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Boundaries of Touch

Boundaries of Touch: Parenting and Adult-Child Intimacy

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Boundaries of Touch
    Book Description:

    Discussing issues of parent-child contact ranging from breastfeeding and sleeping arrangements to sexual abuse, Jean O'Malley Halley traces the evolution of mainstream ideas about touching between adults and children over the course of the twentieth century in the United States. Boundaries of Touch shows how arguments about adult-child touch have been politicized, simplified, and bifurcated into "naturalist" and "behaviorist" viewpoints, thereby sharpening certain binary constructions such as mind/body and male/female. In addition to contemporary periodicals and self-help books on child rearing, Halley uses information gathered from interviews she conducted with mothers ranging in age from twenty-eight to seventy-three. Throughout, she reveals how the parent-child relationship, far from being a private or benign subject, continues as a highly contested, politicized affair of keen public interest.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09145-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. ONE To Touch or Not to Touch
    (pp. 1-26)

    While working on this book, I stayed overnight at a hospital for the first time. I came home exhausted, pale after massive blood loss, and very afraid. On top of all of that, someone came home with me. He was noisy, demanding, easily dissatisfied, constantly hungry, and apparently never tired, at least not at night. Where he came from and what I was to do with him seemed a complete mystery. I thought my life was over. And it was. At least my life as I knew it.

    In all the conflicting advice I got, whether and how to touch...

  6. TWO The Rise of the Expert, the Fall of the Mother
    (pp. 27-68)

    Most of us probably remember Dr. Spock, one of the earliest “scientific” experts offering popular child-rearing advice, who continues years after his death to instruct us. But he and all those others who glut today’s marketplace with their recommendations and warnings are relatively new phenomena. In part, this is because of Spock’s new at the time pro-touch leanings. Until the 1940s, most child-rearing experts were adamantly opposed to the intimate touching of children. Many advised against breastfeeding, and they were certainly against children sleeping in bed with their parents. Of central importance in this anti-touching period are the mind–body...

  7. THREE Breasts versus Bottles and the Sexual Mother
    (pp. 69-104)

    La Leche League International was started in 1957 by seven stay-at-home Catholic, white, middle-class mothers in Illinois. They met through their shared involvement in an ecumenical Christian social action and family organization. These seven women were part of the post–World War II childbirth reform community. Like the larger childbirth reform movement, the seven La Leche League International “Founding Mothers” believed in “natural” childbirth, breastfeeding with child-led weaning, and large families cared for by stay-at-home mothers.

    The La Leche League founders wanted to support the few white middle-class women in those days who wished to breastfeed their babies. Previously, breastfeeding...

  8. FOUR Babies in Bed: To Sleep or Not to Sleep (with Your Baby)
    (pp. 105-130)

    In 1999, a government study caused an uproar among scientific, parenting, and child-rearing experts.¹ The study, by the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, argued that parents should never sleep in the same bed with their infants or toddlers, on the basis that parents might, in their sleep, roll on top of their babies, or the babies might suffocate in the parents’ blankets. Citing the study’s findings that 515 children under the age of two—an average of sixty-four per year—had died as a result of sleeping in adult beds, commission chair Ann Brown argued that “there was no safe...

  9. FIVE Violent Touch: Feminists, Conservatives, and Child Sexual Abuse
    (pp. 131-150)

    These days, children are thought to be in grave danger of being touched violently, abusively, or sexually in public places like day-care facilities and schools. The result of this collective fear of touching is that children who spend significant time in (for example) day care may not be receiving the physical contact they need to thrive. At the same time, real dangers to children, such as malnutrition and hunger, poor schooling, and violence at home, are often overlooked. And although most child sexual abuse happens within homes, public concern over violent or sexually abusive touching of children in families has...

  10. SIX Touching Problems
    (pp. 151-166)

    One human being sucking on another’s breast, or one snuggled up to another in bed, are acts containing multiple and significant meanings. Like other forms of adult–child touch, beliefs about breastfeeding and sharing sleep (or not) have been and continue to be deeply contested in the mainstream United States.

    In this book I have sought to reveal the ideological and dualistic structure of ideas about adult–child physical contact. Unlike Bernice Hausman, I do not advocate any position on touch; rather, I examine the power-laden context of the various positions. I depend on thinkers like Susan Bordo, who captures...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 167-168)

    As I said earlier, I am a mother, a white middle-class mother. Having the cool, detached eye of a researcher has helped me only marginally, if at all, to stay calm and clear-headed when it comes to child-rearing advice. I worry, and I worry over each alternative. Every decision about feeding or sleep seems to carry the weight of my son’s future happiness and well-being. And no matter which way I go, I always wonder, anxiously, if it was the “right” choice.

    As a graduate student whose partner worked full-time hours for part-time pay adjuncting, we were very squeezed financially...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 169-186)
  13. References
    (pp. 187-194)
  14. Index
    (pp. 195-202)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-204)