Tag: parenting

A Conversation with Rachel Adams on Raising Henry and a Book Giveaway

Rachel Adams, credit Eileen Barroso

Rachel Adams, credit Eileen Barroso

Publishing this month, Rachel Adams‘s Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery gives a deeply moving and honest account of welcoming a baby born with Down syndrome. Adams, a professor of English and American studies, is also director of the Future of Disability Studies Project at Columbia University. In the interview below, she reveals more of the experiences that inspired her writing and openly addresses the challenges that we face as a society to support children and adults with disabilities, even as our progressive thinking makes further claims for its inclusivity. Goodreads members can enter to win a copy of the book from now until September 30!

Yale University Press: What motivated you to write Raising Henry?  Who do you hope your readers will be?

Rachel Adams: I’m a literary critic by training, and when my son Henry was born I immediately turned to literature to try to understand my circumstances. I was dismayed by the lack of reliable, informative reading material about raising a child with Down syndrome, as well as the quantity of misinformation I found in mainstream pregnancy guides and childrearing books. The most heartening read was Michael Berube’s wonderful book—Life as We Know It: A Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child—about the first years in the life of his son Jamie, who has Down syndrome. Berube presents an ideal combination of information, critique, and narrative. His book doesn’t discount fears but gives hope and a better understanding of the challenges.

Much as I loved Berube’s book, I saw the need for a story told from a mother’s perspective and one that would also address some of the social, political, and scientific changes in the 15 years since Berube had published his book. At first I wrote for myself alone, jotting down notes about my observations and experiences that I hadn’t seen represented elsewhere. Once I started to share my writing, I was gratified by the warm and receptive responses of my readers. I realized that this was a story other people wanted to read and talk about.

I had written several academic books, but Raising Henry came from a very different place.  My views were informed by research, but I was speaking about my life experiences and that allowed me to connect with readers in a very different and deeply satisfying way. I very much hope my book will be read by other parents, including those who don’t have children with Down syndrome. I also hope it will be read by doctors and other healthcare professionals, who often have regrettably little understanding of what it is like to raise a child with a genetic disability. Finally, I hope it will be read by teachers and educators and will be assigned to students who are planning careers in education, medicine, or public policy.

 

YUP: Can you tell us some positive things you have discovered or experienced as the mother of a disabled child?

RA: The most important thing to know is that being the mother of a disabled child brings with it the same experiences of joy, satisfaction, and frustration as being the parent of any other child. The best lesson I’ve learned from Henry is that the world is full of people who have devoted their lives and careers to helping others. Those people had been largely invisible to me until Henry gave them a reason to offer their help to us. My list includes doctors and other healthcare professionals, social workers, teachers, therapists, service coordinators, caregivers, and many, many others who have given their time and energy to helping Henry develop to his full potential and to secure the happiness and health of our family. Although there are many problems with our current healthcare and social welfare systems in this country, we shouldn’t lose sight of the incredible resources that are available to support those with a family member who is disabled.

 

Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and DiscoveryYUP: The most challenging part of raising a child with Down syndrome?

RA: We are a family of overachievers, and I’ve always been driven by the desire for perfection.  Having a child with Down syndrome caused me to readjust my ideas about merit, accomplishment, and perfection, and to question a society that equates intelligence and autonomy with personhood. This isn’t to say we don’t have high expectations for Henry, and that we don’t value his intellect and the things he has accomplished. But he does things at his own pace and in his own way, and it has been valuable for me to find different ways of appreciating who he is and what he can do.

Henry has also caused me to question the value our society places on independence. In a liberal democracy, personhood is equated with autonomy and self-reliance. Having a child who is disabled forces you to realize the ways we are all dependent on one another, and to appreciate the networks of support that are available to those who need extra help. Before Henry was born, I never wanted to accept help from anyone. Now, I take any help that is offered to me and that, in turn, has made me a more generous and giving person.

 

YUP: What changes do you hope to see in the medical establishment and educational system with regard to treatment and services offered for people with disabilities? What changes in the world at large?

RA: Having a child with Down syndrome is not a tragedy, and I would like to see doctors receive better training to help prospective parents make decisions about what they hope to get out of having children, and what it might mean to have a person with a disability in the family. Knowing something about the lives of people with genetic disabilities should be required training for all obstetricians, midwives, and pediatric specialists. How can doctors reliably counsel women about prenatal genetic testing if they have no knowledge about what it would be like to have a child with a genetic disability?

