Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Making Assessments

Yesterday I got a bit embroiled in a blog thread at this blog. The discussion was about co-sleeping with children.  Blogs often will introduce topics like these to foster discussion.  Parenting is a hot-button issue, so placid comments can give way to strong opinion and then debate. These things happen.

But some people don’t like them to happen.  The whole co-sleeping/Attachment Parenting (yes, I know they're not identical!) discussion is just an example of HOW PEOPLE DON’T REALLY WANT YOU TO MAKE AN ASSESSMENT.  They want you to say things like this:  “This is what I do. It works for me.  You should do whatever works for you.  It’s all pragmatic.  There really are no wrongs or rights on this issue.  Live and let live!”  So, the blog thread becomes a recital of what various people have done. And each person ends with (basically), “Whatever! Do what you fee like!”


And heaven help the person who begs to differ – not about the topic at hand, although that will get her into hot water too.  What really gets her in trouble is when she is bold to assert an ASSESSMENT.  You all know what an assessment is:  it’s a test.  You assess students to see if they meet the standard required.  You test gold to see what impurities it has.  You evaluate a system of thought to determine if it is logical.

We assess philosophies and ideologies.  At least we should. We hold them up, evaluate them, find their weaknesses and strengths and determine if they are lacking. And people really, really don’t like it if you do that to their personal ideology.  Ever.

In our day, the practice of assessment is under attack.  It’s labeled as judgmental, mean-spirited, callous, unkind. We should never, ever judge, we are told.  You’re in charge of your own life, but others’ lives are none of your business.

(And, the practice of assessment is under attack just when the blogosphere and its threads-to-the-edge-of-doom are popular.)

So, I’m here to say that we need more assessment.  More judging (in the good sense). More evaluating.  Philosophies and ideologies need to have the light of good reason shone upon them – and the light of Scripture, I’ll add. WE WILL NOT ALL COME TO THE SAME CONCLUSIONS WHEN WE ASSESS, but it needs to be done anyway. We should – we should – be able to assess, debate, differ, and do so without malice or taking offense. 

Unfortunately, people who hold their practices without having studied the ideologies that underlie them, can be insecure about both. They might not know the ideology, they might not think it’s important to do so, and they prefer to do whatever practice their instinct or personal experience tells them works for them.

And that’s a kind of assessment, isn’t it? If you co-sleep (just an example, mind you), and your house is more calm, your sleep more restful, your child more happily independent , your marital intimacy purring nicely along, then you may try to argue the cause/effect of those things. You may be right or wrong. Those things might occur in spite of, not because of, co-sleeping. That’s no proper assessment, really. But assessing the philosophy behind it – that’s more useful.

Assessing ideologies is much more accurate and easily done – they must be held to the standard of reason, and pass. If Attachment Parenting tells me that its practices will produce unattached (i.e. independent) children, that makes no sense to me. I’ve heard the arguments, and they do not seem logical.  One, two, or twenty personal stories are merely anecdotal evidence – no evidence at all. When Attachment Parenting tells me that training children to cling to their parents physically, to be bundled up against the scary world out there, to be wrapped up with a parent 24/7, will produce confident children who will step boldly into that world, unafraid and self-confident -- that makes no sense to me. It’s illogical to me.  Teaching them to trust God, who WILL protect them, and to cling to Him, to see the world as His world – well, you get the point.( I could go on and on.)  I don’t see the rationality in the AP model.

Yet some do. And if they’ve made a logical, reasoned assessment (not based on emotional preference, or on instinct), and then embraced that ideology, that’s fine. We can agree to disagree.  And I can puzzle at their thinking, and they can puzzle at mine.  That’s honest debate. But for someone to tell me that I shouldn’t make an assessment, that judgments of this type are wrong?  That I’ll oppose.  When people refuse to use their minds (or allow others to) to make assessments, and then claim their practices as ‘correct’ – that’s laughable.

A philosophy is a system of thought. It either works well in the mind, maintaining consistent, smooth-running logic, or it doesn’t. When the systems that run our cars, or our air conditioners, or our bodies, or our governments, are broken, we assess them, and fix them. If we’re not aware of the flaws in the systems that run our lives – our practices – then it’s time we sat down and assessed them too.


  1. While I understand your thoughts on AP - I have similar ones - I think you may be throwing the baby out with the bath water on this score.

    Sure we want to teach our children that their security is in Christ alone. Mommy and Daddy can't be there to save the day every time. However, where do children learn experientially what security is? How do children learn what to expect of God? and who God is?

    We can tell them - until we are blue in our faces, but unless our actions give some meaning to our words then our words are meaningless.

  2. Well -- except that I don't advocate ignoring your kids, or never hugging them, never protecting them. I don't adopt the opposite extreme at all. In fact I have always regularly hugged, snuggled, protected, provided for, and held my kids. As I say, this is not as much an assessment of practice, as of philosophy, and some people really don't get the difference. Two families may look like they're practicing nearly the same parenting model, but be doing it for entirely different reasons -- i.e., their philosophies are different. And I think that makes a difference. I never, ever have heard from Dr. Sears or any of his ardent followers, a clear Biblical basis for his PHILOSOPHY, not his practices. Some even claim that AP is not a philosophy, and to that I reply, that if it is not a system of thought, then its adherents are really in trouble. Most of them say their following instinct, or emotional need, and I find that problematic as well.

    But it's popular among younger moms, so I do think younger moms will be more sympathetic toward it. B/c I'm 47, I've seen more parenting models come and go, and realize that they are fads. In 30 years, I think many will look back on the baby-wearing, family-sleeping, constant-nursing ideas, and shake their heads. We'll see.

    I've never said just to tell our kids that we care for them. I do believe in showing it. But not in the same ways Dr. Sears does.

  3. Well, I didn't say you ignored your kids. However, these days it seems there is either AP or BabyWise approach. I think BabyWise does a good bit of ignoring by insisting on a schedule rather than going with the baby's cues.

  4. We may BOTH need to read more carefully. I never said that you said that either. In my reply, I was talking about the AP model, not your comment. You said our actions my give meaning to our words -- that the two must agree. That's true -- that's parenting consistently. So, I see moderation needed here. Protect your kids as much as you can, and say you will. But tell them God is their true protection, and live that out too.

    I don't really know what Baby Wise is. It seems that, regardless of what labels we use, parenting trends seem to swing back and forth from either a model that uses the child's instincts as the guide for parenting behavior, or the parents' reason as the guide. That's how it looks to me. I've often heard of this responding to the baby's cues. It seems that the AP model keeps parents constantly in "response" mode. I'd prefer for parents to take the initiative. If the baby is fed, clean, cuddled, socialized -- in effect, if all his needs have been met as far as the parents can meet them, then the baby is just crying, and needs to be put to bed b/c he's probably tired. This worked great for our family, all 4 kids. And it makes sense to me.


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