Book Review: Connection Parenting

May 21, 2011 at 5:44 pm Leave a comment

Review of Connection Parenting by Pam Leo

One sentence summary:  Today’s busy parents should strive to connect with their kids, helping them thrive and making problem behavior disappear.

One sentence review: May be inspirational to some, but doesn’t add anything new to the discussion.

Pam Leo’s Connection Parenting often comes recommended along other positive parenting books likePlayful Parenting, Unconditional Parenting, and Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.  Unfortunately, Connection Parenting suffers by comparison, adding nothing new to this genre.

First, the good:  Connection Parenting may help some parents reflect on their parenting.  It is more of a workbook than a guide, and the journaling sections might inspire some people to turn the mirror inward.  If you are a new-age self-help kind of person, this book might be right up your alley.  If you think your current parenting style is a reaction to some deep-held past hurts, then go ahead and look deep inside.  If, however, this sounds a little too touchy-feely, you might want to give the book a pass.

The other good thing about Connection Parenting is the focus on, well, connection.  Pam Leo encourages parents to put the relationship first, and the rest will follow.  Unfortunately, this message has been shared before, in more comprehensive books, like Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen.  Leo even uses some of the same terminology of Playful Parenting, including “filling your child’s cup.”  She does not attribute this idea to Cohen (and I don’t know if he coined it either), although she quotes him in the same section, so she is obviously familiar with his work.  The unconditional love stuff also feels like a rehashing of other books, like Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting.  If I had read Leo first, I might not have noticed, but reading her after the other similar authors really highlights the lack of new information in the book.

My biggest quibble with the book, however, is its lack of footnotes or research to back up what the author is saying.  She makes many claims in the book, some outlandish, some that seem plausible, but without any proof it’s hard to evaluate them.  Some examples:

“We function better, and are healthier when we spend some time each day in each of the four brainwave states” (p167.)  This is one of those new-agey things that sounds good, and is plausible, but where’s the proof?

“Ninety-five percent of what children learn comes from what adults model”         (p 44).  Any time someone gives you an exact percentage like this, be skeptical.  Leo does not back this assertion up with any proof.

“In our great-grandparents’ day, children’s need for human connection was met naturally by a lifestyle that supported a strong parent-child bond. . .Babies were born at home, they were breast-fed, and spent their early years at home.” (p 16).  Leo is not alone in the attachment community in romanticizing the past, but I just don’t buy it.  What time period is she even talking about?  Women have tried to avoid breastfeeding throughout history–with wet nurses or “dry nursing”–feeding newborns food like evaporated milk.  If she’s talking about the turn of the century, abuse was common.  (The Mary Ellen Wilson case in 1874 was the first time that anyone thought to call into question whether it was wrong to abuse children.  This abused little girl was protected by the ASPCA!)  Or, how about the parents who sent their kids off to work in the factories in the early 20th century?  What kind of connection did that exemplify? In 1912, many mothers refused to nurse even though giving their newborns unpasteurized cow’s milk was very dangerous.  More recent research shows both fathers and mothers spending more time with their children than ever before (even more than the idyllic 50’s, when most mothers were housewives).  I think that our current obsession with the emotional needs of children is a more recent luxury–one that I’m happy to be rich and healthy enough to participate in!

Leo goes on to hypothesize that birthing babies in hospitals is a “compromise to connection” (p16) instead of celebrating that today mothers have more choices than ever–from hospitals to birth centers to home midwives–with the difference that mothers today can expect their babies–and themselves–to live through the delivery.  It wasn’t that long ago that this wasn’t the case for most women.

Later, Leo contradicts herself by talking about how harsh parenting was in the past: “Every generation of parents softens what they got for their children.  If what we got was harsh, imagine what our parents got”  (p33).  So our grandparents were “harsh” parents, who learned that from their parents . . . the same people who were attachment parents before it was cool?  She can’t have it both ways–either our great-grandparents were harsh or they were more connected.

Maybe it sounds nit-picky to point out these failings, but if you take away the unsupported claims and the ideas you’ve read elsewhere, Connection Parenting doesn’t have a lot left.

Bottom line:  If you’re looking for a touchy-feely book that will help you journal and reflect on your parenting, give this a try.  If you need more substance from your parenting books, give a pass to Connection Parenting.

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