Sunday, April 1, 2012

Instinctual Parenting

It seems we've lost our way. It seems that somewhere over the past century in America, as technological advancements, increased industrialization, and focused specialization promised to make our lives easier and simpler, they led us away from our own voice, our own instincts, and in so doing made our lives more complicated and stressful. Nowhere is this more obvious than in parenting.

Rather than trusting our own instincts and listening to our babies, from birth to toddlerhood and throughout childhood, we began abdicating control and losing touch with our natural wisdom. From placing control of our pregnancies and births into the hands of obstetricians and hospitals, to believing that babies should sleep through the night, to trusting large food conglomerates to feed our families, to relying on others to care for and teach our children, we have weakened the power of home and family and muffled our own parenting instincts.

Reconnecting with our instincts, listening to our inner voice and the needs our children so clearly communicate to us in their own way, can guide us back to trusting ourselves. It can help us to question the origin of some of our beliefs and expectations, and filter the barrage of "expert" advice. Who says my infant needs to learn to self-soothe? Who says children need to sleep alone, away from mommy and daddy? Who says I need to introduce solid food at six months if I don't think my baby is ready? Who says my two-year-old needs to learn to be independent from mommy? Why should I give my toddler time-outs? Why should my five-year-old get a dental x-ray for no apparent reason? Why should children be made to sit still and listen when their natural instinct is to run and shout?

We can learn a lot about reconnecting with our natural parenting instincts by watching our children, watching how they live with full authenticity and trust. Their needs are simple and straightforward, and when we listen and respond to them by trusting our own instincts, ignoring the reel of "should-bes" that rolls through our thoughts, we can experience more joyful parenting.

Trusting our instincts and parenting more peacefully is the topic of a new book just released by two Boston-area moms. The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby's First Year, by Megan Massaro and Miriam Katz, helps new parents to trust themselves rather than entrusting others to care for their baby's well-being. A must-read for new parents or others looking to parent more naturally, more instinctually, the book is full of thoughtful insights that help parents to question mainstream parenting beliefs and actions.

What about you? How have you been able to trust or reconnect with your own, natural parenting instincts, even if they run counter to current mainstream parenting practices?

15 comments:

  1. The topic of "instinctual parenting" (I had never thought to call it that, thanks for the new phrase!) occupies much of my thought lately. I want to be mindful in my attempt to simplify my parenting philosophy, but often I find it becomes more challenging to simplify, not less. I read a post this week that eloquently put my feelings on this subject into words. It seems like for every holiday and milestone, I am going against the grain. Although I do end up with this counter-culture feeling, the reward of a happy family more than makes up for the struggle.

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    1. Justine, thanks so much for visiting and commenting. I hear you that sometimes simplifying can be more challenging than it seems, especially if simplifying means rejecting mainstream parenting practices and finding our way to our own set of parenting beliefs and actions. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment

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  2. I never thought about the dental x-rays, but I do think about the horrors of braces. Healthy teeth seems to be a function of good brushing and flossing as well as soda avoidance, not braces.

    Never mind the craziness of going through all that as a kid, but what about the hassles later. I would have been better off with 5 eye teeth (that weren't that bad looking) than going through all that. Now I have a bridge with some tooth pain (on the tooth most affected by the braces and bridge) that my current dentist wants to destroy with a root canal. Luckily, after listening to other fibromyalgia people tell about unnecessary root canals, I haven't allowed him to do it.

    Further, if it ever gets damaged on its own, I probably can't afford to replace it. I would have been better off with the smile I had in the first place.

    Incremental is much better and instincts seem to tell people this, but society has gone out of its way to sell and pressure people on big fix approaches. I can't imagine what my boomer parents and in-laws will say when I don't get my kids braces. Only time will tell! It does seem that later generations are questioning common wisdom a little more, so the tide is changeing even though very slow.

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    1. Sorry for the mispelling. I guess I should be writing this late in the day!

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    2. Liz, I really agree with your insight that "society has gone out of its way to sell and pressure people on big fix approaches" rather than empower individuals to assume responsibility for themselves and their families. I hadn't thought about braces.... another generally accepted practice worth more inquiry...

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    3. I agree that some kids are getting braces based upon the assumption that their mouths won't hold all their teeth etc. At the same time, I think a lot more kids are getting braces because we know so much more. My friends 3 kids will all have braces to correct a genetic issue that has plagued my friend, who did not get braces, for life -- affecting his breathing, speech, and amount of tooth decay. Because they know more now, they can save his kids from those same battles.

      In our case, my son's extreme prematurity and early starvation (he joined our family through adoption at 21 months) have made braces a necessity -- also because of breathing problems, speech struggles, and increased tooth decay.

      One of the important aspects of listening to our gut is knowing not to throw out the baby with the bath water. I once fell into the trap where I eschewed any and all unnatural approaches, for example. We are lucky to live in a world where we have choices. Braces may not be a natural choice for my son, but I do want to save him from his frequent throat infections and increased tooth decay caused by the extra bacteria produced in his mouth because of the funky way he breathes.

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    4. LakeMom- thank you so much for the important reminder that we also need to be knowledgeable about even our most natural, non-traditional choices!

