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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Parenting: Are you a carpenter or a gardener?

Modern middle-class parents often try to shape their children into ideal adults, writes Alison Gopnik in The Gardener and the Carpenter. That’s the “carpenter” model.

Gopnik, a psychology and philosophy professor at Berkeley, wants parents to let their children grow freely without too much worry about how they’ll turn out.

“I think the science suggests that being a caregiver for human beings is … much more about providing a protected space in which unexpected things can happen,” she tells NPR’s Modern Brain series.

In The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman writes about the “diabolical genius of the baby advice industry,” with an emphasis on diabolical.

From five or six months old, I learned, we could choose to let our baby cry himself to sleep for a few nights, which the Baby Trainers felt was essential if he were ever to learn to “self-soothe”, but which the Natural Parents swore would cause lasting neurological damage. (Besides, they argued, if the baby did stop crying as a result of such sleep training, it would only be because hundreds of thousands of years of evolution had hardwired him to assume that if his parents weren’t responding, they must have been eaten by wild animals, and remaining silent was his only hope of survival.) Or we could respond within seconds to every cry, sharing our bed with our baby, resigning ourselves to years of multiple nighttime wakings for breastfeeding, all of which the Natural Parents felt was the least a loving mother ought to do, not to mention the instinctive thing all mothers had been hardwired to do – but which the Baby Trainers warned would lead to brain-dead parents unable to properly discharge their duties, plus a maladjusted child incapable of spending five minutes in a different room from them, and probably also divorce.

While the Baby Trainers “seemed to suggest that my son was best thought of as an unusually impressive dog” capable of learning new tricks, writes Burkeman, the Natural Parents assumed he was “essentially an adult trapped in the body of a baby, so that letting him cry was equivalent to abandoning a distressed grown-up who’d lost the ability to speak.”

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