As our educational system becomes more inclusive, I look forward to educators learning that children with Down syndrome are as varied in personality and ability as other children. Too often, teachers and school admissions officers assume that a diagnosis tells them all they need to know about a child. Down syndrome becomes an excuse to lower expectations and close off options. Yet many children with Down syndrome are capable of accomplishing a great deal, academically, if they are given the right resources and accommodations. I would like to see an educational system that is better at accommodating the needs of many different kinds of learners so that all children will have the opportunity to succeed and develop to their full potential.

People with disabilities are more visible and have more opportunities than ever before. The self-advocacy movement is teaching people with intellectual disabilities to speak for themselves and to take charge of their own lives. I am heartened at the ongoing push to move people with intellectual disabilities out of institutions and group homes, and to give them opportunities to become members of the community. We need to be sure the resources are there to provide them with adequate support to live according to their full potential.

Henry receives the first finished copy of Raising Henry

Henry receives the first finished copy of Raising Henry

YUP: Do you have advice to offer families who are raising a child with a disability?

RA: Regardless of disability, your child is first and foremost a child, with the same need for love, stimulation, and care as other children. Take the help that is offered to you—we live in a society that still offers tremendous resources for the families of children with disabilities, but often only to those who know to ask. Embark on a program of lifelong education, where you become the foremost expert in your child’s needs. You are your child’s best advocate and you must never let other people—no matter what credentials and training they may have—tell you they know what’s best. At the same time, don’t forget that you are not a full-time teacher, doctor, or social worker for your child. Remember to enjoy your child and allow him or her to be a part of your family!

 

YUP: What political, social, or medical issues relating to disability concern you most?

RA: Whenever it comes time for belt-tightening, services for the poor and for people with disabilities (often one and the same) are almost always the first to be cut. Our society provides some of the best and most extensive supports for people with disabilities at all stages of life. But those resources are fragile and constantly endangered, so we need to do our utmost to preserve them by being active constituents and advocates.

In terms of medical care, I would like to see more attention on improving quality of life for people with genetic disabilities than in trying to develop genetic tests to eradicate them. The funding for improved genetic testing is grossly disproportionate to funding to improve cognitive function in people with Down syndrome. If genetic disabilities come to be seen as preventable conditions, that will adversely affect the resources available to support people with disabilities and their families.

The trend in the United States has been toward inclusive education, giving children with disabilities the right to learn in the least restrictive environment, often alongside their non-disabled peers. This is a very important development that benefits everyone: children with disabilities learn social and academic skills through the modeling of their peers, while those who are not disabled learn about diversity and tolerance. Genuine inclusion is hard work that requires talented and well-trained teachers. The perpetual underfunding of public education makes it more likely that inclusion will be done inadequately, teaching the wrong lessons to everyone involved.  In order to preserve the very real benefits of inclusive education, we need to be sure our teachers are adequately trained and compensated for the work that they do.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Raising Henry by Rachel Adams

Raising Henry

by Rachel Adams

Giveaway ends September 30, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

For Mothers AND Fathers, On Parenting, On Making Big Change: Childism

With Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday, May 13, and Father’s Day a month later on June 17, we are focused on good parenting, a gift to be commemorated with flowers, chocolate, and cards. Yet in her new book Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl reminds us how, for many children in the U.S. and abroad, good parenting is something that is sorely lacking. Jesse Kornbluth recently wrote about his “shattering” experience with Young-Bruehl’s project for a Huffington Post article titled, “Who’s the Bully?”

In the book, Young-Bruehl, who passed away in December, proposes the introduction of the term “childism” as the first step in identifying and counteracting a prejudice against children that she sees in everything from child imprisonment, fetal alcohol syndrome, abuse, and many more widespread phenomena. Although the author acknowledges that “We do not need more useless social science verbiage,” she cites the 1965 coinage of the word “sexism” as a means for understanding the systemic stereotyping and mistreatment of women, and hopes that “childism” can foster a parallel process of recognition. “Giving it a name is the first step,” Young-Bruehl wrote in an op-ed for Time that appeared last month.

In that same piece, Young-Bruehl argues that “Childism is the hardest form of prejudice to recognize because children are the one group that, many of us think without thinking, is naturally subordinate.” She continues: “It seems normal to insist ‘honor thy father and thy mother’ without any reciprocal ‘honor thy children.’”

Young-Bruehl calls for an effort to work against these assumptions, noting that childism comes in many forms other than the abuses registered by social workers. Children are manipulated, neglected, and dominated by their parents, and deprived access to food, shelter, and education under an entrenched system of poverty. The U.S., Young-Bruehl points out, has thus far failed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and national legislation does not adequately defend children’s rights or provide for their developmental needs.

