It seems there are as many different parenting styles as there are “experts” in our modern world.
From Dr. Luther Emmett Holt, the father of pediatrics, who famously taught that babies and children should never be played with; warning that parents could “spoil” their infants if they gave into their baby’s needs such as frequent feeding and comforting.
To more recent times with Gina Ford, the Queen of Routine, claiming all babies MUST be woken and fed by 7am and given a last feed at 6.15pm, during which parents MUST not make eye contact with their baby in order to avoid excitement.
I’m the first to admit that as a passionate natural parent my perspective has shifted as my confidence and experience has grown in the last few years. I find myself easily calling bullshit on this type of misguided advice, not because I’m an expert, but because I’m a parent with my instincts fully intact and I’m not afraid to trust them.
Yet, acting on our instincts is far from easy in our conventional society.
Like most parents, from the moment I announced my pregnancy those around me began offering unsolicited advice on how we should raise our son. While I appreciate it’s generally well meaning, it can sabotage a new parent’s confidence as it tempts us to doubt our instincts before we’ve had the chance to put them into practice.
Many people see natural parenting as just another style of parenting that can be easily stereotyped and dismissed.
I beg to differ.
Natural parenting isn’t a series of prescriptive rules; it’s an empowering philosophy. An empathetic attitude. An emboldening way of life. An organic work of art, rather than paint-by-numbers. And it works for ALL children.
How can such a bold statement be true?
Because the fundamental tenet of natural parenting is to be responsive. By definition, that means natural parenting is tailored to each individual child. And while we’re all different, there are common needs that unite humankind. All children need to be heard and treated with respect. All children need to know that their needs matter. And all children need to know that someone cares.
For me, parenting as nature intended encompasses implementing principles of attachment theory, simplifying childhood, treating children as equals and immersing our kids in the natural world. As a new mother choosing to parent this way, I quickly realized that I was a member of a countercultural minority.
I remember sitting at coffee groups with my baby sleeping in a wrap surrounded by a sea of strollers and being asked whether I’d sleep trained my son; the very thought of it broke my heart.
I remember being told that when my son could ask for it, he was too old to breastfeed; I smiled politely, while listening to my instincts, which were telling me the statement was based on personal hang-ups and cultural fears rather than fact.
I remember googling “is it ok for my baby to nurse to sleep” and being met with a barrage of articles reporting that by breastfeeding to sleep I was creating unhealthy sleep associations; I closed the browser, trusted that mother nature doesn’t get it wrong and continued to nurse my son to sleep.
And now, I feel isolated as I weigh up the options available for our son’s learning, recently having been judged by another mother who said “being home with parents might be ok for some kids, but preschool is best”.
I find myself constantly saying NO to convention in order to say YES to something better; I stand out like a sore thumb and it ain’t easy.
Because society likes everyone to conform and obey the rules; to go to school, get a job, buy a house, get married and have kids. So, it should come as no surprise that the same is expected when we have children. Put your baby in a crib. Top up with formula. Push a stroller. Train her to sleep. Give him a time out. And dish out discipline.
But, what if that doesn’t feel right?
What if we pull back the veil on common parenting practices and don’t like what we see? What if we want parenting to be an enlightening journey rather than a series of chores to get through? These are the types of the questions that inspired me to make different choices.
And when we elect to take a different path and are brave enough to be open about it we unintentionally shine a mirror on those who follow the status quo, whether they admit to themselves it or not. Because most parents do what their told without realizing they have the right to make an independent decision.
I strongly believe that nothing about your parenting journey should be predetermined by others.
So how do you find the courage to be a fearless natural parent?
By realizing that courage is not the absence of fear, but the realization that choosing to parent in a way that is authentic to you is more important than fear. Lean into your fear of judgment, trust your instincts and don’t shy away.
When we make choices only to avoid discomfort our worlds get a little smaller, possibility doesn’t seem so endless and we trade the spark of authenticity for mindless conformity.
For me, if I strip it back to basics, it comes down to one simple choice; I can choose to please others and gain their approval or I can choose to do what I know is best for my child. Needless to say, my son wins out every time.
After all, our children are our most important parenting critics. So, block out society’s white noise and listen to YOUR child. They will teach YOU how to be the parent THEY need. Follow your heart and listen to your instincts; they will never lead you astray. And this community will be here to support you and pick you up if you stumble.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Ambrose Redmoon