BOOK REVIEW News Weekly
Disproving fashionable orthodoxies
, August 6, 2011
The Sources of Love and How Our Culture Harms Infants, Women and Society
by Peter Cook
(Melbourne: Freedom Publishing)
Paperback: 224 pages
Reviewed by Susan Guy
Children, women and society all suffer long-term damage when parental care of young children is replaced by institutionalised daycare, warns psychiatrist and expert on child and family mental health, Dr Peter Cook.
His new book, Mothering Matters, was launched on June 23 by Steve Biddulph, psychologist, author and Australian Father of the Year 2000, who also wrote the book’s foreword. Biddulph describes the book as “something of great value”, written by a man who “draws on over half a century of thinking and learning about human infants and their mothers and fathers”.
Cook, in his thoroughly researched and highly readable three-part study, provides abundant evidence for the indispensable contribution of motherhood to early childhood development.
Part One focuses on “Five lines of evidence for natural, ‘best-fit’ mothering”. Cook shows how a mother’s maternal love, attention, breastfeeding and attachment with her baby are so vital to the physical and emotional health of the infant, from birth through its pre-verbal stage to later childhood. This must be the greatest source of love a human being may ever know.
The undeniable benefits of mother-care are then contrasted to the drawbacks of institutionalised daycare. Dr Cook notes that, as far back as the 1980s, concerns were expressed regarding institutionalised childcare, but the evidence supporting these concerns was routinely dismissed.
One wonders what became of the infants of that generation (now in their 30s) who experienced daycare at the expense of mother-care. What is their opinion of institutionalised childcare? Have they themselves become parents or have they decided not to have children?
In Part Two (“When the environment does not match early needs”), Dr Cook uses the term “eco-genetic mismatch” to describe the mismatch between the environment and our genes. For example, normal mothering, which may include breastfeeding, cuddles, singing lullabies with one’s infant, provides what the environment alone cannot.
According to the author, normal mothering helps “lay healthy foundations for life, and especially for the full development of infants’ brains” — or what he calls an “eco-genetic” match. An infant left for long periods in daycare will not experience this.
Also in this section Dr Cook examines the many commonly-held beliefs — often wrongly assumed to be factual — which ignore or downplay the special needs of mothers and babies.
Dr Cook describes society’s evolving understanding of childhood. He contrasts Jesus’ overwhelming love towards children with the austere theology of Augustine and Calvin who emphasised that every infant, as a descendant of Adam and Eve, was conceived in sin.
He criticises social scientists’ ignorance of biology and the foundations of human nature. He devotes a chapter to discussing the American anthropologist Margaret Mead’s widely published and highly influential but fraudulent account of sexual practices of adolescents on the Pacific island of Samoa.
He takes to task the advocates of androgynous “equality feminism”, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer, who devalue and deny the unique role of motherhood because they believe that child-rearing would hold women back from achieving equality with men in the paid workforce.
The concluding Part Three offers some positive guidelines for instigating change that would result in greater beneficial outcomes for infants, mothers and society.
Cook discusses without any political bias such subjects as maternity leave and support, the comparative costs of mothercare and institutionalised childcare, the role of fathers in child-rearing, and the prospects for nurturing the natural child in the 21st century.
The health of our society, he emphasises, begins with healthy infants.
Reproduced towards the front of the book are a number of accolades for Cook’s study, including one from Elliott Barker, MD, founder of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He writes: “The pervasive triumph of consumerism will be damaging us for generations to come. We now have a world where many new mothers and fathers see no choice but to work, even for a minimum wage, while their baby is cared for by someone else — anyone else.”
I think it is a sad indictment of today’s society that a book defending the needs of mothers and infants has to be written at all. It is to be hoped that policy-makers and opinion-formers will take heed of Cook’s findings.
Mothering Matters is an excellent reference book for anyone interested in the childcare debate.
A mother who sacrifices a paid career in order to devote herself full-time to child-raising can draw great inspiration from discovering that the wisdom of her career choice is amply confirmed by Dr Cook’s study.
More than that, she can rejoice in the knowledge that she is performing a vital task applauded and appreciated by millions on this earth, but more importantly by her beloved infant.
Susan Guy is secretary of Kids First Australia.