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Boundaries of Touch

Parenting and Adult-Child Intimacy

Jean O'Malley Halley

Publication Year: 2007

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.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Several years ago, I told a colleague of my concern about a very sweet young student who persisted in hugging me whenever she saw me. I had attempted to avoid her hugs like the plague, ducking into doorways, bathrooms, and offices when I saw her coming. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I am very grateful to so many people. My students have been an endless source of inspiration and insight. I only hope they have learned as much from me as I have learned from them. The members of my four writing groups including my Scholarship Circle at Wagner College, Pam Donovan, Robin Isserles, ...

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1. To Touch or Not to Touch

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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. ...

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2. The Rise of the Expert, the Fall of the Mother

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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. ...

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3. Breasts versus Bottles and the Sexual Mother

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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. ...

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4. Babies in Bed: To Sleep or Not to Sleep (with Your Baby)

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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, ...

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5. Violent Touch: Feminists, Conservatives, and Child Sexual Abuse

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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. ...

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6. Touching Problems

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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. ...

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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. ...


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pp. 169-186


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pp. 187-194


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pp. 195-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780252091452
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252075810

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2007