Bringing up Baby

I’ve started this blog to provide a space to explore the development of the modern-day “self”.   All are welcome.  This is a space to explore, to consider, to think,  and wonder aloud what it is that makes us who we are.

It appears to me that in some regard current narratives have become more popular in explaining us to ourselves.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but my sense is what is currently happening in today’s world is growing faster than we can adequately understand.  This lack of sufficient understanding produces in our culture a massive increase in anxiety.  And anxiety must be neutralized if we are to function in the day to dad world.

My concern is that due to dramatic increases in anxiety, we as a culture our more likely to be attracted to narratives of identity that seek to reintroduce into our chaotic lives a restored coherence.   Obviously social/interpersonal coherence is a subjective experience; it simply means that overall we feel that life makes, if not total sense, than at least enough sense to where we can relax and pay attention to issues beyond the protection of the immediate self.

My concern is we haven’t reached a place where we feel life makes enough sense to where we can take our eyes off our own existential concerns.   More and more, identity narratives are popping up everywhere to fill this need for personal meaning.  They are here to connect us to each other and restore to us a sense of safety.   Unfortunately, these transitional, and newly emergent narratives are now in a relative state of infancy, they haven’t lived long enough to have relaxed in their positions.  These narratives are brand new, like babies, crying and demanding that all prior narratives be dropped.

A baby crying stops us in our tracks.  A baby crying cannot take care of itself.  We go to it, and are wired to protect it from predators.  Over time, caring for this demanding creature provides us with a strong sense of purpose and direction.  We feel valued and worthwhile and good for managing and tending to the innocent and vulnerable.  We forget about ourselves and take solace in the fact that we are keeping the baby alive, growing the baby.

But then the baby grows, and becomes a toddler and we realize we need to begin socializing it and teaching it how to get along with others.  But often times, for our own private reasons, sometimes due to trauma or grief or loss, some of us have a difficult time teaching the baby to acknowledge the world beyond itself.  We don’t want to hurt or upset the baby.  We are afraid the baby won’t be able to survive the truth that it is not the center of the universe.  So we keep the baby there.

I feel that many of today’s self and identity narratives are performing the roll of the indulged child.  We are spoiling our own selves, and those attached to these narratives, out of fear.  We have grief and sorrow and loss and unfairness in our world, we have these realities to contend with, but it seems we believe the baby will give up all together and refuse to live at all if we ask it to address these aspects of the current world. In our fear of what has become of our world, its current lack of adequate coherence, we know that some do need the protection of a parental narrative, a narrative that shields and protects and neutralizes anxiety, that swiftly if not bluntly organizes the surrounding chaos.   Unfortunately, these sorts of interim narratives, while introducing an essential and much needed safety, are unable to accommodate the demands and uncertainty inevitably induced by critical thinking.

As a baby’s most basic needs take precedence over that of an adults, what is to become of a society in which the thought leaders come to assume the psychological role of parent/protector/guardian?  I’m honestly curious.  Are our leaders becoming bad parents, the kind that in my work I need to help learn to “set boundaries”.  The kind that are “enmeshed” with their unruly child?  The kind of parent that conceives of him or herself as very good, a rule follower, but then for mysterious reasons permits his child to behave aggressively.

I’m curious about all this stuff.

I think we need a place to get philosophical, to care, and ask ourselves what we are doing by permitting ourselves to privilege infantilizing narratives that by their very nature preclude the exchange of more flexible and inclusive narratives.

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Bringing up Baby

4 thoughts on “Bringing up Baby

  1. prozac says:

    I think of myself as someone with a decent capacity for critical thought; the world can be a lonely place in this sense. It’s nice to see others questioning the paradigm. I think we’ve removed ourselves so far from our natural state that we’ve lost our sense of purpose. I think our bodies want to be moving, accomplishing or fulfilling something that our brains cannot, something no amount of introspection or internet can achieve for us. Thank you for opening this space and my apologies if this comment is a bit disjointed, you’ve just got me thinking…

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    1. Hi Prosac, please forgive the delayed response to your thoughtful comment. I thought I had responded and then saw today what I had written some weeks back never posted (so much for blogging on one’s phone). I do agree with you, we do seem to be moving further and further from our natural states. This does lead to questions about purpose, where does it come from, must we manufacture it?

      It seems we’ve turned some wild corner, and what was once unheard of is now no longer questioned, in fact it is considered incorrect to question. That we are no longer permitted to question strikes a deep fear in me. In the not so distant pas, where the new and unknown was concerned, it was more than simply acceptable to consider, to wait, to be cautious; it was, in the deepest sense, believed to be “right” to stand aside and notice the movement of the herd. By “right” I mean, caution in the face of extreme novelty was believed to be useful to the world. To be so aware was to display a kind of mental independence, a kind of rugged jungle intuition. To be aware meant you were on alert, conscious of the nature of predators, willing to risk one’s own peace of mind to protect those more likely to be preyed upon. In the past our society valued us for being ‘watch dogs’, for demonstrating our capacity not to be duped of swayed. Critical thinkers were understood to be necessary at one time, an important safeguard not just for the individual, but for the safety of the group.

