For the millennial couples, finding themselves suddenly saddled with the responsibility of being parents for the first time, the question is how to be a good parent to an infant. Parenting a newborn baby is already a tall order for those who are already parents. Now imagine young new mother, who had just popped out a tiny baby, is immediately ejected from the hospital (due to hospital bills or to make room for another mother needing the bed), is sent home and is expected to keep the thing alive, alive well until it reach some level maturity – that this thing becomes a self dependent human being one day.
Those first days could be terrifying for young mothers, and fathers. When exactly does one start breastfeeding, an hour after giving birth, or week later? What food should the new mother eat, should mommy (and daddy if he stuck around) go vegan? What to do when the new baby cries (which could be every hour its being awake), or when the baby doesn’t cry often as others?
The list of questions is endless. And there answers are many and often contradictory, thanks to the avalanche of e-books, websites, blogs, vlogs, and books on parenting and caring for a baby by self confessed parenting gurus, medical doctors, psychologists, and social counsellors.
But hold on, says Oliver Burkeman the columnist for The Guardian newspaper in London, UK, and author of several books on mental well being. Burkeman, himself a new father to a 15 month of son, argues that essentially no one on earth know anything about caring for a baby. Anyone calling themselves a guru on that topic is lying through their teeth, because no can ever know what babies would really ever want.
Even to parents with ten children, or who already have had children, every baby arrives in the world differently and caring for a new baby would always be different.
“In the real world, it’s virtually impossible to disentangle the innumerable variables acting upon any individual baby,” writes Burkeman in his latest column.
Even the experiments that could decisively distinguish the best from the worst ways to treat an infant, in terms of future flourishing, would be blatantly unethical, he argues.
Burkeman’s argument is essentially this: No one knows what really is a baby and its essential body needs for comfort and nutrition, besides the fact that it must eat and poop as all humans do. Hence therefore no one can say with certainty how best to care for a baby.
Also we as humans, and parents, cannot rely on our intuition or experience from when we were babies, because no one can ever remember what is like being a baby.
If we could, we would have all by now pooled those memories together to create some sort of a base on which to anchor the best possible caring methods for human babies. Alas, but humans are incapable of ever recovering whatever memory they collect during their infant periods.
“Thanks to the still mysterious phenomenon that Sigmund Freud labelled “infantile amnesia”, nobody can remember what it was like to be a baby,” writes Burkeman.
Complicating the matter further is that advise on what is best are at best flawed. “Does being breastfed really confer lifelong benefits, or do those benefits come from being raised by the kind of mother – older, better educated, better-off – who’s far more likely to breastfeed?,” he asks.
Not to mention that there are complicating advise by people from different backgrounds (socially, anthropologically and academically) each trying to push theirs values of living as superior to the other.
“Human beings are born too soon. Within hours of arriving in the world, a baby antelope can clamber up to a wobbly standing position; a day-old zebra foal can run from hyenas; a sea-turtle, newly hatched in the sand, knows how to find its way to the ocean. Newborn humans, on the other hand, can’t hold up their own heads without someone to help them. They can’t even burp without assistance. Place a baby human on its stomach at one day old – or even three months old, the age at which lion cubs may be starting to learn to hunt – and it’s stranded in position until you decide to turn it over. The reason for this ineptitude is well-known: our huge brains, which make us the cleverest mammals on the planet, wouldn’t fit through the birth canal if they developed more fully in the womb,” writes Burkeman.
In other words accept this fact: Humans are not like animals, and process of birth and parenting, that is what makes us humans. With each baby we are tasked with a whole new project, and therefore anyone claiming to expert on baby parenting is lying.