I see quite often mother asking for advice, “How can I get my child to stop asking I hold him?”
I can never answer this directly. Because I am too blunt and too counter to the core values of the mother. So, I’ll answer it here, generically. Don’t. Asking a child to not want to be held is deeply opposite of a human child’s natural biological instinct.
Attachment parenting, I propose, allowed humans to evolve. Humans have the longest gestation period of any animal–an otherwise unheard of ~20 years. I propose it is this way because we must have evolved in a mostly predator-free world. Creatures that are high in complexity (such as humans) tend towards have fewer progeny that they take care of really well. Creatures low in complexity tend towards generating a lot of progeny, in which most won’t even make it. When an acorn tree releases hundreds of acorns, most are going to get eaten by a squirrel. If even one of those acorns makes it into a tree, I would be surprised. In order to go through the many stages required to develop the human mind during youth–a truly remarkable thing evolutionarily, if you think about it–it could only evolve in a setting where homo sapiens had few predators.
I propose attachment parenting is one reproductive strategy that aided in this. We are mammals. Mammals hold their young. A snake lays its eggs and then abandons them. I can’t be sure, but I am guessing over 3/4 of the eggs gets eaten. In fact, the egg is the perfect food for a lot of other animals, including humans. That we can so easily swipe an egg–something truly defenseless–gave us a great protein boost. So, protection of the young, if any animal is to develop in a complex way, is critical.
And, indeed, a mother holding on to her baby serves the purpose of protecting that child. Yes, it provides warmth and emotional regulation. But it also keeps that child from getting stalked by a saber tooth tiger.
There was a viral post showing mothers all over the world carrying their children. Here are a few:
The last photo especially got me, because of how much older that child looks. At first, I thought the child was 8. But he is probably about 3 or 4.
So, here is the part where I go dark. I warned you. If you want the conclusion of this post without going into the dark discussion, it’s this: hold that baby. You can stop reading now, if you want.
I tend to study personality disorders, especially narcissism and psychopathy. At night, many watch various TV shows or get a drink with friends to unwind. I study psychopathy. It’s just what I do.
Psychopathy is a biological disorder. The parts in their brain that regulate empathy can be thought of as being “unplugged.” They are there (and smaller). But they don’t work with the rest of the brain. A psychopath has no innate empathy. They can see someone bleeding right in front of them, and it calls up no emotions for them. They are cold. And it’s by biological design. We can shame them all we want. It doesn’t matter. Their brain is totally different. This has been researched and seems to be well regarded as to what is going on (with “nurture” determining if they become “a serial killer or just a con man.” I think we can do better than this, with leaned in parenting, but I digress.)
Some believe psychopathy is a result of a “reproductive strategy.” Reproductive strategies aren’t conscious. You are loving towards your child. This is one reproductive strategy. I bet you aren’t doing it to further the human race or your genes, as such, but it has this effect. The alleged unconscious strategy of the psychopath is wham bam, thank you ma’am. They are, in addition to lacking empathy, quite sexually alluring. They have raw sexual charisma, both the male and female psychopath. And somewhere in this they end up passing their very genes, which are psychopathic.
I personally think it’s even darker than a cavalier attitude towards sex and childrearing. I think some cultures or some periods in history were so dark and so awful that parents were not nurturing of their children in the least. It’s not that the psychopath shrugs off parental duties to someone else. It’s that the child is actually raised by the psychopath, who doesn’t care about proper childrearing. One psychopathic mother, when asked if she was worried she might harm her child through her neglect, shrugged, “I can have another.” The only children who even made it to age 12 or 13 in these cultures were psychopaths. It is highly maladaptive, and on a DNA level. It is a type of human that can make it into adulthood with little love, nurturing, or warmth. And the fact that this happened or can happen should scare the hell out of us!
Psychopaths don’t just lack empathy. They lack many other skills. As I do research on age-related brain growth, this fascinates me. Psychopaths also lack imagination. They can’t conjure up much in their mind. As such, they cannot make long-term plans. You need imagination for long-term plans. You have to have a semi-vision in your mind and work towards it.
And this is EXACTLY what my work has found. I found at age 3 in particular, a child’s imagination grows greatly. And coinciding with this is an ability to plan and navigate. These things are related: memories and planning. You can only plan what you can imagine. And your imaginations can be made up of nothing but your memories, rearranged. Your experiences turn into memories, which turn into imagination, which turn into planning. Thus your memories are the base “stock,” your fuel, of all human reasoning and planning. I write about this finding of mine–the link between a child’s growing imaginations and the new skills that develop–in Misbehavior is Growth: 3 Year Olds. I documented it explicitly in the Developmental Map I did for 3 Year Olds. In this, I match three year old’s forming new imaginations to their forming new abilities (in “normal” children.) I found with each new increase in imagination came an increase in the amount of data children could hold, mentally. With each increase of data sets that they held mentally came more creativity and imagination. And with more imagination came strategic thinking and planning. What does it mean if these never developed?