As student at the New School, Young-Bruehl worked with political thinker Hannah Arendt and went on to write both the biography Hannah Arendt: For the Love of the World and Why Arendt Matters for Yale University Press. In Childism, she follows in the footsteps of her mentor, offering an incisive and articulate critique. Drawing on her work as a psychoanalyst in addition to legal, philosophical, and even literary sources, Young-Bruehl illuminates prejudices that often go overlooked, drawing her reader’s attention to an injustice that affects an entire generation, and a problem that is crying out to be solved.

A Conversation with the Late Elisabeth Young-Bruehl on Childism

With heavy hearts and minds, we said good-bye to Elisabeth Young-Bruehl at the beginning of December, who, over her career as a psychoanalyst, writer, biographer, and philosopher, contributed immensely to our understanding of humanity and modern social conscience. In the Chronicle Review, Peter Monaghan wrote a poignant tribute to her life and culmination of her career’s work in her last book Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children, posthumously published at the beginning of the month. The book has found its moment, creating a “clarion call for urgent action” among those most affected by the treatment of children—social workers, psychologists, pediatricians, and of course, parents. Headlines about spanking-related deaths and autistic children stuffed into duffel bags have only fueled the need for this timely address of prejudice and child welfare.

Upon completion of the book last fall, we had the chance to interview Young-Bruehl on the main issues presented in the book, and how “childism” is positioned in current discourse about child abuse and related policy decisions affecting our understanding of children as a group that are discriminated against like any other.

 

Yale University Press: Why are you proposing that we need the word and concept “childism”?

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl: The history of the word “sexism,” coined in 1965, shows how important it was to put under the same conceptual umbrella different acts, attitudes, and institutions that targeted women as a group. If you understand that domestic violence against women and wage discrimination against women are similarly rationalized or legitimated by a prejudice—sexism—you can develop ways to explore the prejudice and resist it. Without a synthesizing concept, you do not see that child poverty and child abuse are both rooted in and rationalized by prejudice against children.

YUP: Does prejudice against children—childism—operate like sexism?

EY-B: All prejudices are rationalizations of actions. Prejudiced people think that their actions against a target group are right, necessary, normal. But not all prejudices are alike, nor are all prejudiced people alike—there is no “prejudiced personality.” In this book I argue that there are three basic forms of prejudices. Basically, people want to get rid of the members of a group; manipulate them into being servants; or erase their identities. The forms are usually to some degree intermixed, but sexism is fundamentally of the third form. Childism, on the other hand, comes in all three forms. This is one reason why it has been so hard to pinpoint.

YUP: Childism focuses in many different ways on “child abuse and neglect”—why is that?

EY-B: First, abused and neglected children come, as children or as adults, into therapy situations where they can feel safe enough to tell their stories and talk about how they understand their abusers. Understanding their abusers’ motivations is crucial to them; they take a listener right to the topic and to how they have internalized the abusers’ motivations. They need to be cured of their internalizations as much as they need to be helped with external conditions that disrupt their growth and development. But—and this is the second reason—the field of Child Abuse and Neglect was, from its inception in the 1960s, set up in such a way, I believe, that it could not hear the experiences of abused and neglected children. It was focused on the types of acts they suffered—physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse—and children were classified by these types of acts. Treatment and prevention strategies are organized around these types of acts to this day. This has been very harmful for children. It matters how you think about children! Just as it matters how you raise them, and sponsor their growth and development—or fail to.

YUP: You are Anna Freud’s biographer—is this is an Anna Freudian book?

EY-B: I use many of Anna Freud’s key insights, particularly those she came to when she directed a children’s residential nursery in London during the Blitz. The children she cared for were traumatized, and they had a good deal to say about what they experienced. The Best Interests of the Child, the book Anna Freud wrote late in her long life, with two colleagues from the Yale Child Study Center, was designed to teach lawyers and judges how to listen to children in the course of trials—custody trials, abuse trials. Clearly, she was writing about childism, how to recognize it and how to prevent it. I take her wisdom as a model. But I am writing for all who are concerned with children’s well-being—in diverse professions, in policy-making positions, but also as parents.

 

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl was a psychoanalyst and the award-winning author of Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World, Anna Freud: A Biography, and Why Arendt Matters, all published by Yale University Press. Her last book Childism is available now.

