When Mr Justice first burst into our lives six and a half years ago and I was struggling – like, really struggling – to get out of my pyjamas of a week, someone suggested I look at “The Contented Little Baby Book” by Gina Ford.
From memory, Ms Ford’s advice included gems like “place your child in a dark room, half-swaddled, no later than 11:45am” and “wake them up no later than 1:00pm” but without actually giving you much clue about what to do if they wouldn’t go to sleep at that time or only slept for 15 minutes and then screamed the rest of the time.
I worked out pretty quickly that Mr Justice had no interest in being a Contented Little Baby and that he held little regard for what Gina Ford said he should or shouldn’t be doing. I remember showing him the book and saying, very sternly “These are the rules!”. And he just gurgled and smiled and probably threw up a little and I burst into tears, clutched him to my breast, and then literally threw the book and all those italicised “no later thans” out the window.
It would seem the participants on the UK show “Bringing Up Baby” (currently screening here in Australia on the ABC) don’t quite have that option. If you’ve been living under a rock or are too busy watching “Law and Order: CPU” over on Channel 10 to care, it’s a show where three different parenting methods from three different eras are tried on six couples with newborns, mentored by “experts”.
The most controversial of the three methods has been the 1950s “Truby King” style of rearing children, a method which I think has had a major influence on how prisoners have been treated in Guantanamo Bay in recent years. Feeding is strictly four-hourly, physical affection is kept to an absolute minimum and, somewhat alarmingly, the babies are placed in their prams, wheeled outside and left there alone for hours at a time each day, no matter the weather. Try that on a 43-degrees-in-the-shade day round these parts and I think you’d find Social Services might be paying you a little visit.
Now, I love a good internet shit-fight like the next person and, certainly, parenting and media forums have exploded with people expounding their particular views about this TV show (Spilt Milk, another blogger and occasional commenter here at NDM Central, recently wrote very eloquently on this very topic – see “Bringing Up Baby“). The views range from the “Won’t somebody please think of the children” stance (admittedly mine) to the “I was raised with the Truby King method and I’m just fine. Just. Fine. Now please excuse me while I go and cry myself to sleep… mama?…. why didn’t you love me?”
I almost had to laugh, though, when I read the comment from “Craig of Sydney” which said something like “I saw the show last night and I think it is great. It is simply an experiment, testing different methods for bringing up a baby. So far Dr Spock’s method is my favourite. I can’t wait to see the next episode!”
My first thought was that ol’ Craig is the kind of like the guy who turns up at a Feminist Seminar and exclaims enthusiastically to the room at large “I think lesbians are great – as long as they’re on TV!” And then I realised that the poor guy has probably been looking for the 1902 number at the end of the show so he can vote for his favourite method or eliminate one of the parents.
Simply an experiment, huh? Try telling that to the poor babies who are being denied vital affection in the name of “compelling TV viewing” and drumming up ratings. Just watch later episodes of Michael Apted’s “Seven Up” series to how the guinea pigs in such “experiments” end up feeling when they get old enough to have a voice in such matters.
As for the parents on the show, they’ll never have those precious first months with their babies again. Whether this be their first child or their seventh, they need – like we all do – to find their own way of parenting and not just do what an “Expert” and a water-tight TV contract tells them to. That’s why Parenting Books were invented: so they can be opened and closed, put back on the shelf, taken off the shelf and thrown out the window, as required. Try throwing a 50-year-old woman and a TV crew out the window or pushing them through a paper shredder. I’m not saying I have, but I can bet it’s not easy nor legally advisable.