Without this ability to turn your experiences into memories, then your memories into imagination, then your imagination into plans, humans revert back, in evolutionary terms. Without long-term planning, a person becomes impulsive. And psychopaths are very impulsive. I’ve known some. If they see a fun side show, say at an amusement park you are at with them, they’ll just up and leave you mid-sentence to go do it. They are that entitled and that impulsive. They are indeed like the snake who quickly catches the frog to eat. In ways, this impulsivity has its advantages.
But psychopaths are not intelligent in the true sense of the word. They can’t imagine, plan, or study. They don’t do well in school. They can’t sit down and study something for long. If they aren’t partying, they see no reason to stick with something. There are some psychopaths who have illustrious careers in academic settings. But they don’t genuinely study the topic or offer meaningful solutions. Instead, they are VERY charismatic and offer more intellectual candy than matured solutions. Cerebral narcissists and more cerebral psychopaths are intellectual, not intelligent.
And their brains are literally wired to lie. Their minds are “Mental Scrabble.” They keep disparate bits of information that they can rearrange at any second into a convincing story. They tell their lies with just the right amount of plausibility, self deprecation, and lies, as to be convincing. They are literally biologically designed to lie. And this utterly fascinates me, given the research I do.
In the late 3s, children start to chunk up the world into disparate parts. They develop a large, chunked up knowledge set at 3 Year Old Milestone 10A. They have enormous, detailed knowledge, with nuance. I called the milestone, “Enormous, Detailed Knowledge with If/Then Logic.” Immediately after this, they start to put those disparate parts into a theme. Milestone 10B is Thematic Thinking.
I am somewhat amazed that children take these disparate bits of knowledge and put them into a theme as the first skill. They don’t learn to deal with the disparate parts accurately before they do this. If a child hits their sister at this age, you may tell them “Don’t hit your sister.” They’ll tell you, “I didn’t hit her. I hit her toe.” That her “toe” is part of the set of “their sister” is not something they understand yet. This comes in the early 4s. They put information into themes BEFORE they handle sets well.
And in my opinion: the psychopath may have missed this developmental stage altogether. They can’t take disparate parts and integrate them. They, again, have Mental Scrabble. They take those disparate parts and put them together into a convincing lie. Their brains are designed to not integrate the facts, such that they are always “slippery” in their mind. They can plug and play facts to their liking.
And they never understand sets either. If asked if he murdered anyone, the psychopath says, “No I’ve never murdered anyone. I mean, I killed someone ….” Robert Hare’s Without Conscience documents how handily they hold onto two contradictory statements with no seeming inclination whatsoever that the two statements cannot coexist. They genuinely believe their word salad.
Empathy on an intellectual level also grows markedly at this age where they put information into themes. At 10B, they “can put themselves into another’s shoes.” Children may be fascinated that someone is dizzy: YOU feel that emotion, too!? Again, I think psychopaths may have skipped this developmental stage altogether. How interesting that these parts of the brain grow at the same time! I discuss in Misbehavior is Growth extensively how these skills develop and how they might be important. In the late 3s, other people become “really real” to a child. Before this, everything is quite wonky. They think they or someone else can magically fit into a small toy train. That they realize this can’t happen in their late 3s is quite huge. It means they intellectually persist in the object constancy of their own character and others.
On an EMOTIONAL level, empathy grows in the mid 2s. Neorutypical toddlers sincerely want to help their newborn brother not be cold, to eat, etc. I understand psychopaths in their youth often taunt and abuse younger siblings. That EMOTIONAL component isn’t there. And without that EMOTIONAL component, they can’t seem to stop themselves from abusing others. In addition, however, without these skills, other more cognitive skills don’t seem to develop, either.
It’s commonly thought that the human brain has three basic parts: the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain, and the cognitive portion. It is truly horrifying to think of what non-nurturing parenting does at an evolutionary level. I propose psychopaths only have the reptilian brain. They don’t have the mammalian brain, the part responsible for empathy and emotions. Mice are warm and furry and cuddle with each other. That is not the psychopath. And they don’t really have a human rational mind either. Their mind is wired for charisma and lying, not study or planning. They have but a snake-like brain: impulsive. And they barely even have that. Psychopaths have little fear. You can tell them they are about to receive an electric shock, and they barely flinch. That was the stunning result of Robert Hare’s research of them, which you can find in his book Without Conscience. What ARE we creating if they don’t even flinch to an electric shock? They have no sensitivity WHATSOEVER. How can a creature without basic fight or flight even live?
What happens when we keep pressuring our children to not want us to hold them, when we push them away, when we proudly say we are going to “ignore” their famous developmental stages, in which they act out, clearly demanding our attention? How long can we plainly ignore the needs of our children and not create something horrifying indeed? In what is arguably only a few thousand years, we humans have managed to create a new type of human sub-species, totally void of the necessary equipment to live a successful life, without becoming a parasite.
So, anyway. Here is my advice. Hold that baby.