walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_And Baby Makes Three_, John Gottman, Julie Schwartz Gottman

Subtitled: The Official Book for the Bringing Baby Home (TM) Program
Subtitled: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives

PhDs all round on the authors.

A little backstory. Having talked to a _lot_ of other mothers and fathers and their experience with childbirth classes, I decided Not For Me. However, when I heard the Gottmans (who are the only couples therapists I have any respect for) had a class about helping your marriage survive having a baby, we signed up. There were a variety of things about that class that annoyed me, which I blogged about at the time, and was willing to allow as how maybe that was our instructor, rather than the curriculum. Short answer, after all this time: it's the curriculum.

Technical problems and Complaints:

(1) I fucking hate it when people refer to the arrival of new child as Baby. Your baby, Our baby, My baby, Their baby, whatever -- all good. Baby? Makes my skin crawl. I associate it with the worst years of Total Outsourcing of Child Care (Wet Nurse/Nanny until age 7 or whatever).

(2) The Gottmans supply no sources. This is a huge issue, because it means I can't backtrack _any_ claims (this is something that has resulted in my no longer reading Dr. Phil's books).

(3) There are disturbing and weird bias errors in the book. The medical student in the Klaus and Kennell story who put them onto the whole labor attendant/doula idea is identified as male. I'm 90% positive (altho still trying to track down a reliable source) that the medical student in question was a woman. (Also, Kennell is spelled Kennel, which is probably Crown Pubs fault for outsourcing copyediting just a little too hard to the electronic spell-checker.)

Whenever the authors are summarizing What the World Was Once Like, whether its pregnancy, childrearing, child birth, the persecution of witches, how antiseptic techniques were begrudgingly accepted by surgeons and other doctors, or whatever, they typically get it really wrong. Like, they describe the Horror of the Past, say, well, here's why they did it this way, and it did work, but now we have a better way when, in general, it did _not_ work -- they're just apologists for the medical industry in most cases (altho they blame the witchburning unilaterally on the Catholics, which is Just Not Fair. I don't care for the Catholic Church and I believe they have a lot to apologize for, but Protestants do NOT deserve a free ride on witch burning).

R. suggests that the Gottmans might not read (much) -- they might learn by talking to people, and they might not have any critical thinking when it comes to sourcing. This would adequately explain many if not all of the flaws noted above.

The program being peddled by the Gottmans is both straightforward and (largely) valid. They correctly note that in the months after the arrival of a baby, everyone is sleep deprived and Not At Their Best. They correctly note that after having a baby, most women do not feel like having sex for quite a while; a large fraction of women will not feel particularly libidinous until after they stop breastfeeding. Unfortunately, they do not take advantage of this opportunity to set appropriate expectations for having sex at all. Kudos to them for depicting as Not Abnormal the woman who didn't have sex for 9 months and was hoping her doc would sign off on 2 more years of same, but they didn't even do the basic no-way-no-how should you be having sex while post-partum bleeding continues, expect 2 months at least. I'm always saddened by the failure of people to talk about this; it's not like it's somehow rare or unusual and it's mean to spring this one on couples.

While this is by no means an attachment parenting type book, in general the Gottmans expect and encourage an emotionally connected parenting style. They're weird about it; you can _really_ see it in their videos. They don't show parents interacting face-to-face with the baby while someone is _holding_ the baby; the baby is invariably in a bouncy chair or baby bucket or whatever. Creeped us the heck out when we were taking the class (and this was _before_ T. was born; I got to be quite rigid on the topic after T. was born).

The Gottmans summarize their earlier research on conducting conflict and recovering from it. The four horsemen (Defensiveness, Contempt, Stonewalling and Criticism) are briefly reviewed. Softened startup, Accepting Influence, Self-Soothing (for the adults, by taking a break and using relaxation techniques, mostly), Repair attempts are all described and depicted.

They do not emphasize, but do mention, that while some problems are solvable (they advocate compromise, which I view as problematic since I believe the correct goal for group problem solving is to adopt the solution which everyone views as better than anything else anyone can imagine), others are basically not ever going to be fixed/resolved/go away, and they will need to be managed. They spend what I regard as an inappropriate amount of time on "processing" a fight. I think this is perilously close to just restarting a fight, and they get that that's a real risk and have some suggestions for avoiding it. Don't get me wrong; you may need to go over a topic on more than on occasion. I don't consider this "processing" or "aftermath"; I consider this ongoing exploration of the terrain so you can come up with a solution. You don't freaking solve the problem and THEN figure out why it was a problem. You're likely to come up with crap solutions if you do it that way. But hey, whatever works, right?

To strengthen the relationship, they advocate their usual: get to know each other better (love maps), be nice to each other (I didn't see the 5-1 ratio I usually see for what makes people feel good but I may have skipped over it), and respond to each other's bids for attention/make bids for each other's attention (turning towards each other). Again, all covered in their other books.

Their sex advice amounts to: dude, things have changed, get used to it, ask each other specifically for what you want rather than hinting around, be affectionate in a non-sexual way, some generic advice about women being slower to warm up than men and men sometimes only perceive love through sex which I don't find particularly helpful but presumably someone does, quickies are okay, non-penetrative sex is okay, both people don't have to come in the same session, actually talk to each other rather than avoiding each other and try to make time for dates. Fairly straightforward stuff, and I'm glad they led with get-used-to-the-change because anything else sets expectations inappropriately.

Perhaps the most obnoxious thing about this book is the assumption that she's going to be the one to have cut back on her career, and he probably doubled-down for a variety of reasons and checked out of (a) the marriage and (b) the parenting. It would have been nice if at least _one_ SAHD had been included, but no. In any event, a crucial part of the program is getting dad to actually be an involved, warm, loving parent. Which is good. They don't say gatekeeping, but give advice compatible with trying to overcome that typical obstacle.

They wrap up the book with a chapter on spirituality, building family rituals, connecting with larger families/communities and creating a legacy, identifying family values blah, blah, blah. I don't mean to disrespect, but there are some serious problems with this chapter -- and some really nice things about this chapter as well.

If you just had a kid, and were really cranky and unhappy and desperate (aren't we all at that point?) and thinking about beating the crap out of your spouse because they are such a pain in the ass, this would be an _awesome_ book to read. Highly recommended. If you've already read a bunch of the Gottman books, it's not clear to me that this is going to help you appreciably. And if you'd already been reading a bunch of other books about the impact of having a baby/breastfeeding/etc. on one's libido/sleep/energy levels (or, heck, just actually _talked_ to your friends who had kids already), there's a real risk this will contribute to your generalized rage. (If you don't _have_ generalized rage in the aftermath of having a child, go you! Share your spare energy and joy with us, because we can definitely use whatever help we can get. Say, watch the kid while I take a shower.)

I bought it hardback; hopefully it's out in paper now. I'll be donating this one to the local library, where I hope it does some good, and not too much harm.

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