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Erika Christakis

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Who's the Pervert? Is Hitting a Child More Acceptable Than Holding Her?

Posted: 05/22/2012 1:57 pm

What's more noxious: a man spanking his 20-month-old child or bathing with her? Consider this: A gay single father has recently been reunited with his twin toddlers after being falsely accused, a year ago, of sexually abusing them. The father, a professional photographer, took many beautiful photos of his kids, among them the one in the bathtub (which he posted on Facebook). You'd think a baby-raping father wouldn't post the incriminating evidence on Facebook, but apparently the authorities thought the kids would be better off in the custody of the nanny (a distant relative), and that's where the girls stayed, for three months, until they were handed over to the father's friends for a time and, eventually, returned to his safe custody.

There are surely many sexual abuse cases that go unexamined every day and we shouldn't object to due diligence. But it took this guy a year to clear his name and get his kids back. I can't help thinking that a lot of cultural biases, and not just unwieldy bureaucracy, kept the family apart for so long. There's a middle-class child-rearing sickness called "fostering independence," which is harming a lot of young kids and their families. It's impossible to miss: all the fuss about prolonged breastfeeding, and the unending dramas of moving kids out of the parental bed; the fears of mothers who smother their co-sleeping babies to death; the cheap talk about healthy "separation" and school "readiness," as if 3-year-olds are heading off to job interviews each morning. And, above all, the suspicion of parents -- fathers, in particular -- who touch their young children's bodies and admit to enjoying the sensual delight and indescribable sweetness of a soft warm baby. It's puzzling when you consider the lengths people go in other parts of the world to connect, physically, with their babies. The Gates Foundation, in its "Kanagroo Care" program, partnering with the United States Agency for International Development, has invested in encouraging mothers to hold their naked babies against their bare chests; it reduces infant mortality. Infant massage is used in many cultures and has been shown to increase weight gain in premature infants and decrease maternal depression.

But that's in those "disadvantaged" countries. Here in America, we push parents pretty hard to push their kids out of the nest. And single fathers -- gay fathers, no less -- seem to be under special scrutiny lest their loving attention veer into unsavory territory. Are we so uncomfortable with male nurturing that we assume something perverse about it? Last time I checked, there were a hell of a lot of dads who had no contact whatsoever with their kids. And I'd wager there are exponentially more men who are beating kids than inappropriately bathing with them. Shouldn't we be hounding them, and not the loving, attentive ones? Meanwhile, spanking is still considered a legitimate tool in the parenting arsenal (and I use that term advisedly). Amazing, isn't it, how hitting a child is more socially acceptable than bathing with one? Nineteen states have corporal punishment and 223,00 kids were paddled last year by educators (so-called) in school. So, tell me: Who's the pervert?

 
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