Childism Continues

In the past weeks, we covered the deaths associated with a book on childrearing, bringing it into conversation with Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children, a new book by psychoanalyst and writer Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. All too sadly, it was not long before we shared the news that Young-Bruehl passed away at the beginning of the month.

Both the book’s subject and its author stay at the forefront of our minds, as recent news headlines continue to show the necessity of Childism. On Friday, the Associated Press reported on the case of an autistic schoolboy stuffed into a duffel bag; this was a disciplinary action conducted by his teachers. That he was autistic seems irrelevant to his treatment: in Kentucky, where the incident occurred, “there are no laws on using restraint or seclusion in public schools, according to documents on the state Department of Education’s website,” writes Bruce Schreiner for the AP.

Engaging deeply rooted ideas in our culture, Childism invites us to look at the societal thinking that allows this structure. In its final chapter, “Education and the End of Childism,” Young-Bruehl writes:

[T]here will always be people and societies that act against the principle Aristotle articulated in his Nicomachean Ethics: “The parent gives the child the greatest gifts, its existence, but also cherishment and education; . . . and because the child receives, it owes the parent honor and helpfulness.” Adults who do relate to children according to the natural principle, provisioning them for healthy growth and development, protecting them, preparing them for participation in family and community life, will never be able completely to change those who behave immaturely and harmfully toward children. But they can influence the conditions that provoke, permit, and even encourage such behavior. And they can work to identify and address the prejudice, childism, that legitimates it.

Who could imagine “disciplinary action” against an adult in this manner, autistic or not? Without debating the typical “cruel and unusual,” we seem to carry out those more imaginative and sadistic punishments on children, both as a reflection of our own insecurities and as an exercise of control in their lives. This is the book written to confront the culturally embedded devolution of the natural relationship between parent and child into identifiable prejudice and abuse, and how we must all work together to improve the welfare of children.

In Memoriam: Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

We at Yale University Press are very sad to report the untimely passing of Elisabeth Young-Bruehl last Thursday, December 1, at age 65. As a psychoanalyst and philosopher, Young-Bruehl brought her interest in the ideologies of prejudice to her many books, including her YUP biographies of Anna Freud and mentor Hannah Arendt.

Combining not only psychology and philosophy, but literature, history, law, feminism, humanism, and above all social conscience, Young-Bruehl was a vocal advocate of anti-prejudice thought, most recently giving a talk for the New York Institute for the Humanities to discuss the work behind her last and forthcoming book, Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children. Early reader Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, wrote “Childism is an alarming analysis of the policies and behaviors that are so harmful to our children. Young-Bruehl’s deeply humane insights should be required reading for policymakers and parents.”

Only a month ago, we posted an article to our blog in response to the front page story about recent deaths connected to the disciplinary practices espoused in a book on child rearing, relating it to Childism, which explores the mistreatment of children as comparable to other forms of discrimination like racism, sexism, and homophobia. The post started quite a buzz on Facebook and Twitter from users anxious to engage with the controversial nature of the book, and of course, spanking.

“The struggle against childism is one of the most important battles we will ever wage, for it is a fight for the future,” writes Elisabeth in the Introduction to her new book. Next month, when we publish Childism, we will also have an interview with Young-Bruehl, conducted earlier this fall. Reading all the social media attention had excited Elisabeth to contribute more blog pieces on the book, but in her memory, we will champion her cause to not only raise awareness within our society, but to suggest and provide ways that we can fight oppression of children. We have been well-advised by Elisabeth’s echo from Dominique Browning’s memorial post on Young-Bruehl’s “Who’s Afraid of Social Democracy?” blog: “Cherish the time you have. Cherish this world. Be gentle, but be strong. Live in love.”

Are We Spanking Out of Prejudice?

A self-published book encourages parents to employ corporal punishment to tragic effect, the New York Times reported Monday. The book, To Train Up a Child, is the work of Tennessee preacher Michael Pearl and his wife Debi, and includes recommendations on how to use “the rod” to make children comply with parental authority.

Since 2006, three children have died in households reported to have read the Pearls’ book or followed their website; the parents of the latest victim, who was found dead earlier this year, have been charged with homicide. In spite of these incidents, the Pearls defend their parenting philosophy, saying that while they do not advocate taking corporal punishment to such extremes, they stand by their support of spanking, fasting, and other punitive practices when they are used properly.

