Sunday, August 13, 2006

Gina Ford vs Mumsnet

I don't usually pay attention when issues on baby care hit the news, as I am now two generations past having to bother about such things. But reading in the press about the current conflict, I was struck, as one so often is, by the aptness of the the old sayings, that nothing is new in this world and that what goes around comes around. You can read much of the detail of accusation and response if you go to Mumsnet.com; and if Gina Ford does decide to bring a court action against the website, and/or against its ISP, it is likely to be a test case, it seems, with implications relating to freedom of speech on the internet, and the vulnerability to prosecution of website owners and ISPs.

As the Times reporter rightly pointed out, this
is a battle between the 1930s and the 1960s, between an author who recommends a strict routine for babies, and parents who find her recommendations too rigid, and have not hesitated to say so in forceful terms on the website's message board, thereby causing great offense to Ms Ford. But the press report does not actually mention the name of the revered (or hated!) Dr Truby King, seen here in caricature and in a photograph.

I myself was a Truby King baby in 1927, which means that in theory I was fed only four hourly come what may and not at night, that I could cry my head off, but as long as I was fed, winded and clean I would not be picked up, that potty training would start at two months with the aim of being dry by day at a year, and that I would not be rocked to sleep or cuddled in my parents' bed.** Enemas to keep a baby's bowels moving was another of his less attractive ideas, but on the good side, he did advocate breast- feeding and plenty of fresh air.

By the time my young brother was born, my mother's natural instincts had taken over, which was lucky for him, and gives me a useful source of resentment if I should feel I need one. For many years I have regarded Dr Truby King as thoroughly misguided, and turned gratefully to the American Dr Spock and what I saw as his easy-going liberal commonsense when raising my own children in the 1960s. But a year or two ago I began to wonder if I really knew enough about Truby King to judge him so harshly, and so I began some research. I managed to get a number of his early works out of the library, books now crumbling into fragements, together with books about him by other writers, and I learned what he had really been about.

He was New Zealand born, but graduated in medicine at Edinburgh in 1886. He then went back to work in New Zealand and Australia where, apalled by infant mortality rates at the turn of the century, he set about developing and promoting a programme of baby care which would drastically reduce them, and thereby save the British nation from annihilation! He must in fact have done a great deal of good, but I don't think I can rid myself, at this late age, of the sneaking suspicion that his regime damaged my infant psyche!
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FOOTNOTE: ** When my father bought an antique Elizabethan cradle as a surprise for my mother, he had the dealer remove the rockers, thereby substantially reducing its value - a story which always turns my antique dealer friend green when I tell it!

2 comments:

stitchwort said...

Like so many things, baby care seems to swing back and forth between 2 extremes - here rigid regulation and complete relaxation, when probably the best way is somewhere in the middle. But then, I am usually in favour of the the middle road.

Pam said...

Judith, how on earth do you find your way around that mumsnet site? (My daughter has directed me towards one called netmums, which is much the same.........)

I don't know much about this Gina Ford business, but I admit to having similar thoughts to yours. I'd never heard of Truby King until I came across a book of his in a jumble sale, and I couldn't believe what I was reading! I do remember an aunt relating to us how a doctor (Austrian perhaps, not English anyway) came running up to her to tell her off when she picked up her baby girl to cuddle - this would have been 1941. "You must not cuddle ze baby!" he (sic) said in great distress. I think she ignored him.

I'm sure I've still got the book somewhere. Still don't know the best way to bring up baby! I once read of someone who as a teenager declared that she intended to have FIVE children, and ONE way of bringing them up. As an adult she ended up with one child - and five different ways of bringing her up!

Jackie, my daughter, seems to be doing pretty well. They have a mostly relaxed way, with an element of strictness now and again. No panic to get them into bed by a certain time, if they're doing something more interesting, nor to have meals at set times. The girls seem pretty healthy, they have a lovely nature (most of the time!)