      And this critical thinking was never born of mere introspection; the most powerful form of it was always rooted deeply in the body, the truths lodged there. Our sharpest understanding had to be the product of our lives fully lived, the product of our first home. Our truth is written on and in our very flesh. Of course this sort of corporeal truth couldn’t be directly communicated with words, it took the skill of translators, those capable of living inside their flesh and also transcribing those physical truths in a language recognizable by others. Perhaps this is where the original idea of gender “norms” was first established, from the urge to translate a shared language of the body. But language can be crude, and blunt, language can miss things.

      Perhaps the trans narrative comes to expand upon what has become the reified the language of the body, but rather than enlarging the language to suite the body, it is altering the body to suite the imperfect and limited language.

      Just thoughts….

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  2. Laura says:

    Here’s my thought: our cultural identity crisis is probably at least in part the result of the shift to a widespread use of daycare in early infancy, which happened about 30 years ago. So, on top of rapid cultural changes, the loss of our natural rhythms, and the over-saturation of media, we have, facing these formidable forces, many attachment-impaired kids who did not get their dependency needs met at the appropriate time. I think this fuels the trigger warning PC-ness we currently see on college campuses. The “you aren’t allowed to do anything to challenge me or you are attacking me” attitude.

    Bruce Perry makes the point that in a typical hunter-gatherer society, there would be roughly a 4:1 ratio of adults to children under 6, living together and interacting together all the time. Now, a top-flight daycare might at best have a 1:4 ratio. (In grade school it drops to 1:25 or so.) But for infants, that’s 1/16 the amount of adult attention and modeling available than what the kid in a tribal society would have had, not to mention that there is no familial consistency with a paid caregiver.

    Babies have a developmental template that unfolds with appropriate interpersonal experiences. I believe the kind of eye to eye, one on one, skin to skin intimate experiences of primal babyhood are accessible to very few children today. Our rate of extended breastfeeding is a pretty good metric for how many babies are getting anything close to ‘Paleo’ parenting. I think a baby who learns from 0-3 that people come and go, and nobody has all that much time for him, must start in a very lonely psychic place.

    This is a pretty hard opinion to voice, both due to the ubiquity of daycare and the fact that economic privilege is a factor in use of daycare. But I feel like small babies trying to attach deserve a voice.

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here, Laura. I’m sure the lack of hearty early attachment or the loss of it in our parenting is related to so much – we can’t even begin to know. Strong attachment between mothers and their infants is inhibited for so many reasons – but now because of daycare it is made more difficult. Of course this is a troublesome fact to note as you say, many cannot or feel unable to retain the care of their infants.

      As one who has chosen to privilege in my own life (as much as possible) the rhythms of my own body, I felt great distress and incredulity at the thought of leaving the care of my daughter with another. This seemed like something there would be consequences for ignoring – for me those early years with my child literally developed critically undeveloped aspects of my person – to me it was worth well the economic sacrifice, which it was.

      I don’t think we’re going to turn back the daycare norm, but there will always be those who seek to privilege the language of the body, to know and speak that language, in doing so they will pass the inheritance of that language, it’s unparalleled authority, on to their children. That is the privilege that won’t be named. To be deeply loved and known before you know yourself is the unspeakable inequality. You can’t compare being tended to by ones own mother (if she is reasonably fit and attuned, which most mothers are), to being cared for by a revolving door of even the kindest of strangers.

      However, I think the rise of trigger warnings might be related to much more than universally sub par attachment conditions – though I’m very intrigued by your relating of the two. PC culture is born of Marxist ideology – which fuels itself on the resentment of its followers. Who is more resentful than the one who secretly fears he has been rejected, who suspects in his heart of hearts that he is unloved? I’m not saying people don’t think themselves loved in the abstract, but that kind of knowing can’t compete against that wordless sense of knowing the same , it is no rival for those who “just know” they are “with others” and the knowing is not easy to explain or even share or import into others who haven’t experienced it. This privileged knowing is literally the original author of the fiber of their being. It organized their being – it is almost like a god like experience. Perhaps this is part of the origin of the religious experience?

      Does that knowing come from deep within the sacred realm pulsating and full of breath, the attachment realm, or does it come from being given more things? I would argue you can’t prove you love (love is too abstract – I mean prove your commitment – or constancy) your child or bypass the requirement of bodily presence – it’s impossible. But people think they can and they also think they must. They often do not see the value in their own body, their own presence. They can’t see their worth to their child until it is monitized. So they provide for the child things , which are only symbols of the parent’s body. But sadly, the language of symbols is for the most part lost on young children.

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