What do you picture when you hear “Natural Parenting”?
When I hear the term “Natural Parenting,” I think of a parent invited over to share a meal saying, “Oh, we don’t eat any of those processed chemicals. Do you know know if this veg is a Monsanto crop? We’ll just eat our sea weed and GMO free almond butter.”
Now, I’m actually all for natural fuel for our bodies (I can make fun of myself too), but Natural Parenting is a whole different thing for me.
I’m just going to start at the outer most level because that’s where most people are repelled by the term. My Natural Parenting does not carry the air of judgement and condescension that is often associated with it. You do you. I’ll buy organic and eat In N’ Out. But we are hippies, which means I choose to hold peace and love at the core of my being. This looks like lots of smiles and hugs.
Okay, there is a layer to this whole Natural Parenting thing that involves food. I’ll admit, this is probably the area where I am least natural in my parenting due to a lack of good cooking skills. But I do my best and I’m always trying to learn more. Hey, I can’t excel at everything. 😉 In a perfect world, we would eat nothing but organic vegetables from our backyard garden that we tend with nothing but our hands, rain water, and nymph magic, sure. But that is just not the heart of Natural Parenting to me.
This is the other most commonly recognized aspect of Natural Parenting – we’re tree huggers. This is true. We are passionate about living harmoniously with our planet. I vote with these ideals in mind and try to make choices, big and small, with an ecological perspective of conservation and balance. Just as important as our choices today, we raise our children with a strong connection to the natural world that fosters gratitude and awareness of our impact. That said, I don’t live off the grid in a yurt (though yurts are super cool – mad love if you do).
We trust our bodies to do what millions of years of evolution have designed us to successful do. We listen to our bodies and we honor their needs and grant our children the same. Think natural birth, full term breastfeeding on cue and in public, kangaroo care/babywearing, eating nutrition rich foods, sleeping when tired until rested in connection, fitness, and relying on our immune systems.
Speaking of immune systems, I take medicine when I need to, but I don’t pop a pill at the slightest twinge of discomfort. Good nutrition, exercise, and rest go a long way in the health department. But the day my son broke his leg, I gave him a pain med and had it casted. When my son’s asthma is flaring, we use the nebulizer. Natural Parenting is not a reliance on back woods faith healing. Citrus essential oil does help calm nausea, but it’s not going to cure cancer. I have tremendous gratitude for modern medicine when we need it. But we don’t over use and abuse pharmacology like so many.
Natural Parenting is not anti technology. I am a parenting coach to hundreds of families around the world through my laptop. My children have the whole world’s knowledge at their fingertips through their iPads. That is a huge piece in their educational journey. But we don’t sleep with our devices charging next to our heads and we are cognizant of how screens can become a black hole for some. I think there are two concerns around technology from a natural parenting perspective: the hazard to the planet and our bodies and the potential for a lack of presence in our lives and with our children. It might be true that some Natural Parenting families prefer no technology – to each their own (yet they are taking photos and posting them on their blogs to document said lifestyle), but that is not what Natural Parenting is about for me. And I’m taking it back, remember?
I think the related issue here is a reputation for anti-intellectualism. I consider myself pretty fiercely intellectual. What I mean by that is not that I am necessarily intelligent but that I am a devourer of new knowledge. I look in the face of all research and new communal understandings or developments fearlessly and if something doesn’t confirm a previously held belief, I examine all the angles ferociously. Natural Parenting is not ignorant parenting. Interestingly, after nearly two decades of this pursuit, this is the path on which I have philosophically landed.
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. This is what Natural Parenting is all about for me.
Sleep is a huge piece to parenting in those first few years and Natural Parenting means gaining the wisdom around normal and healthy childhood sleep, trusting your intuition/innate wisdom, respecting your little one’s needs, honoring their bodies, and prioritizing long term connection and well being. It looks like co-sleeping and night nursing. It is to embrace the wisdom of our planet’s people, our species’ evolution, research, and of course ourselves and our babies by enfolding our little ones into our lives. That is how they learn and grow and thrive. Imagine you and your child were alone on a deserted island. How would you sleep? That is the essence of Natural Nighttime Parenting. And it is oh so fruitful and harmonious.
If you were able to release all of your baggage from your own childhood and societal messages, what would be left is your bond with your child. That is what natural parenting is all about – the goal of every interaction is to enhance connection. It looks like treating children like actual human beings (sadly a huge departure from mainstream parenting). It is a lifestyle of family integration, collaboration, mutual respect, and freedom. Natural Parenting is devoid of all the devices, both literal and figurative, of disconnection. Live your lives, together, and through that your children learn everything they need to know. Treat them with compassion – they learn compassion. Chop some fruit – they learn to feed themselves. Grant them the freedom to climb a tree – they learn balance, strength, and perseverance.
We know children do not learn the way they are commonly educated. We know this. We have completely lost our way. How did your child learn to talk or walk? Did you force them to sit down, be quiet, and read about it in a book? Of course not. They had to do it, when they were ready, through connection with you and experience/experimentation. They felt a desire to communicate verbally, they observed you doing it, they tried and failed and tried and tried, they played with it, and they mastered it. How did you learn to use a smart phone/tablet/laptop? Most of us didn’t receive forced instruction. We had a need, sought the information, support, inspiration we wanted, and we tried, failed (cussed a couple times), and played with it until it became second nature. This is natural learning (more on this here). It looks like living your life as a family and allowing your child’s curiosities (oh the curiosity of childhood!), passions, and needs to drive their learning. Natural Parenting respects what we are rediscovering – children do learn naturally – no coercive, didactic, abstract, text-base, standardized instruction required. These things get in the way of our greatest asset: natural learning, which blossoms from Natural Parenting. You might think of natural learning like Natural Parenting simply extended beyond the age of 4 (I refuse to say into the “school age” years). The nature of human learning doesn’t suddenly stop and change at 5.
I’m taking Natural Parenting back. I’m taking it back because it’s not a juicing yogi (though I do like juice and yoga). It’s so much deeper and more profound than a PETA membership (though I am wearing a Sea Shepherd sweatshirt). When I bring my kid outdoors with friends and he climbs a tree, it’s less about stopping loggers or getting dirty and more about being authentic and me supporting him as he plays through his natural spark to the wisdom he taps into on the other side. There lies the joy and the harmony and the thriving. It’s a way of being, a lifestyle, a relationship, a respect, and an honoring of the nature within us that we have forgotten. Well I am rewilding and I want you to join me.