A few years ago my husband was telling me about a cousin of his in Australia, who moved out into the woods, far away from civilization, in order to raise her children from “modern” influence. Well-meaning relatives and friends had a difficult time adjusting to her desire to raise her kids without tv, without plastic toys, and without modern-day gadgets that are supposed to make parenting easier.
I thought back then that she was rad, cool, and super adventurous. Now, that I have a child, and a second one on the way, I no longer think of her as only cool and adventurous. I can now imagine what a desperate, difficult and challenging decision it must have been for her to leave everyone behind, to follow her instincts as a new mother, and to trust life that she and her husband are making the right decision.
The day-to-day challenges of being a “Natural” mom have been wearing on me lately and some days it feels very very lonely.
You probably ask what it means to be a “Natural” Mama. Well, there are probably as many versions and ideas as there are Natural Mamas out there but to me it means all of this:
- Preparing for conception (if you are planning on having a child) by cleansing your body and mind of all toxins. We both did it about 9 months before I conceived.
- Spending the pregnancy months watching one’s diet and outside influence, being mindful and aware of one’s surroundings, physical and mental well-being, and living in a way that helps the embryo, the fetus, and the baby physically and mentally develop in the most nurturing and supported way.
- Choosing a natural birth and delivering naturally without any medications (sometimes a woman can’t have one because of medical reasons, so in my opinion this won’t exclude you from being a Natural Mama).
- Breastfeeding for as long as possible (we are at 21 months and still going) or giving breast milk as long as possible.
- Using Elimination Communication to prepare the baby and the family for the most natural way to excrete (since day one, Sydney has learned to go to the bathroom in the potty. Since 18 months Sydney remembers to use the potty on his own to eliminate. We hardly use any diapers anymore).
- Co-sleeping (we still are)
- Nurturing the baby and toddler (and beyond) with all the love you can give, physically and mentally.
- Avoiding media as much as possible (we don‘t have a TV and Sydney doesn’t watch or play with any computers, iPads, or iPhones, in a restaurant we always try to find a spot that doesn’t face the tv, etc.)
- Toys should be made from wood, leather, tin, cotton, paper, etc. (avoid plastics as much as possible and avoid electronic toys)
- Playing together outside as much as possible, going on bike rides, hikes, and fun adventures.
- No chemicals in the household (we only use natural cleaning products)
- Sustainable diapering (either reusable diapers or using disposable chemical-free diapers like Seventh Generation or The Honest Company)
- No chemicals on the baby, toddler, and beyond (We use natural soap and we haven’t put any lotions on Sydney since we are born with a perfect body and skin. We don’t need to “improve it” with scents and lotions).
- Being a minimalist (children learn by seeing what the parents are doing and I don’t believe in consumerism) which will foster imagination.
- Feeding your baby good food with lots of fruits and vegetables, organic when possible, and never any junk food. No juices, no sugar, no candy, etc.
- Rejecting any food (even before pregnancy) that has food coloring, additives, preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup. (Trader Joe’s and Fresh & Easy are great markets to find healthy food and of course don’t forget your localFarmers Market.)
- Giving your child lots of sensory stimulation:
- Letting him/her be barefoot whenever possible
- Letting him/her touch, smell, taste everything that is safe and non-poisonous (yes, even soap, dirt, your shoe, etc. The first year your child doesn’t have much swallow reflexes, that’s why s/he drools everywhere. When s/he puts anything in his/her mouth, most of the solids get drooled out, so s/he is not ingesting anything harmful. Don’t let him/her eat anything that is wet or moist from the floor. Moisture has bacteria.)
- Letting him/her hear the wind, the rain, the birds and the bugs, and everything around us. Don’t have music blasting all day.
- Letting him/her see and touch bugs, plants, water, grass, art, animals, and everything that interests your child. Always watch him/her so s/he doesn’t get hurt or in danger.
- Playing a guitar, a piano, a harmonica, a flute, a violin, and any instrument (and making instruments out of trash, toys, pots and pans, etc.)
- Foster creativity by talking to your child about anything real and made up.
- No drinking and smoking.
- Teach your child to respect all living things and don’t kill bugs in his/her presence.
- Laugh together a lot.
- Smile at your child when you see him/her in the morning, after naps, when s/he comes up to you. Be pleasant to show him/her that s/he is worthy of this beautiful life.
