walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The Family Bed_, Tine Thevenin

Subtitled: An age old concept in child rearing

The edition I have/read is copyright 1987 published by Avery Publishing Group.

Starting with the cover -- gotta snark that cover. A man, a woman and a baby. The man: in blue pjs on the left. The woman, in pink pjs with blue and white piping on the right. Baby in the middle in a fleecy all-in-one looking way too hot. They all look like they are freaking cooking in that bed, unless the room is mid-40s.

The woman, in addition to a hairdo that has to be seen to be believed, is wearing _earrings_ (where to start? How about, choking hazard, much?) and _makeup_. I think she was put on the right so that when she faced the group, her left hand would be exposed, conspicuously displaying her wedding ring. There's a quote on the front cover from Jane Goodall. I'm not sure why you would _want_ a cover quote from Jane Goodall, but here's what they picked: "[The Family Bed] is an excellent idea...I thoroughly agree that Western Society is wrong in putting a social taboo on children sleeping with their parents."

I, personally, would want a more positive quote than _that_ on my book. But hey. In 1987, I was graduating from high school. What do I know?

I think this book was originally published (in some version) in 1976. It is/was the classic book advocating bedsharing. Now, much like my high school senior photos from 1987, it is mostly embarrassing and dated.

Here's an example from the Foreword by Herbert Ratner, M.D. and Editor of Child & Family Quarterly:

p xii: "the initial mental health with which man is endowed at birth"

Who the man -- singular or collective -- might be, is a fascinating question. Said "man" makes all too frequent appearance throughout the text of the book. Needless to say, this kind of thing tends to piss me off (especially when on the very next page, Ratner proves himself capable of using "his or her" formulation to refer to a baby of unspecified gender). Those who question the over-prescribing of psychoactive meds might appreciate that Ratner, too, was troubled by the widespread use of such meds, along with shock treatment and frontal lobotomies. Never let it be said we've made no progress whatsoever.

Thevenin states up front that she is not looking to prove with statistics and research that cosleeping/bedsharing/"The Family Bed" is superior to All Other Choices. She's just looking to carve away at the monolithic one-room-with-one-bed-per-person-in-family (except married couples get to share) pattern prevalent at mid-century. She pulls in history (in particular, the massive swings in advice over the generations), anthropology, ethography, etc. to support infants and children sleeping with parents and other family members. In Thevenin's world, the pattern is for infants to sleep with or near their mothers (who may not, but in general do sleep with their husbands) and breastfeed. After a while, they don't breastfeed, and sometime after they don't breastfeed, the next kid comes along, and the previous kid shuffles off to share a room and/or bed with (an) older sibling(s).

A little pause here. I picked this up at Half-Price when I was pregnant with T. (or shortly after he was born). I didn't get around to reading it until now, when I'm still scratching my head about sleeping arrangements after A. arrives. My specific concern is rambunctious toddler (T.) endangering newborn (A.). This book isn't helping, in part because of the above-mentioned world.

In Thevenin's experience (backed up by some highly entertaining letters from determined Family Bedders), parents start out doing the whole crib-and-bottle-thing and it takes until baby 4 or 5 for them to relax enough to do things Better with Prepared/Natural Childbirth, Breastfeeding and the Family Bed. Thus, there are always older siblings available. Sucks to be me, apparently. While she asserts that no one who chooses to cosleep (she discounts the cosleeping out of necessity while traveling, etc.) cares to go backward, to which I can't help but ask: not even when you are miserably pregnant and tired of being kicked in the belly? Head? Etc. But then, on page 15, she does show some awareness that when Mama has a newborn in the bed, papa may very well take himself off somewhere else to sleep for a while. A tantalizing tale that I wish were expanded upon, but I suspect it is at odds with her efforts to sell this strategy to people who Live in Fear of Loss of Marital Intimacy.

Another little pause here. Okay, I get that it was a different world back then and I _know_ how screwy the entire psychology/psychiatry establishment used to be (homosexuality wasn't removed as a diagnosis from DSM until 1973 or so). But every few pages it seemed like something was being lauded (as a social practice, parenting strategy, whatever) because it led to very low rates of homosexuality or damned because it was associated with homosexuality (and incest). Ew! I'm trying to read a book on the Family Bed here. Keep your homophobia away from me!

