Every parent has wondered at one time or another why kids don't come with clear instructions: How do these little beings work? what can I do to make sure they do well in life? and how can I get from lunch to bedtime without losing my everlovin’ mind? Throughout the ages, experts have emerged to provide advice to eager parents. Parenting is tough work, and our appetite for “professional” advice, designed to help us navigate through the new world we enter when we become parents, has seemingly only grown since the days of Dr. Spock--the famous American pediatrician whose Baby and Child Care (1946) is one of the best-selling books of all time.
One among today’s generation of parenting experts is a Washington State woman named Naomi Aldort. You may recognize her name from the pages of Mothering Magazine, where her writing has been featured; or from the very popular mothering.com website, where she held a post as a resident expert in child rearing, answering questions from readers in an “Ask the Experts” forum on the site. You might have attended a talk given by her at a La Leche League conference, or purchased one of her CD lecture sets. You might even have scheduled a personal phone counselling session with her, and billed your insurance company accordingly. Or, perhaps most likely, you may know of her 2006 book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming parent-child relationships from reaction and struggle to freedom, power and joy.
Over the past half-dozen years, as her popularity and influence in the parenting world has grown with the publication of her book, Aldort has presented herself as the recipient of a doctorate in psychology--that is, an acknowledged expert in child development and parenting. With the title “Ph.D.” appended to her name, Aldort has dispensed advice to parents through her writings, public speaking engagements and through private sessions directly with individual parents. She has also used the title “psychologist.” In the United States, only someone who holds a valid license to practice as a psychologist, in addition to a doctorate in psychology, may use this title (with a few specific exemptions, such as school psychologists). (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychologist#cite_note-6)
Aldort’s advice veers far from the mainstream; she has gained considerable attention and traction in the natural or alternative parenting world with her unconventional approaches to resolving parenting issues. Parents may have been comforted by the notion that, while her ideas might seem radical and her approach far from contemporary North American parenting norms, that advice and perspective was developed and assessed through the rigorous process of obtaining a doctorate, and that her capacity to offer advice to others had likewise been tested and validated through the professional psychologist licensing qualification. For a sleep-deprived new mom or a parent of an older child wondering how best to steer through a parenting challenge, the three little letters after Aldort’s name, together with the “psychologist” title, may well have functioned as a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” on the advice she dispensed.
And what are some of Aldort’s unconventional parenting ideas? In one startling example, she has suggested that young children experience the process of falling asleep as “like death” and consequently they should never--not ever--be left to fall asleep on their own or even left alone once fully asleep. Instead, “bedtimes” are to be eschewed while the entire nuclear family falls asleep at their own pace, in the same setting, with no solitude permitted for any member and with baby in constant, full-body contact with mother lest they experience a “terror” so overwhelming there are no words available to describe it. (Source: http://www.naomialdort.com/articles10.html)
In another instance, a mother asks Aldort for advice regarding a child who “If anyone says anything to her, our friends, complete strangers, whoever, she will tell them ‘Go away’ or ‘you’re stupid’ … Sometimes she will even randomly hit people as well.” Aldort advises the mother:
A child has no way of being “rude.” The word “rude” is your interpretation of her actions or words. A child is too self-centered to bother with doing anything to another. She is busy doing things for her own sake only...If you tell your daughter that her words can hurt people’s feelings, you are teaching her to get hurt by people’s words. This sets her up to being emotionally weak and dependent on what others’ say...How exciting it is that your child stands up for herself...How I wish we could all retain this level of honesty and were not trained to feel hurt by words...don’t teach her that words can hurt. They cannot.
In other words, if your child is hurting people and calling them names, don’t correct that behavior--or you are training your child to be a victim.
A poster on the Mothering.com forums shares another tidbit of unconventional advice gleaned from one of Aldort’s phone sessions:
have you read or heard of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort? We did a couple of phone consultations with her recently (as some may know we have a bit of a challenge with our oldest boy, 10) and she said that part of his issue was having all the younger siblings and how it has taken away from him. She said it is like bringing home another lover to your bed and telling your husband he should be so happy about it! I don't know- but she said ideally you would never have siblings closer together than 7 years
One would hope that someone making such outrageous and shocking suggestions as this--that even a grade school-aged child cannot be left alone to sleep because children experience sleep as “like death,” that teaching a child manners and consideration for others will result in them becoming weak and victimized, and that having a second child is akin to having an extramarital affair--would have the weight of compelling research and training to back up her assertions. Aldort claimed to be a psychologist with the associated training in clinical skills and research that comes with a Ph.D. in that field. But what if the academic weight of the Ph.D. and the heft of the professional psychologist license were nothing but an illusion in the case of Naomi Aldort?
What if Aldort hadn’t earned a doctorate and was not, in fact, a licensed psychologist, but instead traces her intellectual development and approach to her “study” with controversial figures such as Werner Erhard (founder of the 1970s “EST” seminars, infamous for their profanity and abuse of participants), Richard Bandler (co-founder of the 1970s “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” therapy model, a “fringe” movement which has been widely discredited due to insufficient empirical evidence to support its claims and efficacy), and more contemporary figures including Eckhardt Tolle and Byron Katie--both authors and “spiritual leaders” with no particular academic or professional qualifications?
Would parents have still flocked to her advice, forums, seminars, books, videos and CDs? Would her teachings have gained the same following if the curtain of academic achievement and professional licensing was pulled back? Would she have been invited to serve in the “Ask the Experts” section of a popular parenting site if it was known that her “expertise” was anchored mainly in the murky, EST-y underbelly of the modern self-help and personal empowerment movements?