How I Learned About Gentle Parenting
Updated: 3 days ago
As a therapist, I had honestly never heard about "attachment parenting" until I had my first baby. I knew about the theory of attachment. I knew about "authoritative" parenting being superior vs the other parenting styles. I knew that parents were told not to bedshare with their infants but I did not learn about the biological expectations that babies are born with to sleep in physical contact with their caregivers. I had no idea that our cultural norms were in opposition to the biological expectations of babies.
I watched a lot of documentaries about birth, the golden hour, and how important bonding is. But when I brought my daughter home from the hospital, I had no idea that babies already had biological instincts to sleep touching their caregivers and that they would make this known very clearly. My daughter absolutely refused to sleep anywhere but on my chest. I was terrified about SIDS and didn't know what to do. I didn't want to leave her crying in a bassinet, something felt wrong about that.
So I ended up sleeping very lightly every night with a tiny 6lbs baby snoozing on my chest. I breastfed on demand and carried her everywhere in a sling. When she was born, I didn't even have a sling so I had to scramble and buy one. Since she spent a lot of time sleeping, I spent a lot of time researching and watching documentaries. I happened upon a documentary called "Bringing Up Baby" which is a four-part TV series on parenting styles. It was the first time I was introduced to a style of parenting based on the Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. I had never heard of the Continuum Concept so I ordered the book from the library and devoured it. Then I watched every youtube interview with Jean I could find.
The Continuum Concept is about Jean's journey to the Amazon jungle as a young woman and the insight into human nature she received from spending time with the Yakuana indigenous people. Jean was not an anthropologist and everything she wrote about was basically an anecdote from a white woman from New York but the book was incredibly eye-opening for me. Her book asserts that humans have a continuum that we expect from birth. We expect to be held in arms for the first 6-9 months, breastfed on demand, sleep with our caregivers, have many alloparents, and be treated with an incredible amount of respect and autonomy. Parents and community members have a completely non-adversarial relationship with children. Children are deeply trusted, even with using knives and navigating heights.
This blew my mind. My relationship with my parents had always felt adversarial in many ways. I did not feel like they were on my side, I felt like they wanted to control me. The American way of parenting was so different from the continuum that Jean described. In the US, babies are trained to become "independent" from a very early age via cry-it-out sleep training and not picking up the baby when they are crying (for fear of spoiling them). Babies are not touched a lot and babywearing is not seen as a biological need for babies, it is seen as a convenient way to carry babies when hiking. Cosleeping and bedsharing are seen as creating dependent, needy people, and therefore, it is a taboo. Parent-child relationships in the US are very adversarial, a baby/child is seen as someone to be manipulated, controlled, and kept in their place. Americans fear children gaining too much power and "running the show."
From the Continuum Concept, I discovered Darcia Narvaez, PhD's work on the Evolved Nest which basically asserts that humans have a nest which the following components:
The evolved nest is very similar to the continuum concept and has a lot of science behind it. I have also discovered James McKenna's work on cosleeping which set my fears at ease. Since these discoveries, I have been confident that the way I am raising my children is right for us. It has, at times, been a lonely road. Our society does not support this type of parenting and there is a significant amount of criticism. I cosleep with my two daughters (1.5 and 4.5 years old) and I still breastfeed both of them. We homeschool and I try to create an environment that is soothing and nurturing for their social-emotional-intellectual development. I have come to believe that the lack of a nestedness for children in our culture contributes to many public health issues. Uur cultural belief that babies should be independent and that it is ok to manipulate and control them negatively impacts babies and children.
My views continue to evolve as I grow and mature as a mother. I have had to adapt the Evolved Nest and Continuum parenting style to a modern world. It is not always easy. I carry my own baggage from being raised very differently from the continuum concept and I am continuously course correcting and improving myself.