In the course of the book, Thevenin quotes (somewhat gushingly) all the (slightly tarnished) bonding theory of the day (Marshall and Klaus, Bowlby, etc.) including Montagu's stuff about touch. So she can't be held responsible for that cover; she favors sleeping nude or in a "brief nightgown" (I don't know what that means. I'm not sure I want to. I was frightened enough by the women who wore nightgowns with ties at the neck -- and didn't think strangling hazard until after they found it wrapped around their baby's neck). She also seems to think nipple twiddling (letting the wee one play with the one not currently in mouth) is kinda cute/charming/fun. *shudder* I don't have a lot of rules around here, but That Is Not Your Toy is one of them. YMMV.

Thevenin subscribes to the 8 hour norm and then argues that it isn't really necessary; you can do on interrupted sleep just as well. It would have been nice to see her expand on that, but the information probably was not readily available at the time. At least she could have refrained from mentioning 8 hours so very many times.

But here are a few of the things that really upset me. In her description of anthropological data to support the Family Bed, she describes Bali according to Margaret Mead, a paradise of wtf where "homosexuality is almost unheard of". *shudder* So many, many things wrong with that. After a series of other fairly wild assertions about primitive cultures (noble savages uncontaminated by Us), she then notes that these were descriptions at a particular time so if you go back now and the place has changed that's because we've Spoilt the Garden of Eden. *sigh*

Best of all, in Thevenin's world, bedsharing by siblings leads to less fighting. I shudder to think how much squabbling there would have been with my sisters if we'd each had our own rooms under that theory. Things were pretty appalling while we were doubled up. Thevenin quotes a man (at least she doesn't assert this herself) expressing amazement about soft baby carriers, claiming he'd never seen a baby cry in one. Which right there is why you should not believe everything anthropologists say about some island in the Pacific.

On page 113: "It has now been established that both the Pill and the IUD are abortifacts." I really wondered about this word; it seems to be heavily used by the anti-choicers, but I'm having a lot of trouble getting a definition on it. Abortifacient, no problem. Abortifact? *shrug* Either way, it made me wonder about sister-in-law A., who really liked this book (in some incarnation) -- and let's just say that a little sentence like this would set her off. One of the supremes called the secret service on A. because she took advantage of a small talk opportunity to lobby her on the subject of Roe v. Wade. R. thinks A. probably just blew right past this sentence. I had a lot of trouble with it, since it was all of a piece with Thevenin's overly-rosy view of the reliability of natural family planning.

Then again, anyone who doesn't figure out what their preferred parenting strategy is until kid #4 or 5 or so, well, expecting wisdom on the family planning front is perhaps overly optimistic.

This is a very bad book when it comes to bedsharing safety issues. I've already mentioned the earrings on the cover, and the ties mentioned in the nightgown. In her enthusiasm to dispel the myth of overlying, Thevenin relates a hair-raising tale of experiments conducted by some folks to show that even very small babies will struggle enough to get your attention if you start suffocating them with a blanket or boob or whatever. No. I am not making this up. I realize that detachment parenting was really the norm of the day, and that these were a bunch of people slowly recovering but OMG. I would also point you at the pathetic attempts to make waterbeds a bit safer for babies on page 120.

Hey. Just to be clear. Don't bedshare with an infant on a waterbed. Just don't do it.

Because of the book's publishing history (this is from 1987), SIDS was still very poorly understood, "Back to Sleep" was 5+ years in the future, cigarette smoking was still woefully common. While Koop had started drawing attention to the risks of second-hand smoke, the studies showing that sharing a room with a smoker endangers the lives of very young babies were a long way off. While I object, in general, to what I perceive to be a very cavalier attitude towards the risks adult bedding present to very young babies, I can't precisely blame Thevenin for not knowing what no one else had figured out yet either. I wish I had more confidence she would have taken these concerns seriously when they were raised. Not, I might add, as an argument for making the baby sleep alone, but rather as observations to pass along to encourage the adults to make better health decisions for the whole family.

There are enough problems with this book that there's no good reason to read it, except as an artifact of the process by which bedsharing began its comeback as a respectable parenting choice in the US. Get McKenna's book instead, or _Good Nights_ by Maria Goodavage & Dr Jay Gordon. (And I say this all, despite the fact that Thevenin is Dutch. Go figure.)

I've ordered _Three in a Bed_. Maybe I'll get around to reading it in less than 3 years.

ETA: In case it isn't _abundantly_ clear, I bedshare with T. Loss of marital intimacy is of no concern to me, because R. and I slept apart _before_ I got knocked up with T., at least some of the time (he snores; I move around a lot). Just for reference purposes, we don't always eat at the dining room table, either. While I'm here, I'm going to add that Thevenin's pathetic attempt at explaining that you could somehow impose discipline on the kiddies in bed with you struck me as, well, pathetic.
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