NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
PARENTS AND POLITICS; BABIES AND MUSIC
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.
A reader adds a contribution to a column about adults’ political responsibility for children.
Q. People can be so self-centered that they forget that we are all in this boat together. Sometimes people without children or with grown children, for example, act to undermine the educational system or publicly complain about contributing to it.
A. We agree with you that we will all pay the price of shortsightedness and selfishness. We do, though, want to be clear that personal responsibility for such irresponsible attitudes is broader than you suggest: Some people without children or with grown ones may not see themselves as having a broader contribution to make to the greater good, but of course there are many who absolutely do.
The mere fact of bearing children doesn’t seem to be quite enough to help people accept the interdependence that goes along with being human. (Isn’t our need to communicate with and understand one another the reason why we humans have such elaborate languages, even if we are still stumbling in the Tower of Babel’s rubble?)
Some parents seem to be so over-focused on their own offspring that they teach them only to fend for themselves. We all know at least one parent who has taught their child that it is not how you play the game that counts, but whether you win. What happens then to the rules of good sportsmanship that will keep their child and everyone else’s safe?
We appreciate especially your comment that “we are all in this boat together.” Perhaps some of us are uncomfortable with the closeness and responsibility that your metaphor implies, and adhere instead to the notion that “each man is an island.” Yet a stranded man on an island isn’t likely to do much for perpetuating the human race until he reaches broader shores. Until then, his only hope is a message in a bottle – not much good if it never makes it way to someone who can understand it and respond.
When times are tough, and the flood waters are rising, it may not be a boat we need, but an Ark. Can’t we aspire to one in which all can be welcomed, including those without children or with grown ones? Can any of us mere mortals presume to determine who the sinners are to be left to drown? (In recent years, we’ve seen too many examples of such presumption on the part of high-handed humans with more than their fare share of human foibles.)
Tolerance and the most inclusive generosity are the best ways we know to leave that job to a higher power.
Our answer to a question about a 1-year-old who cries during brief car trips prompts another solution.
Q. The 1-year-old sounds just like the situation we had as grandparents. Once a week we had the little girls and the 40-minute trip to our home was almost constant crying from the younger one – until we discovered a set of 100 favorite children’s songs recorded on a CD. They loved the “kids”’ music, there was no more crying and they learned the classic old children’s songs. Good luck to the parents.
A. For thousands of years, long before car rides and CDs, humans have turned to music for comfort, and sung lullabies to soothe their young. Most soothing of all to infants are the songs sung by familiar voices.
Of course modern technology offers us wonderful opportunities for introducing young children a rich and wide range of musical sounds and textures – from the very simplest ones, those that make them feel ready to try out their own singing too, to more complex ones, that astonish, and prompt them to dream. But we sure hope that you all sang along too.
Recorded music will never replace the human act of singing, of listening to each other sing, of according the voices of a family and singing together.
Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.
Before Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.
Reprinted with permission from the authors.