talk about the content :) Small can be repetitive at times and relies on the same cultures, but her work seems very well researched and thought out. A great sensical assesment of what every parent should learn: don't let culture necessarily override the evolutionary symbiotic relationship of parenting. ( )
  VVilliam | Jan 28, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385483627, Paperback)

How we raise our children differs greatly from society to society, with many cultures responding differently to such questions as how a parent should respond to a crying child, how often a baby should be nursed, and at what age a child should learn to sleep alone. Ethnopediatrics--the study of parents, children, and child rearing across cultures--is the subject of anthropologist Meredith F. Small's thorough and fascinating book Our Babies, Ourselves.

Small asserts that our ideas about how to raise our kids are as much a result of our culture as our biology, and that, in fact, many of the values we place on child-rearing practices are based in culture rather than biology. Small writes, "Every act by parents, every goal that molds that act, has a foundation in what is appropriate for that particular culture. In this sense, no parenting style is 'right' and no style is 'wrong.' It is appropriate or inappropriate only according to the culture." Our Babies, Ourselves is a wonderful read for anyone interested in the social sciences, and will be especially meaningful to those swept up in the wild adventure of parenting. --Ericka Lutz

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:07 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"In the winter of 1995, in a dimly lit room in Atlanta, Georgia, I witnessed a birth. Not the birth of a baby, but of a new science, ethnopediatrics." Thus begins Dr. Meredith F. Small's new book on the study of parents and infants across cultures and the way different caretaking styles affect the health, well-being, and survival of infants. Each culture, and often each family, offers advice and directives on the right and wrong way to raise and care for infants, from feeding, interaction, and emotional support to mandating what is normal in terms of infant sleeping, crying, and more. Yet scientists are finding that what we are taught is the right way to parent our children is often based on nothing more than cultural tradition - and may even run counter to a baby's biological needs. Written for parents and science lovers alike, Our Babies, Ourselves shows what makes us bring up our kids the way we doand what is actually best for babies.… (more)

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