Recently, an article published in the Wall Street Journal reported on research survey done why a far-left Democrat psychotherapist based in far-left New York City. Surprisingly, her book caused an uproar among the author’s left-wing allies. How come?
Motherhood used to be as American as apple pie. Nowadays it can be as antagonistic as American politics. Ask Erica Komisar.
Ms. Komisar, 53, is a Jewish psychoanalyst who lives and practices on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. If that biographical thumbnail leads you to stereotype her as a political liberal, you’re right. But she tells me she has become “a bit of a pariah” on the left because of the book she published this year, “Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters.”
[…]The premise of Ms. Komisar’s book—backed by research in psychology, neuroscience and epigenetics—is that “mothers are biologically necessary for babies,” and not only for the obvious reasons of pregnancy and birth. “Babies are much more neurologically fragile than we’ve ever understood,” Ms. Komisar says. She cites the view of one neuroscientist, Nim Tottenham of Columbia University, “that babies are born without a central nervous system” and “mothers are the central nervous system to babies,” especially for the first nine months after birth.
What does that mean? “Every time a mother comforts a baby in distress, she’s actually regulating that baby’s emotions from the outside in. After three years, the baby internalizes that ability to regulate their emotions, but not until then.” For that reason, mothers “need to be there as much as possible, both physically and emotionally, for children in the first 1,000 days.”
What’s interesting about this is how the left responds to the science. You might have heard that the left is very fond of science, but veterans of debates about God’s existence know that people on the left tend to be hostile to science that goes against their view: the Big Bang cosmology, cosmic fine-tuning, biological information, irreducible complexity, molecular machines, habitability, etc. And early childhood education is no exception.
Christian radio stations “interviewed me and loved me,” she says. She went on “Fox & Friends,” and “the host was like, your book is the best thing since the invention of the refrigerator.” But “I couldn’t get on NPR,” and “I was rejected wholesale—particularly in New York—by the liberal press.” She did appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” but seconds before the camera went live, she says, the interviewer told her: “I don’t believe in the premise of your book at all. I don’t like your book.”
[…]Ms. Komisar tells of hosting a charity gathering for millennials at her apartment. One young woman “asked me what my book was about. I told her, and she got so angry. She almost had fire coming out of her eyes, she was so angry at my message. She said, ‘You are going to set women back 50 years.’ I said, ‘Gosh, I wouldn’t want to do that.’ ”
[…]The needs of children get lost in all this—and Ms. Komisar hears repeatedly that the hostility to her message is born of guilt. When she was shopping for a literary agent, she tells me, “a number of the agents said, ‘No, we couldn’t touch that. That would make women feel guilty.’ ” Another time she was rejected for a speaking gig at a health conference. She quotes the head of the host institution as telling her: “You are going to make women feel badly. How dare you?”
[…]“The thing I dislike the most is day care,” she says. “It’s really not appropriate for children under the age of 3,” because it is “overstimulating” given their neurological undevelopment. She cites the “Strange Situation experiments,” devised in 1969 by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth, a pioneer of attachment theory: “A mother and the baby are on the floor playing. The mother gets up and leaves the baby in the room alone. The baby has a separation-anxiety response. A stranger walks in; the baby has a stressed reaction to the stranger.”
[…]Researchers sample the infant’s saliva and test it for cortisol, a hormone associated with stress (and inversely correlated with oxytocin). In a series of such experiments in which Ms. Komisar herself participated, “the levels were so high in the babies that the anticipation was that it would . . . in the end, cause disorders and problems.” In a more recent variant of the experiment, scientists use functional magnetic resonance imaging to look directly at the brain of an infant reacting to photos of the mother and of a stranger.
I spoke to a millennial co-worker in my office who is very proud of his strong feminist views. His wife just had a baby, and they stuck the baby in daycare after 3 months so that she could go back to work. I did speak to him about what the research says (daycare and public school studies are a hobby of mine!), but I try to only disagree with him on one thing at a time, and right now, we’re disagreeing about cohabitation and marital stability. It’s amazing how confident millennials are about taking positions on things like daycare, cohabitation, public schools, etc. without ever having consulted the relevant peer-reviewed science.
Let’s look at one of the studies, to see some evidence.
The UK Telegraph reported on a recent study that measured the brain development of 3-year-old children.
Take a careful look at the image of two brains on this page. The picture is of the brains of two three-year-old children. It’s obvious that the brain on the left is much bigger than the one on the right. The image on the left also has fewer spots, and far fewer dark “fuzzy” areas.
To neurologists who study the brain, and who have worked out how to interpret the images, the difference between these two brains is both remarkable and shocking. The brain on the right lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left. Those deficits make it impossible for that child to develop capacities that the child on the left will have: the child on the right will grow into an adult who is less intelligent, less able to empathise with others, more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crime than the child on the left. The child on the right is much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on welfare, and to develop mental and other serious health problems.
[…]The primary cause of the extraordinary difference between the brains of these two three-year-old children is the way they were treated by their mothers. The child with the much more fully developed brain was cherished by its mother, who was constantly and fully responsive to her baby.
The child with the shrivelled brain was neglected and abused. That difference in treatment explains why one child’s brain develops fully, and the other’s does not.
[…]Professor Allan Schore, of UCLA, who has surveyed the scientific literature and has made significant contributions to it, stresses that the growth of brain cells is a “consequence of an infant’s interaction with the main caregiver [usually the mother]”.
The growth of the baby’s brain “literally requires positive interaction between mother and infant. The development of cerebral circuits depends on it.”
Prof Schore points out that if a baby is not treated properly in the first two years of life, the genes for various aspects of brain function, including intelligence, cannot operate, and may not even come into existence. Nature and nurture cannot be disentangled: the genes a baby has will be profoundly affected by the way it is treated.
I always like to consult the findings of science to find out the right way to achieve a goal. This puts off some prospective mates, who want to avoid planning and preparation so they can ride a roller-coaster of emotions and just do whatever they want to be happy in the moment. But in every other area of life, I’ve found that doing things the right way always involves studying and planning, then careful execution of a plan. Nobody passes an exam by going clubbing when they should be studying. Going clubbing is more fun “in the moment”, but studying always gets better results.
In this case, it’s very clear that keeping a mother at home for the first three years of each child would require some earning and saving by me, since men are the principal providers. And I expect that women who are looking for husbands to raise their children with will look for men who have made preparations to give the young children what they need. Not everything a man does is about looks and fun – there are real requirements here. It’s very important for young people to prepare for marriage and raising children by working backward from what the science says about children’s needs.
The more you read about the science, the less wiggle-room there is for feelings. Doing the right thing (saving money for a stay-at-home mom) is hard because it feels bad. But when you inform yourself with science, it makes it easier to override your bad feelings, because you know you’re doing the right thing to achieve a result. If you can’t bring yourself to prepare now to do things right later, then you should read more science, and that might make it easier to do the right thing.