Natural parenting is how mother nature designed us to parent. It goes by many names: gentle parenting, conscious parenting and attachment parenting.
Gentle in it’s approach; it’s the scenic, slower route of parenting which encourages children to reach milestones in their own time.
Conscious in attitude with parents craving an understanding of “why”. Conscious parents tend to not go along with the status quo – they do their own research and make decisions based on fact rather than opinion.
And attached at the heart. Attachment parents seek to strengthen their attachment with their children, no matter the circumstance. Connection between parents and children is the single most important factor determining lifelong emotional health and fostering it lies at the heart of attachment parenting.
Natural parenting is a term I like to use to encompass all of these definitions. At it’s core, natural parenting is centred on meeting babies’ and children’s needs. But don’t all parents meet their children’s needs?
We certainly try to, but when I researched how we, as a species, are biologically wired to parent I was surprised to see how far conventional parenting has shifted from what nature intended.
SO, WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY?
Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, founders of Attachment Parenting International, say the evidence-based science of child development is conclusive. Parents who treat their babies with love, compassion and respect and who are responsive to their baby’s signals are literally wiring their children’s brains for empathy, trust and the ability to self-regulate stress.
Yet, western society’s mantra suggests if we’re responsive we may be “spoiling” our babies by holding them too much or preventing them from learning to “self-soothe” if we “give into their needs”. If we believe and follow this flawed adult-centred approach we’re setting the stage for a lifetime of insecurity and emotional dysfunction.
Our interactions with babies, whether positive or negative, affect the way the brain grows; neuroscientists have proven loving interactions can increase the number of connections between nerve cells.
According to the Australian Association of Infant Mental Health: “Infants are more likely to form secure attachments when their distress is responded to promptly, consistently and appropriately. Secure attachments in infancy are the foundation for good adult mental health.”
THE PRINCIPLES OF NATURAL PARENTING
Attachment Parenting International identifies eight basic principles natural parents follow, which are:
- Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting.
- Feed with love and respect.
- Respond with sensitivity.
- Use nurturing touch.
- Engage in nighttime parenting.
- Provide constant, loving care.
- Practice positive parenting, not discipline.
- Strive for balance in personal and family life.
The most important thing is to consciously consider the parenting choices we make and understand they’re OUR choices. There are extremes in both attachment and conventional parenting and a whole lot of wiggle room in between; the way each of us parent is a personal decision.
You may choose to practice EC and nothing else. Baby wearing may be physically impossible for you. Or the crib may be the safest place for your baby. Even by practicing one or two natural parenting techniques you’ll be nurturing and deepen your attachment with you child. Trust your instincts and do what’s right for your family. The practices are supported by science. But how you implement it is like creating a piece of art and will be unique to your family.
QUESTIONING SOCIETY’S VERSION OF NORMAL
People expect babies to cry, to not make eye contact or to seem vacant. They expect toddlers to be difficult and have constant tantrums. But it’s not biologically normal for babies to behave this way. “Your baby is making eye contact and smiling and laughing!” “Your toddler is so happy – he can’t always be like this though, can he?”.
These are the types of comments attachment parents frequently hear. I can honestly say my son is happy almost all the time. He is securely attached and confident in his slowly growing independence. It’s normal.
While the concepts of attachment parenting seem unconventional they are logical and authentic. They’re traditional and have been practiced in one form or another for millennia.
But society has evolved, right? We live in houses. We have electricity. iPhones. Hybrid cars. And Netflix. Isn’t it natural that parenting would also evolve? Become more civilised. Involve more gadgets.
Perhaps. And that’s the argument every baby store would make. But if babies could speak they’d tell us something different. They’d tell us to save our money; that they don’t need a crib or a stroller or a baby bath.
Babies are born with their instincts intact. They don’t know they were born in 2015 as opposed to the Pleistocene. They are Cave Babies!
They’d tell us all they need is us, their knowledgeable, empowered parents who bravely follow our instincts.