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  3. I definitely think that what we are doing is "instinctual parenting". We didn't set out to parent in a particular way, but through my pregnancy and over the last 7 months of our daughter's life we've just... been. We've done what felt right for us, what we agreed on, and I don't see that changing.
    We co-sleep because she's just tiny and WE don't like sleeping alone so it feels right to have her snuggled in with us. Etc, etc.

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    1. I love your comment about co-sleeping because it feels right, because "she's just tiny and WE don't like sleeping alone." So much truth. Which probably explains why co-sleeping is standard practice for the majority of the world.... Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

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  4. Our third baby was colicky and we discovered gluten was the culprit. I was nursing and so I cut out gluten. As soon as I did every one lamented on my behalf that I was missing out on gluten. So many people asked how long I would continue to nurse and commented that they could never give up bread or pasta or pizza for so long. I nursed him 13 months and was gluten free for all but three of them (the first three before we knew). My thoughts were that no food was worth 1)making my child sick or 2)missing out on nursing him. I'm still surprised that people thought the sacrifice of what I ate was too great for the health of my child. Really?

    My favorite soap box with new moms is to listen to their mother voice. The one that talks to them specifically about their own child. No one else has that insight. Just last week mine whispered to me that my oldest was ready to ditch the training wheels on her bike. After ten minutes of practice she was riding solo. I NEVER would have attempted that had it not been for the mother voice nudging me along.

    I think it's extra hard to know our children well enough to parent instinctually, especially in a world that promises ease of parenting with full-day day cares from 6 weeks on up. The promise that there's an expert who will potty-train your child, teach them to read, or instill moral values (SCARY!). I think parents are afraid of facing the challenge of it. But the reality is, it's so much more rewarding to parent when you really know your children and love them because you've served them and sacrificed for them.

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    1. Amber, I just love this response! Kudos to you for following your instincts regarding gluten and training wheels. It is remarkable what we can know and do when we trust our instincts. And I couldn't agree more with your insight that "it's so much more rewarding to parent when you really know your children and love them because you've served them and sacrificed for them." Yes!

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting.

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  5. My children have taught me so much about letting go, and listening not just to my mothering voice, but to their individual voices too. We started our journey wanting to parent in a very natural way. We were planning on co-sleeping, cloth diapers, breast feeding on demand. But I didn't really know what that meant. I read everything I could (I still do, I love parenting books that speak to my philosophy, I'm a book kinda girl) but in the end our daughters showed us what they wanted. My oldest loved having her own space, so she moved to her own mattress when she was only 6 months. My second daughter did the same a little after she turned one. My third is still in bed with us at 17 months. My first two weaned themselves at 13 months, my youngest is going strong. Sometimes I worry about the right "time" to makes these transitions, but then I remember everything that happened in the past. I was worried about the pacifier, but each child gave it up when they were ready with no problem. I was worried about potty training, same thing happened. Sometimes now I worry about sleeping through the night, night weaning, but then I remember what we've already accomplished. Sometimes those milestones happen much earlier that expected, sometimes later. It helps me as a parent to know developmentally the approximate age that it MIGHT happen so I can look for readiness signs, but then you have to let the kid be an individual. Plus our kids aren't trophies to show around to people. "see what an amazing parent I am because they can . . ."

    One thing I wish though is that the community as a whole was more accepting of this type of parenting. It's not easy to parent this way. I often feel like I need to figure out a way to carve me time, get away for a little while. But there often isn't support outside of the family so people will just say "if you just let her cry it out, then she will sleep through the night and you will be all set" But I don't want that advise, I want someone who will be there for me, and maybe take the kids for a little when I've had a tough night and the one year old didn't sleep very much so I can nap :) We live in such an insular society the village is hard to reproduce. It makes it harder on the immediate family. I know it's hard to get out there and help others (because I find myself forgetting myself, or not going to a friend who just had a baby because it doesn't fit into my busy schedule.) but I think if we want to parent this way we really need to find each other and help each other out.

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    1. Leigh, this is such a great comment, and so, so true. Parenting naturally, instinctually, often counter-culturally can at times be draining and having a strong support network is crucial. I also love your insights on following your children's lead on reaching certain "milestones." With my oldest, I worried about when she would give up her pacifier, and then one day she just did. I know the same will be true for my little guy so I don't think about it.

      Hopefully we can all find support and solace in the online natural parenting "village," as well as in our own communities.

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  6. This is a great post and, in my opinion, the only reading material necessary before having a baby.

    I often wonder why there are so many books about parenting a newborn. They are the easy ones. As I parent older children, though, I notice that so much of the good decisions we as a family make are based upon our collective gut. I am amazed at how many times we as a family all decided something feels right or wrong -- something that goes against the grain -- and discover our decision was a good one.

    On another note -- my youngest was sickly as a baby and hospitalized a few times. We learned it was gluten. She nursed frequently (ever hour for about 18 months and then every 2 hours until she was 3). I was not a fan of this schedule and I did miss my bread, but something told me she knew what she was doing. When, at 3, she was officially diagnosed with Celiac and had suffered no growth or developmental issues because of it, her pediatrician said, "It's a good thing you listened to her and nursed her so much and so long. She'd have major problems otherwise. I've never seen a child with Celiac thriving like this." He is, by the way, a pediatrician who advocates nursing as long as possible.

    That was a great lesson in instinct -- both the instinct of the parent and of the child.

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    1. LakeMom - this comment is another essential reminder of the importance of trusting our instincts and being in tune with our children needs. Thank you!

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