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Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love: 10/07/15

Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love by Kate Samworth: The popular idea in the early to mid 20th century was that children needed to learn how to tough it out on their own.

Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love by Jim Ottaviani is a graphic novel account of the psychology research done on the parent / child relationship and child self-esteem and mental health. At the forefront of this research was Harry Harlow who used rhesus monkeys (mothers and babies) to show the importance of physical contact to express love between parent and child.

The popular idea in the early to mid 20th century was that children needed to learn how to tough it out on their own. Parents were advised to avoid excessive physical contact with their children and to let babies cry it out. Babies and toddlers were kept in playpens and infants were primarily bottle fed. And a few years later, therapists reaped the benefits.

By the time I was born the pendulum was swinging more towards baby wearing, natural childbirth, and breast feeding, though those bits of advice hadn't yet become completely mainstream as they were by the time I had my children at the start of the 21st century.

We can see the start of this swing in the second season episode of Bewitched, "And Then There Were Three" where Tabitha is born. Although Samantha (at least while in the hospital) is willing to play by the parenting rules that the nurse, and husband Darrin, believe in. But Endora, her mother, is far too Bohemian, to believe such idiotic advice. She sets forth a series of misunderstandings by doing a very loving thing: picking up her crying grand-daughter from the nursery and taking her back to Samantha. Nowadays, infants stay with their mothers for most, if not all, of the postnatal stay in the hospital.

Wire Mothers from the early days where he was keeping his monkeys (and their isolation chambers) in a rickety old building just off campus. Later as his work got more attention he had to move out of the condemned building and into a proper lab. He also had to work under greater scrutiny.

The work was inhumane and controversial — no argument there. But I think it was a necessary evil to move away from the worst of the parenting advice bandied about when my grand parents were new parents. I'm glad that those men and women who ignored the parenting advice back then were eventually vindicated.

Four stars

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