Books by Susan Allport

Released: March 1, 1997

The many faces of parenting, from doting to feckless, are given a mulling in this fine exegetic study from Allport (Explorers of the Black Box, 1986, etc.). Allport raises sheep, and one of them was an unenthusiastic mother, which gave her pause. If maternal behavior is instinctive, why does it sometimes fail, why does ``this most ordinary, most extraordinary of things'' go haywire? Is it a hormonal failure, immaturity, a behavioral short circuit, a simple mistake? What are the tethers that bind child to parent? Why are some born with parenting skills, while others must learn, and still others just never make the connection? Allport tackles these quandries by turning to theoretical literature: to the research of such figures as psychologist John Bowlby and biologist Robert Trivers; to mother's milk and attraction theory; to the work that has been done on bats, beluga whales, and birds. She also deploys good old common sense, intuition, and the knowledge she gains from watching her backyard bestiary to connect the parenting dots, culling what she feels are erroneous Freudian and behavioralist influences. She scours some pretty scientific terrain in prose that is not just splendid, but inviting and clarifying. She is fascinating when discussing the parenting style of sea horses, bluebirds, and (knowing what will most strongly hold the attention of readers) homo sapiens, detailing patterns in child care and parenting behavior that are as much a signature as plumage on a bird: the need to form attachment to a caregiver; the loose bonds (at first) that make adoption so successful; the slackening of allegiance in industrial society, where men and women are not so critical to each other's survival. Heady, roiling, gutsy stuff, which Allport handles with aplomb. It is a wondrous dance, this parent-child two-step, and Allport perfectly catches the magic nature of the bond. (b&w illustrations, not seen) Read full book review >