- Being active together.
and on top of all this, I also believe in the kind, peaceful and loving parenting philosophy. This means:
- Listening and talking and understanding
- Being understanding and sympathetic not just to the child but to everyone around you
- Feeling feelings and letting your child feel feelings and understand them
- Protecting the baby’s, toddler’s and child’s inner life with positivity and lots of love
- Mutual respect (I don’t do unto you that I wouldn’t want to have done unto me)
- No scolding
- No humiliating
- No spanking
- No timeouts
- No rewards (you don’t need one if you talk and have mutual respect. Rewards are bribes and I don’t believe in bribing my child just like I wouldn’t bribe anyone else)
- Not saying the word “no” but redirecting behaviour
- Encouraging his/her curiosity and supporting it
- Exposing him/her to lots of art opportunities with painting, drawing, making music, moving his/her body, going to live theatre (watching content of course. We have yet to go to a children’s theatre. We have seen a lot Fringe shows that have physicality, interesting characters, great set design, etc.)
- Parenting for Peace
- Hand in Hand Parenting
- Waldorf Education
There are so many more things that my head gets dizzy and I sometimes feel very overwhelmed.
Being a “Natural” parent to Sydney feels right, feels natural and I really don’t put much thought into it on a daily basis, except when I encounter any block in this parenting style, which usually happens when I’m out with Sydney at the park, or when we meet other parents that have different parenting philosophies than I do.
- The other day we went to the park, and almost every kids parent had some junk food and juice in their hands for their kids.
- Then we went to another park and two boys were playing “assault” with pretend guns. The older boy was teaching the younger what assault weapons mean and what they are used for. (I almost cried after this incident, thinking I will never find a playmate for Sydney)
- We went for Sydney’s Dr.’s visit and in the waiting room some of the kids were so large, they could barely fit in their chairs. And every child had an iPad or an iPhone in front of them, including babies, who were barely old enough to sit upright. (this was depressing)
- Friends were throwing a birthday party for their baby girl and the toddlers were all surrounded with plastic toys, utensils, cups, plastic bibs, etc. (I could smell the plastic fumes throughout the entire house) and sugar.
- We went to visit my family in Europe and at every gathering there was booze around. On two occasions a toddler has gotten hold of a small schnapps glass and chugged it (one time it was Sydney).
- Sometimes when we eat out, we end up in restaurants that have the TV on everywhere. This is the case nowadays almost everywhere we go. Gas station,doctor’s office, restaurants. It’s almost inescapable. And the TV has sports on with lots of booze advertisements, or the news with everything bad in this world, or some show that has some kind of violence, from verbal to humiliation, to guns or hitting and punching. We always try to find a spot that doesn’t face the tv or we leave.
When I meet these challenges, I really want to move into the woods, like Stephen’s cousin did so many years ago. It feels lonely and I have yet to meet one family, who has a similar philosophy as I do. I don’t know where to find them or how to find them. How do I bring up Sydney in this world without feeling like I’m alone? I tried to find groups, but there is nothing (or nothing I could find) in the San Gabriel Valley, where we moved to a few months back.
I’m very very happy as amother and I’m looking forward to raising Sydney and his brother or sister as happy, peaceful, kind, respectful, creative, mentally and physically healthy smart adults. I’m looking forward to our times together every day. There is nothing more satisfying in my life right now than watching Sydney discover something new, laugh out loud about something, have him wave at the ants that are crawling on our windowsill looking for water, tend with me to the fruit trees or throw a ball so enthusiastically that he loses balance and falls.
He loves life and he wakes up smiling every day. He loves to play with the ball and with water. He enjoys a long and hearty breakfast as much as I do. He loves to look at animals, plants, art, people, and places through our many books. He loves to make up a story with just sounds. And he loves to dance to music that either we listen to, play together, or that he plays with his harmonica. He is a fantastic toddler who deserves the best and the most as do all children. And as a responsible parent, I want to make sure that I give him the right tools, that I direct him on the right path, and that I support him in his desires, that are yet pure, fresh and untouched. And I want to keep it untouched as long as it’s healthy for his little soul. Life is too short and tough and there is no reason that I shouldn’t support him the first 18 years with with love, kindness, creativity, respect, and gentle parenting.
If anybody has any tips for me or ideas or suggestions, I’m open to hear them. Please leave your comments below or email me directly.
This article appeared in the on-line magazine for actors The Networker, in September 2013.