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Desmond Morris book on baby care

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GreenMonkies Sun 07-Sep-08 07:48:06

www.guardian.co.uk:80/society/2008/sep/07/children.family

I shall be reading this at some point I think!

Morris hits at 'brutal' babycare books
Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape and one of Britain's best-known zoologists, will publish his own baby care guide next week because, he said, too many help books for parents advocated 'unnatural' and 'brutal' childcare techniques.

'I'm very angry that baby books have recently begun repeating the unnatural dictates from so-called childcare "experts" of the past, who ordered mothers never to hug or kiss their babies and ignore them if they cry,' said Morris. 'I nearly died when I was just a few months old thanks to a baby book, so I feel very strongly about it. You could say that I have a personal axe to grind.'

Morris was born in 1928 when the theories of American baby expert John Watson were in vogue. Watson, who believed parents should break the spirit of their infants in the same way that trainers tame a horse, called for babies to be put outside in their prams, regardless of the weather, and ignored if they cried.

'Babies reared under Watson's severe regime often suffered and, as a baby, I belonged to that generation,' said Morris. 'Left crying in my pram in a harsh east wind, I developed double pneumonia and nearly died. After that, my mother decided to abandon the teachings of the day and trust to her maternal instincts.'

Morris is disturbed by the recent revival of interest in Watsonian theories, pointing to the methods prescribed by maternity nurse Claire Verity, who has cared for the babies of Mick Jagger, Jack Nicholson and Sting, but whose appearance on the Channel 4 series Bringing Up Baby led to her receiving death threats, being spat at in the street, and being asked to stay away from the Baby Show at Earls Court, London.

Verity, however, is not the only childcare expert who has made her name advocating authoritarian parenting techniques. Controversial childcare guru G* F*'s C****** L*** Baby Book is a highly prescriptive attempt to introduce routine into the lives of parents and children.

'There are lots of good baby books on the market, but an increasing number are by so-called experts who have realised that if they want to make a name for themselves they have to say something new,' said Morris. 'Why introduce cold discipline into a relationship that should be one of total loving?

'I have a vested interest in trying to prevent the rise of these brutal and terribly prescriptive books. I want to prevent what happened to me being done to another child.'

Morris's book, Baby, The Story of a Baby's First Two Years, details a baby's development from the moment of conception. By explaining the biology, physics, chemistry and other forces which drive the changes that occur in a baby's body, Morris hopes parents will be able to make their own decisions about how to treat their child.

'I believe that, if a parent knows what the facts are, they see it's pretty easy to decide for themselves how their baby should be treated,' said Morris.

Morris blames the resurgence of interest in prescriptive childcare books on the fragmentation of modern society. 'Many young women are looking for advice because they don't have the support of their extended family, their partner or other women who have already had children,' he said. 'I can see how these women turn to strongly worded advice books. I can also understand how it is a great relief if these books claim a baby doesn't need the level of care that an isolated mother finds difficult to provide.'

Morris says he hopes his book will provide mothers with the information to 'read' their baby's body language that, in the past, would have been passed down to them from their mothers or extended families.

'We all know what a smile or a scream means,' he said. 'But it's the more subtle messages mothers will miss if they don't learn it from others - the first sign that a baby is not well or that they are not developing as they should. My book explains these signs. I hope it will empower mothers.'

cyberseraphim Sun 07-Sep-08 07:53:06

''I can see how these women turn to strongly worded advice books.'

It's lucky he's written one then. It seems like just another round in circles book that won't change the fact that individuals make up their own minds.

amidaiwish Sun 07-Sep-08 07:58:35

i've seen his new book
it is gorgeous
£25 though!

GreenMonkies Sun 07-Sep-08 08:02:17

Well, I shall read it and see, but from the sound of it it's not a structured "how to" book, but a guide to understanding your babies needs and signals so that you can respond to them, as opposed to a timetable of when to feed, when to make them sleep and so on.

And if individuals are so able to make upthier own minds how come baby/childcare books are such good sellers, and parenting forums are filled with new mums asking for advice and information?

amidaiwish Sun 07-Sep-08 08:11:49

oh yes it's much more of a "how babies develop" "sibling relationships" etc interesting kind of book. not a "i need help, don't know what i'm doing" kind of book.

cyberseraphim Sun 07-Sep-08 08:38:05

Why does he think families would help - if they were not fragemented ? Many contributors here complain that mothers and mothers in law don't agree with their parenting style and pressure them to follow routines as in the good old days. Maybe I just don't like DM - I would buy any manual that would tell how to avoid my children turning out like him.

GreenMonkies Sun 07-Sep-08 08:44:02

Wow, you really don't like Desmond Morris do you!!! What exactly is it about him you don't like? (I am genuinely bemused!)

