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'A Child Is Not a Domestic Appliance': Dr. Giuliana Mieli Talks Parenting

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I'm currently reading an Italian book entitled "Il Bambino non é un Elettrodomestico" ("A Child Is Not a Domestic Appliance"), and I must admit that I have finally found in the author, Dr. Giuliana Mieli, a person who puts the needs of the child first.

I had the pleasure of meeting this clinical psychologist in Milan recently, and I asked her a few questions.

Wherever did you find such a title?

I was shocked by the way we think about children and treat them. We want them to be as we choose, as is comfortable for us, and we prefer to make them fit into our schemes rather than catering to their own inclinations and needs.

An example is the book "Five Days to a Perfect Night's Sleep for Your Child," which has sold millions of copies, while completely ignoring the needs of each little being for the presence of a person that provides security.

As a professional career woman, how did you live the experience of motherhood?

Motherhood for me was a great wish that came true late in life: I had my children at 39, 41 and 43. This definitely allowed me to be a mature mother, and better able to protect myself from whatever might have polluted my maternal feelings -- during pregnancy and birth, and in later life choices.

So, I requested and was granted -- while working in hospital -- a work schedule adapted to my parental functions. There was a price in terms of job security, career progression and "recognition." But I have no regrets, since I did what I loved and believed in, and also enjoyed my children's childhood.

Women who want to follow their own careers without slowing them down or adapting to their maternal needs -- and who are not prepared to fight rationally for this -- would be better off not having children. Humans are not omnipotent, not even women who can give life. Babies develop within a uterus well protected by nature, and expect this state to continue after birth. And that's how it should be.

The adventure of life for everyone is the slow gradual detachment from mother, that allows and encourages the exploration of reality in line with the maturity of the child. Speeding past each stage too quickly only instills insecurity in a child.

What are your thoughts on motherhood nowadays -- the efforts, the sacrifices, the joys?

Motherhood is not a trap but a marvelous realization of self. As with all complex tasks, it requires effort and sacrifice. In order to succeed at work, do we not work hard and give up certain things? So why do it for our careers but not for our kids?

The problem is society's failure to fully recognize the dedication required from mothers and fathers. It's a cultural problem afflicting the future of the West, because it undermines the main role of parenthood in guaranteeing the survival of the species. Not merely physical survival, but above all in terms of mental health.

Women and men who are aware of this and can stop this trend should demand working timetables more compatible with their roles and parental happiness. Motherhood (or fatherhood) must not adapt to the world, rather the world needs to become more feminine and organize itself economically and socially compatible with the survival of the species.

Parents often receive advice that is misinformed -- and at times harmful for the child. As a psychologist, what would you suggest to parents?

Advice from the outside -- frequently invasive and negative -- comes from people who know nothing about the physiology of child growth.

Neurobiology tells us that the infant human, compared to the evolution of other young mammals, should remain in the uterus for 24 months. However, the birth canal of a woman is very narrow, and the head of a newborn is very large due to the complexity of the human brain.

Nature therefore ensures that delivery happens earlier, in order to ease the difficulty of passage (contractions during labour are absolutely involuntary), but babies are born "un-ready." It is wonderful that mother -- with the help and involvement of her partner -- can permit this detachment followed by a renewed fusion. Then, as the child grows and matures, it is gradually given increased autonomy and space for exploration.

I insist on parents sharing responsibility 50-50, and stress the importance of father's involvement in the educational process.

What are the fundamental points that you want to bring across in the book?

I'd like to make people think about the fact that Western scientific thought has brought innumerable advantages and progress. But it has completely ignored the complexity of the human aspect. Using very reductive categories it has forced us to ignore, until recently, the importance of a healthy link between our affections and the survival of the species.

We need to tell people that post-Freudian psychology, and more recently neurobiology, uncovered the importance of the relationship between the individual and the environment for the cognitive development of the brain, in order to create a safe affectional base -- which can guarantee the development of both our maturity and our autonomy.

Affections run from infant dependence to such exchanges of reciprocal affection between adults. This all needs to be accompanied and guided.

Do you have any words of support for mothers and fathers to enjoy their parenting roles in a calm manner?

To fully live our role as a parent, we must recognize that human life contemplates affection codes linked to our biological beings. We tend to ignore them rather than have them talk to us. Once we discover and follow them, we will instinctively feel that we are doing the right thing. Once we feel happy and satisfied, we are suddenly able to fight for our rights -- and those of our children, which society today absolutely denies.

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