Shortly after my first child was born, I visited a zoo and watched a mother gorilla parent her infant. I watched for quite some time and passed by a few other times later in the day. All she did all day long was sit and hold and nurse her baby, staring into the distance and snacking.
If only I could parent that way, I thought. She would be so happy and stay asleep in my arms. All our problems would disappear!
Well, except the dishes and the laundry, the appointments and the emails and the deadlines.
So many of the parenting problems we have are because of our culture and fast paced lifestyles. Our children cannot keep up.
Little children and babies, especially, are very right-brained. The left, logical brain isn’t really developed until age 7 or 8. It seems like they aren’t thinking because in our terminology, they aren’t. They only feel and experience.
Most little kids can’t hurry. They do what they need or want to do at the rate they are moved.
Babies aren’t born expecting to sit in bouncers or car seats or wait for mom to unbuckle her bra to nurse. Gatherer-hunter babies didn’t wear diapers or get measured. They were probably held some 20 hours a day and slept with their parents.
As Eliane Sainte-Marie pointed out in her spring 2018 Pathways article, “What has been normal for most of human history has completely changed in the last centuries.” Children are not ready for a world of screens, sugary snacks, and school desks. Any amount of control they exhibit around those things is a bonus.
We also live in insular families, largely indoors and surrounded by material things. While not optimal for anyone, children have an especially hard time with these aspects of their lives. The bridge ices before the road—kids are more sensitive.
So what can we do to help them adapt (because they must) and thrive (because we love and care for them) in this overwhelming modern world?
Do as little as possible during the first year
Remember the mama gorilla? Be like her. I tell all my clients that when their babies are born, the first thing they need to let go of is getting things done. As much as you can and still staying sane, give yourself and your baby a break that first year. Drop any commitments that don’t serve you. Lower your housekeeping standards. Use your savings for help. Whatever you can do to make life easier, less hectic, and more slow.
Consider children under 8 to be babies on wheels
We don’t judge or blame babies for their messes or inability to understand common decency. I think we should do the same with little children. They want to please you and learn and grow and be part of the family. They want your guidance to learn the ways of life, but they can’t be blamed for actions that the left brain controls. Be patient with the places and things they are still adapting to.
Provide lots of unstructured play
Outside whenever possible, with others as much as possible. Social interaction has been narrowed down, defined and controlled by their school and sports experiences. What they and all humans need is regular time to talk with people about whatever we want to.
The benefits of unstructured play, where an adult does not hover, comment, ‘help,’ plan or intervene, are many. It’s how they learn to learn, learn to regulate themselves emotionally, and learn to be with others.
Limit Screens, Stuff, and Sugar
We didn’t have these delights in this quantity even 50 years ago. All three, in excess, are overwhelming to the nervous system and the body. Children are emotionally calmer without screens. They play more and easier without stuff everywhere. And their bodies and brains work better when not overloaded on sugar.
Lower Your Expectations
Modern parents often want their kids to excel. We want them to grow up fast, be the best, win, and advance to the next level. We want our piano lesson money to be well-spent. We push them to learn and perform. But maybe they will be more whole and loving, happier, livelier, and better adjusted people, if we let them be children now. Maybe they will only really excel after we let them lead.
Lauren is a childbirth educator (Birth Boot Camp) and the author of the Breech Baby Handbook. She owns Better Birth Graphics, a shop full of practical, intuitive birth media for professionals. Her work has been published in Mothering, Holistic Parenting Magazine, Birth Issues, True Birth, Mama Birth, and elsewhere. She lives in Maryland with her family of five.