Monday, July 06, 2009
Surprising Quirks of Dr. Montessori: She was into AP!
Move over, Dr. Montanaro, Dr. Montessori is IN!
I'm not sure where I've been all this time, but it sure wasn't reading Montessori's chapter on "The First Days of Life" in The Absorbent Mind.
I remember this chapter being sort of glossed-over in my infant-toddler training. As I recall, it was glossed over in no more than a few sentences, something to the effect that, "Montessori clearly believed that the first two years of life should ideally be spent with the mother. However, as we are charged with the care of children under two, we believe that this is the next best thing." The only further information about extended nursing and babywearing was from Montanaro and others writing after. The admonitions to wean at the first sign of readiness for other food, and against wearing the child in a "contraption" seem directly at odds with Montessori's sentiments in The Absorbent Mind. I'll pull a few choice quotes for you.
Montessori discusses "the many peoples of the world who live at different cultural levels from our own (eek)." She states that, " In the matter of child rearing, almost all of these seem to be more enlightened than ourselves--with all our Western ultramodern ideals. Nowhere else, in fact, do we find children treated in a fashion so opposed to their natural needs."
Elevating the "primitives." This is getting interesting...
She goes on to say,
"In almost all countries, the baby accompanies his mother wherever she goes. Mother and child are inseparable. All the while they are out together, mother talks and baby listens....And this lasts for the whole period of maternal feeding, which is the reason for this close alliance. For the mother has to feed her child, and therefore she cannot leave him at home when she goes out. To this need for food is added their mutual fondness and love. In this way, the child's need for nutrition, and the love that unites these two beings, both combine in solving the problem of the child's adaptation to the world, and this happens in the most natural way possible. Mother and child are one. Except where civilization has broken down this custom, no mother ever entrusts her child to someone else. The child shares the mother's life, and is always listening."
Well, knock me over with a feather! I mean, yes, you did say that Montessori believed mothers should be with their babies and all, but certainly she would not go in for such primitive practices as babywearing and extended nursing, right?
"All the great human groups, nations and races, have their individual differences; for example they have different ways of carrying the baby....In most parts of the world, mothers put the baby in a small bed or a large bag, they do not carry him in their arms...some hang the child from their necks, others tie him to their backs, and others again put him in a small basket; but in all countries mothers have found a way of taking their children about with them."
Now before you say that Montessori is just reporting that all this primitive business goes on and is not really advocating it, I submit to you this:
"One observes, too, that the little one, going about with his mother, never cries unless he is ill or hurt in some way. Sometimes he may fall asleep, but he does not cry....Yet the crying of children is a problem in Western countries. How often do we hear parents complain of their children's incessant crying? They discuss what to do to quieten the baby, and how to keep him happy. The reply of modern psychology is this: "the baby cries and becomes disturbed, has screaming fits and rages, because he is suffering from mental hunger." And this is the truth. The child is bored. He is being mentally starved, kept prisoner in a confined space, offered nothing but frustration to the exercise of his powers. The only remedy is to release him from solitude and let him join in social life. this treatment is naturally and unconsciously adopted in many countries. With us, it must become understood and applied deliberately, as a result of conscious thought."
Of course, this is only the babywearing part. I feel validated in my decision to go against my training and wear my little babies. But my favorite part is Montessori's distinctly non-judgmental view of the late weaners:
"Another point is the custom of prolonging the period of maternal feeding. sometimes this lasts for a year and a half; sometimes for two, or even three years. This has nothing to do with the child's nutritional needs, because for some time he has been able to assimilate other kinds of food; but prolonged lactation requires the mother to remain with her child, and this satisfies her unconscious need to give her offspring the help of a full social life on which to construct his mind...watch how his face lights up when his mother argues at a booth about the price of fruit. You will readily see what a depth of interest the words and gestures arouse in him."
Why have I missed this before? Can it be that Montessori herself is more aligned with the Dr. Sears set than with her own proponents in Montanaro, Gerber, and all the rest? Or is it that she holds up these examples as lofty ideals, to which real western women of certain means or ambition should look for inspiration, rather than as concrete examples of how to get by without wet nurses.
Is it that Montessori's actual ideas on infant life are at odds with the idea of women in the professional workplace? There's a real dilemma. I can see where that would present a problem, particularly for people trying to organize child care for women who choose not to live according to Montessori's "natural" ideal of mother-child unity. Clearly, as a professional woman herself, she would have advocated some kind of compromise, and might even have made some outline for how that should look. I do think it's interesting, if this were the case, that the pendulum has swung so far the other way as to suggest that to wear a baby around in a sling, or to wean later 9 months of age is to compromise the child's progress toward independence. Call me crazy, but did I not just read that Montessori herself held these practices up as not only acceptable, but superior?
Somebody please straighten me out on this! I'm starting to think that Dr. Montessori wants me to wear my baby and nurse him as long as I want!!
Also, thanks to Chris for backing me up on the tummy time thing. (comments on "Motomontessori"). This comment is a really interesting developmental perspective from someone who deals with musculoskeletal problems in adults. It agrees with both my training and my instinct. Boy, I was beginning to feel a little lonely out here...