Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent by Meredith F. Small
This book should be read by absolutely every pregnant woman in this country. At least by those who are open to actual information about how what we do effects our babies and are willing to step outside of cultural norms in order to raise the healthiest child possible.
Anthropologist Meredith F. Small looks at parenting practices across the globe and throughout history in order to find out if the way we in the west are raising our babies is truly optimal for them, and to learn what indeed is the most natural, instinctive, really human way to parent these precious creatures.
You probably already know the answers she discovered, especially now that they are starting to move more into the mainstream (of course, they were only culturally marginalized for a blink of an eye considering the entire span of human history).
Natural birth is best, it allows for the perfect interplay of hormones between mama's body and baby's and helps to facilitate bonding, breastfeeding, and connection after delivery.
Breastfeeding is best, formula is a cultural aberration that assures that a child will be less healthy and less intelligent (among many other negative factors) for the rest of it's life. (Can you imagine an indigenous woman, or any mammal- a mouse, an elephant- waking up in the middle of the night in order to mix a powder of processed chemicals shipped from thousands of miles away in order to feed her offspring when her own mammary glands, which contain an infinitely superior substance, are literally right beneath her nose?).
Babies were born to be held, cuddled, kissed, touched. In all indigenous cultures, meaning for 99.99999% percent of human history, babies were carried next to their mama's bodies during the day and slept with in the family bed at night. Did you know that breast milk actually does nothing to promote the connections between neurons that signal brain development? But touch does. If a baby is fed breast milk through a bottle, with no human touch involved, it will fail to thrive. The milk supplies the essential fatty acids and other stuff that the brain does need, but as far as ensuring neural connections, it's all in the touch.
This book is a fascinating and revealing look at just how much the whacko concepts floating around the noosphere in our cultural milieu influence the most important time in the lives of the next genaration. For me, feeling this connection to women around the world and to our ancestors gave me all the confidence I needed to raise my daughter in the way my primal instincts were already telling me was best.
I am so grateful to my mom for buying me Optimal Parenting by Ba Luvmour after I had gotten it from the library- this is definitely one I want to have on the shelf to refer to whenever I need it!
I love these people (Ba and his wife Josette have worked together on these concepts), their books (they have a previous book called Natural Learning Rhythms, plus some more), and their parenting philosophy. But no, parenting philosophy isn't quite right. It's a theory of child development, of human development, that can be applied to parenting (and anything else, really). I know that I always feel so much better about my girl's behavior when I can put it in the context of what is going on developmentally. It's a pretty big thing to go through, this growing up!
I would even be into this book if I was not a parent. It is a comprehensive view of each of the life stages, what organizing principle drives that stage, and what nourishment is most needed by the human being at that stage in order to evolve optimally and fully integrate the lessons learned there. One chapter is even called "Natural Learning Rhythms and the Evolution of Human Consciousness".
The book also helped me to heal some aspects of my own development. I was able to see where I was at when certain things happened, and to understand what I needed then that I didn't get. For example, for the first seven years of life the child is immersed in BodyBeing- learning what it means to have a human body and be upon the earth. This lays the foundation for the bodily relationship for life. Well, I was pretty much just sitting in front of the TV or in an uncomfortable classroom chair during these years, and as a result feel as though I am still just discovering my body (with the help of yoga, bellydance, letting go of sexual fears, and so on).
From the website:
What is Optimal Parenting?
Optimal Parenting is family life in which the capacities, talents, and relationships of each family member are nourished in well-being and emerge into greatness.
To parent optimally means that:
Relationships among family members are always the priority.
Relationships form the network in which the child self discovers and self creates.
Every moment is a learning moment. Every instance of relationship is a time of self discovery.
The developmental capacities and limitations of the whole child—physical, emotional, cognitive, psychological and spiritual—are well understood.
The child's destiny emerges. It is not fixed. Optimal relationships lead to the best possible destiny.
Children are not passive learners but active participants who make continual contributions to the learning of those around them.
Conflict resolution stops the momentary struggle. Long term solutions arise from well-being in family relationships.
Remedying dysfunction means removing the blocks to well-being, not only alleviating the symptom or behavior.
Optimal well-being in the family is the basis for healthy communities and a vibrant society.
Social justice depends on recognizing and supporting the relational capacities and contributions of children.
Natural Learning Rhythms, which combines whole child development and family dynamics, provides the information needed to optimally parent.
Another book/DVD/philosophy that I love is Unconditional Parenting.
Alfie Kohn is quite the character, as Graham and I learned when we rented the DVD in which he is delivering a speech about his ideas. Perhaps it takes such an eccentric person to develop a theory of parent/child interaction that is so radically different from what we see in the culture at large. He has written a number of books and is especially active in school reform.
This book really changed the way that we interact to Mycie when she is being a, uh, crazy ass toddler. It feels more genuine now, less reactive. It comes from the heart, and from reason, instead of from fear or unquestioned cultural ideals about how children and parents should behave.
From the website:
Most parenting guides begin with the question "How can we get kids to do what they're told?" -- and then proceed to offer various techniques for controlling them. In this truly groundbreaking book, nationally respected educator Alfie Kohn begins instead by asking "What do kids need - and how can we meet those needs?" What follows from that question are ideas for working with children rather than doing things to them.
One basic need all children have, Kohn argues, is to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw up or fall short. Yet conventional approaches to parenting such as punishments (including "time-outs"), rewards (including positive reinforcement), and other forms of control teach children that they are loved only when they please us or impress us. Kohn cites a body of powerful, and largely unknown, research detailing the damage caused by leading children to believe they must earn our approval. That's precisely the message children derive from common discipline techniques, even though it's not the message most parents intend to send.
More than just another book about discipline, though, Unconditional Parenting addresses the ways parents think about, feel about, and act with their children. It invites them to question their most basic assumptions about raising kids while offering a wealth of practical strategies for shifting from "doing to" to "working with" parenting - including how to replace praise with the unconditional support that children need to grow into healthy, caring, responsible people. This is an eye-opening, paradigm-shattering book that will reconnect readers to their own best instincts and inspire them to become better parents.
And please, share your faves with me!
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