Experts tell us how to best bake a cake, change the oil in our car, turn on our lovers, and raise our babies. Guidance is good. So is inspiration. But when it comes to personal interaction, what too often ends up happening is we forget instinct. And no one knows pure instinct better than babies. They haven't read any books or have been corrupted by modern society. They often try to tell us something and we're not listening.
Think about it like this: If baby won't go to sleep at the time mom and dad say it's time to sleep, there are many parents who turn to crying it out to "teach" a child that it's bedtime. No exceptions. Some love ferberization, others don't. I'm not a fan. I listen to my children because I want them to listen to me. They have their own needs and by essentially agreeing to be their mother by creating them, I owe them that. They know more about what they want than we do, so we need to be all ears. But this is more than just about crying it out.
We don't always have time. Or rather, we don't make time. We're busy. We all have other things that need to be done. We need more help. These are all valid points and we all have to do what we have to do as parents. Sometimes it's the TV or an iPad in our kid's hand. But overall, what does it reveal about the priorities of modern society? Are we just too civilized? Jay Griffiths, writer for The Guardian, thinks we should leave our kids alone. She writes that modern parenting is making our kids miserable little beings who most likely turn into miserable adults. No one wants that. We all want our kids to grow up to be happy. Griffiths's examples are eye-opening.
In West Papua, New Guinea, civilized (like modernity) is a bad word. One of the local mothers there despises the thought of micromanaging children, which is sort of exactly what many Americans and Europeans do. The children there are free, they make their own "rules," and they also grow up to be more self-reliant, less susceptible to outside pressure. In other cultures and societies, when babies want to sway or rock, they don't get placed in a motorized swing like so many of us do here, they are in a rocking chair on mother's lap or tucked in a sling while mama walks. Maybe all this modernity is making us lose touch with our children physically and emotionally. Technology sure isn't helping.
I'm a mom of twins and therefore I sort of preach routine ... within reason. I'm all about natural parenting -- I breastfed into toddlerhood, we make smart food choices, we co-sleep -- but I'm also about doing what's right for my family. And my family includes what works for my kids. They like routine, but they also like straying from it. I think a loose routine could still be established even for the most natural practicing parent. We just have to ask what does our child need and how can we best fulfill that need?
Some argue that attachment or natural parenting practices condition children to be too dependent. But the opposite is true. A child who cries and wants to be soothed but is instead left alone, essentially ignored, learns to be alone. Maybe too alone -- and that can lead to uncertainty once adult. Children tended to and whose cries get responses learn independence because they know their family will always be right there beside them, emotionally not always physically, and that transfers as confidence. Griffiths writes:
Those who would overrule a child's will take "obedience" as their watchword, as they fear disobedience and disorder and believe that if a child is not controlled, there will be chaos. But these are false opposites. The true opposite of obedience is not disobedience but independence. The true opposite of order is not disorder but freedom. The true opposite of control is not chaos but self-control.
Giving our kids more freedom makes them happy. And what's happening in modern society is we are preventing that happiness. We aren't letting our kids be free -- free to do what they want to do, free to run in fields and have unstructured play -- but instead we are scheduling playdate after playdate not letting them decide on their own that they would perhaps rather just watch the frogs in the pond. Maybe they are watching too much TV, stuck inside, strapped down to everything too modern. We want happy kids not zombies who sit in front of television screens who grow up to bury their faces in iPhones, completely disconnected from real contact and interaction.
Unicef polled children in 2011 about what made them happy. The results were time (particularly with families), friendships, and outdoors. That unstructured play fosters independence.
Of course we can't just let our kids have their own way all the time -- though based on the Unicef poll alone, what they want is what we want for them. But for younger kids, it's different. If I let my kids do whatever they wanted, they would be running down highways trying to play tag with tractor trailers. But we can let them guide us just like we guide them. We can give them guidance to essentially keep them alive while they are on their independent endeavors. I truly believe that if we listen to our kids more -- even when they are babies and their only form of communication is smiling or crying -- they will also listen to us. We need to reconnect. We need to trust. Get back to basics. Nothing beats good communication. Our kids' lives and their happiness depend on it.
What do you think of giving kids more control or a say in how they are raised?
Image via wjklos/Flickr