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Monday, July 11, 2011

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind That Curtain: The Questionable "Expertise" of Naomi Aldort, Part One

By Anon of Cleves

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.

(Source: http://www.mothering.com/child-rude-random-people)

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

(Source: http://www.mothering.com/community/forum/thread/1308918/birds-do-it-bees-do-it-even-ladies-in-their-forties-do-it-40-spring-ttc/400#post_16512820)

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?

Part Two

Part Three

9 comments:

  1. Is anyone REALLY shocked that she is a quack?

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  2. I really appreciate Naomi Aldort's point of view, regardless of credentials. If you don't it's ok.
    No need to get nasty about it. Compassion, tolerance, that is what we need in this world. We don't all see this parenting journey the same way.
    I hope you are teaching THAT to your children.

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  3. Oh, LOL @ anonymous #2.

    If someone is willing to lie about her education to further her influence, who knows what else she's willing to lie about/make up. A quack is a quack, whether you appreciate her point of view or not.

    Also, part two and part three are not opening for me. Has the url changed?

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  4. I don't condone lying about credentials, but I can't say that I think you should value someone's word simply because they have them either. In many ways those WITH credentials may or may not have a balanced view, either. I have had a licensed child mental health worker tell me to lie to my child to offer them "security".....when any security built on a lie, is simply false hope.... It's not her fault that we exalt people instead of ideas.

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  5. Credentials credentials. She raised fine three young men and that's enough to show her credentials: all very bright, empathetic, and full of heart and brain. It's not like going to school where they supposedly teach how to be with children by making you be in labs behind windows watching kids and reading a lot of theory is going to help you. All those theories were also developed by people who observe and they are all people too. You all must have forgotten how you were as a child if you think what she suggests is shocking or wrong. I was always scared of falling asleep. Closing eyes would feel like there is going to be eternal darkness. When I was a child, I never learned how to protect myself and still struggle with it because I'm overly concerned about not being rude and taking care of other's feelings while neglecting mine and getting hurt when someone else didn't care the same way. I would say stuff out of genuine curiosity and adults would think I was being rude to them. Even before the degree issue, she always said that her degree did not help any more in her work. It's not like all of you took extensive psychology classes before deciding to be moms. I also met many friends who had expert moms who were really messed up because the parents would only know theories and try to apply them literally but not really help the children. How is she any worse than all the other so-called experts that are so not in touch with real children. She was not lying on purpose it was a mistake and it happens to people. If you think other parenting advice is better go ahead and follow them and see how the kids turn out. (This thread just shows me how delusional people are. That's why people always say he's such a great, sweet, marvelous boy and it turns out that that boy goes on to prominent colleges like Dartmouth, joins frats where they do extensive humiliating hazing and rape other women and everyone exclaims "I cannot believe it! He's such a nice boy!")

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  6. Also about being a controversial figure. What kind of person is not controversial. In any circle, anything can be controversial. Jesus was controversial, Henry David Thoreau was controversial, Mark Twain was controversial. If I saw the way you act around your kids I might consider you controversial.

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  7. I think the proof is in the pudding as they say. I just finished watching her at yet another convention. An amazing speaker and she really seems to "get" my family in maybe ways others who do not have attached families might not. Do I think she is perfect? Of course not. She made some bit mistakes with lying about a PH.D. but discounting the other training she has had just because it is not main stream and that the education does not look like that of others, who happen to running a failing society I might add, is rather a low and useless blow. It seems like a lot of effort went into flushing out the truth of this Mothers education but then a lot more went into throwing rocks at her. I wonder why? I think that says a lot more about those throwing the rocks. Not every harm in the world is done in the name of money. Some evils are just as bad and sadly harder to sometimes see. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!

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  8. Thank you for this article. Is there any change you can post part 2 and 3. The links are not working.

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