The book has proved particularly popular with Christian homeschoolers, whose online discussions of the book spurred sales: there are now more than 670,000 copies of To Train Up a Child in circulation. However, not all conservative Christians ascribe to the Pearls’ suggestions, and in the last several months, the book has sparked rampant debate, giving birth to at least one site devoted exclusively to anti-Pearl arguments.

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, a writer and psychoanalyst, voices concern about issues of child abuse in the introduction to her new book Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children, to be published in January. The book is an extraordinary study on a prejudice Young-Bruehl argues is rampant in the United States, and calls a break from “the natural order” in which societies provide their children with what Aristotle called “cherishment and education.”

People “mistreat children in order to fulfill certain needs through them, to project internal conflicts and self-hatreds outward, or to assert themselves when they feel their authority has been questioned,” Young-Bruehl writes, and “rely upon a societal prejudice against children to justify themselves and legitimate their behavior.” She notes that the United States is almost entirely alone in its failure to ratify the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been accepted by 192 countries. And as Publishers Weekly has noted this week, the book is “a clarion call for urgent action.”

As evidence of childism, Young-Bruehl quotes statistics indicating that America has the highest rates of child abuse in the world—and one can only imagine that a systemized and categorical treatment of children has informed common practices of abuse. She cites “the belief that…childhood is a time when discipline is the paramount adult responsibility” as a key contributor to childism, and, in looking at some of the Pearls’ followers, it is easy to see how this might be the case.

Boys Will Be Boys—So They’re All the Same?

Everyone has to grow up sometime. The always accompanying question is: how? From birth, we are set on different developmental paths, most outwardly distinguished by gender. But somehow this idea seems overly simplified to explain individual experience. Boys will be boys; girls will be girls, but does that make them the same? What is normal? Writing in his book Boyhoods: Rethinking Masculinities, Ken Corbett notes:

Masculinity is a complex pattern. Boyhood is a chaotic dynamism. The terms boyhood and masculinity signify our efforts to catalogue the experience of a group of people, in this case male children from birth to full growth. Boyhood also strives to capture and categorize the gender pattern called masculinity, and more precisely the development of masculinity. Categorical speech though, always fails; someone always falls out. No two boyhoods are the same. No one boy remains invariable.

The ubiquitous term faggot, which Corbett describes as the “all-purpose putdown”, drives boys away from a sense of shared experience, and he is interested in its use to signify failure and loss in moments of rivalry between boys (think only of how often we use “FAIL” and “Loser” as substitutions in everyday situations). Boys, who are often encouraged to be “big and winning”, find themselves seeking these glories and distinguishing themselves by degrading others, identifying the difference between success and failure as a measure of sexuality. The connection is not accidental, and the intensity behind the language can become so intense that the slur is directed almost indiscriminately towards another seen to be in competition, regardless of age, whether a therapist, a classmate, a brother, even a father or another parental figure. But Corbett cautions that in using this tactic as a defense, “boys are too often simply taken for their defensive face value (‘boys will be boys’),” but further discussing that “when unmet, [these defenses] have the potential to shape particular power relations, such as misogyny and homophobia, that produce and promote a them-us traumatic split or divide—one that often haunts the psychic lives of men.”

How these early experiences shape male development and sense of self is the subject of Corbett’s book. After reading, perhaps we should all be more careful to only throw rocks at the stupid boys, however the quality is so deemed.

Parenting a gender-variant child

Boyhoods The most recent issue of TimeOut Kids features a series of articles on children and sexuality, highlighting the many dilemmas that parents face when educating their children about the realities of sex and gender. Ken Corbett, author of Boyhoods: Rethinking Masculinities, is quoted extensively in a piece on the particularly thorny problem of parenting a gender variant child. Though the repressive desire to force Johnny into playing quarterback when he'd really rather be doing needlepoint has been tempered over the years, Corbett notes that the current model of overencouraging, "free-to-be-you-and-me" parenting can be just as damaging:

“We’re stuck between advocacy and reactive pathologizing,” he says. “We want to be responsive and encouraging, but at the same time, it’s not right—ethically or responsibly—to predict a child’s future. We don’t have an archive of what happens to gender-variant kids. A boy who displays feminine traits as a child may grow up to be transgender, he may be a gay man, he may be a straight man who is a good father, he may become an artist with a sensitive temperament.”

There seems to be no magic model for parenting, regardless of the child's gender identity, but Corbett notes that communication may be the most important element of any healthy relationship. "If your son says he wants to be a girl, Corbett adds, ask him why. 'The answer may not be what you expect.'”

A discussion about the piece continues on the New York Times's Motherlode blog.