At the end of the day, you don't have to buy the book or read it, but I personally think he is far more qualified to write something like this than the other "childcare Gurus" (Claire Verity and She Who Shall Not Be Named) as he actually has studied human nature, psychology and athropology etc. He's a very clever, interesting and educated man. Not a bitter, money grabbing control freak with no children....... hmm wink

fedupandisolated Sun 07-Sep-08 08:52:52

GM - you just said that far better than I ever could. Totally agree.

GreenMonkies Sun 07-Sep-08 09:20:17

blush

Pruners Sun 07-Sep-08 15:44:38

Message withdrawn

GreenMonkies Sun 07-Sep-08 22:19:13

"I think he is a bit of a media sensation rather than an actual expert on any of these things"

Seriously?? With a degree in Zoology and a doctorate in Animal Behaviour, and over 40 years of studying human behaviour I think he's a little more than a media sensation, and probably is a bit of an expert. hmm

smurfwendy Sun 07-Sep-08 22:27:13

£16.50 on Amazon - tempted to buy it could be interesting read. Anyone know what the one to be released in Oct is about - Amazing Baby

smurfwendy Sun 07-Sep-08 22:28:43

just looked in more detail amazing baby looks pretty good too

Bubble99 Sun 07-Sep-08 22:30:17

I like the fact that he flagged up 'she who must not be named' as an example of how not to do it.

edam Sun 07-Sep-08 22:32:18

Well, I like his take on prescriptive, leave the baby outside in all weathers and ignore it when it cries parenting advice.

But I do seem to recall thinking he was a twonk once upon a time. Back when he was well-known. Must ask my mother - she studied zoology and I remember she told me something about him... some argument with Elaine Morgan of 'The Descent of Woman' fame?

amidaiwish Mon 08-Sep-08 07:58:28

i had a good look at it in waterstones
the photography is really nice.
fwiw!

Pruners Mon 08-Sep-08 08:18:29

Message withdrawn

pinkpip100 Mon 08-Sep-08 08:44:11

I'd just add that while his book may well be an interesting read I have to agree with Pruners - I studied anthropology at university and eyes raised to heaven was certainly the milder end of the reaction that a mention of DM would provoke. Lets just say that referencing The Naked Ape in an essay would not have gone down well at all wink. Def not seen as a heavyweight in terms of his insights into human behaviour by any stretch of the imagination I'm afraid.

ninedragons Mon 08-Sep-08 09:07:02

"Break an infant's spirit" is the single saddest line that I have ever read. No wonder Morris feels so strongly about it.

Acinonyx Mon 08-Sep-08 09:52:07

I'm a biological (evolutionary) anthropologist. No, you wouldn't reference Morris in an essay but his writing is a reasonably accurate, albeit light weight, reflection of views in that field. But some people object to views based in Darwinsim altogether. Mainstream anthropology (i.e. social anthropology) is very often at odds with biological anthropology, viewing human behaviour as they do, through very different prisms.

I'd be interested to see a copy of the book. I totally agree that some of the parenting advice out there completely disregards the natural biology and evolutionary history of the human infant. We would not have survived as a species, if early human mothers had left their babies alone much of the time. It just wouldn't have been safe - it wouldn't have been a useful adaptive behaviour and therefore is not what human babies are developed to accept. I'm sure there were plenty of stone-age mums who would have like to put their infant in another cave and get some peace. Their reproductive success was probably relatively low though...

cyberseraphim Mon 08-Sep-08 09:52:09

Actually he is not that bad - his book on cats is quite good and he is a supporter of cat rights as he thinks they should not be kept indoors. I have two cats, mother and daughter though and although by cat standards, they are close (tolerate each other and share food), if one is locked out at night, the other will not show any concern so where does that leave the 'Naked Ape' theory? They are both cat adults now but for them, the mother/kitten relationship was a basic and functional one without all the sociological frills we put on to it.

GreenMonkies Mon 08-Sep-08 13:54:17

sigh I think he has more academic clout than the majority of authors of childcare books! I'd take his lead over Clare Verity et al any day!

GreenMonkies Mon 08-Sep-08 13:58:38

I mean, just how do you qualify who is and who isn't an expert? Annabel KArmel has absolutely no qualifications in health, dietetics or nutrition, but she has written several recipe and "how to" books and is widely viewed as an expert on child weaning etc. Clare Byam-Cook has no training or qualifications in breastfeeding, but is the author of a best selling, much read book on the subject, despite the fact that her advice contradicts the advice of all the major breastfeeding organisations. So, are these two women experts?

I don't think they are, but I think Desmond Morris knows a bit about the subject of human behaviour, even if he hasn't got a doctorate or an NVQ in the subject!!

Acinonyx Mon 08-Sep-08 14:32:37

Well, cats are not apes, not even primates. There's quite a difference, wrt social behaviour. Try having a mother and daughter chimpfor pets.

GreenMonkies Mon 08-Sep-08 15:41:30

"Try having a mother and daughter chimp for pets. "

Yikes, no thanks!! I've watched Monkey Business!! wink

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