Friday, May 6, 2011

Natural Parenting Works: Jennifer's Story

Today, I would like to introduce the first in what I hope will become a series of guest posts. Some people who practice natural parenting learned it from their parents, but a number of us are charting new territory. When you and everyone you know were raised in a "mainstream" or authoritarian style, it can be easy to slip into self-doubt. Does natural parenting really produce healthy, well-adjusted adults? Can gentle discipline really help children understand right from wrong? To answer these questions, I will be inviting adults who were raised naturally and gently to tell their stories. I ask them to share some information about how they were raised, how they felt about it as a child, and how it affects them as adults. The results speak for themselves! If you are interested in sharing your story, please e-mail me at connectedmom.mandi@gmail.com

And now, I give the floor to Jennifer, who shares the encouraging story of her natural, gentle upbringing. I hope it will be as inspiring to you as it was to me.

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Passing Down Natural Parenting

By Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama

My parents both grew up in San Francisco and were products of the 60’s hippie movement. They were not “true” hippies per say but certainly embraced a more peaceful lifestyle. After they married, they left the big city and moved to a small, up and coming town in Washington State. It was here, that they had me.

My father owned his own construction company and worked a lot. I have some beautiful memories of our time spent together when I was young but he really was not around a lot. My mother was a stay at home mom and I spent 98% of my time being parented by her.

My mom surrounded herself with parents who followed a more natural way of parenting. Everyone practiced extended breastfeeding (I was breastfed until my mom had surgery when I was 2 ½), children were allowed to be children without harsh discipline, many of the mothers home birthed (less common to hear about in the 70’s), everyone ate from a wholesome array of natural foods, and generally followed an attachment parenting approach. My mom thrived in this environment and flourished with the support. She had been an only child and had not been around children growing up. Although she made motherhood look easy, my guess is that it did not necessarily come naturally.

I probably was not the easiest child to parent. I was strong willed, make that STRONG WILLED. I marched to my own drummer. I wanted to do things my way and did not want any help. I was easily frustrated. I was very creative and needed a lot of stimulation. I was very social (and my mother was painfully shy). I despised being told “no.” I was ridiculously inquisitive, to the point that most mothers would have probably given me away to gypsies. I was also VERY generous, warm hearted, enthusiastic, and happy. I was also quiet…surprisingly. I was not a loud child. My mother had a lot of health issues when I was young and I was amazingly understanding and could play by myself for hours as a toddler. I think that my mom and I just had that sort of connection. My mom did an amazing job balancing all sides of me, especially since you just never knew which Jennifer might show up that day!

My mother was typically very gentle with me. Instead of yelling and screaming she took the time to help guide me and to help me understand why I should or should not do something. No matter where we were, she would get down on my level, speak to me in a way that I could understand, and allow me to have less than stellar moments. My mother really understood who I was and what I needed from her as a mother. Yes, she had some not-so-peaceful mothering moments but no parent is perfect. A little frustration is bound to produce a knee jerk reaction from time to time.

My father was a bit different than my mother in his parenting style. Daddy was the “fun” weekend parent. We would go to the barber shop, the hardware store, the dumps, and run all kinds of other construction related errands. I was in my element. I chatted it up with everyone and just enjoyed being with my dad. I was a little leach when he was around. My dad was a bit more direct in his parenting approach. For example, he was less likely to take the time to help me work through my feelings or to understand why I should or should not do something. However, he was gentle nonetheless. He just had things to do and could not take the time to go into a dissertation on why I needed to get into the car and not chase butterflies. (My mother would have let me give fair chase and then eased me into a transition into the car). I do remember that he indulged me once in a while.

I was a very bright child with a natural inclination towards doing the right thing. My parents modeled Christian living. They were very kind and generous to others. They were always there to lend a helping hand. They abided by the law. They worked hard and everything they had they earned fairly. They spoke kindly about everyone and everything. They did not argue with each other. Their spousal relationship was so beautiful. They had so much respect for each other and so much love. It oozed from them. They communicated compassionately. I just lived in the presence of two people who always did the right thing. To this day they are honest to a fault. I grew up doing the right thing because it was simply the life that we all led. I shared with friends because I saw my parents share with other. I told the truth because my parents were truthful. I was respectful of others because I was respected. I had a strong moral compass because I was guided by two people with strong moral compasses. There of course were times when my parents had to do more than just live a righteous life in order to help me understand right from wrong. But, they always took the time, in the moment, to help guide me towards appropriate actions and reactions. They never ridiculed me or made me feel like less of a person if I made a poor choice. They helped me work through why I made that choice and helped me determine what the better path would have been. I really never messed up twice. There was no need too. My parents made sure that all of my questions were answered and that I knew what the natural consequences of my actions would be.

Was I ever punished? Sure. There was the time I pooped in the front yard at 5 years of age. I definitely knew better and was showing off for my friends. I think my mom kept me inside and away from my friends for the next few days more out of her own embarrassment than anything. But I DID know better and certainly deserved some sort of consequence as there really are not that many affective natural consequences for pooping in your own front yard.

I grew up an only child and as such was lucky enough to have all of my parent’s attention to myself. My parents were always open and honest with me. They never made up lame excuses, created a story to get past a difficult parenting moment, or lied to me. Even if I was too young to understand something, I can remember that they would take the time to find a way to help me wrap my arms around the issue as best I could. My parents did not take parenting shortcuts. I believe that this paved the way for the strong bond we all had as I grew up. I was always very trusting of my parents and confortable with them. I knew that there was nothing I would ever do that would make them not love me. Sure, they did not always like what I did but I was never persecuted for my actions or decisions.

My parents and I are still amazingly close. We are great friends. They do a lot for me. They support me. They listen to me. They understand me more than anyone else in this world. They still gently guide me and help me understand life. I need that. I need these two people in my life in this way otherwise I do not think I could make it as a parent.

I did not plan on becoming a parent but life is funny that way. I threw myself into my pregnancy and then into motherhood. I had a beautiful model in my mother and knew that I wanted everything for my daughter that my parents gave me. However, I am naturally, not a natural parent in all aspects. Parenting peacefully is a challenge. I am still that easily frustrated little girl. I have no patience. I like things my way and hate to have my schedule or routine encroached upon. So yes, I have had to step outside of who I inherently am in order to be a natural parent. Breastfeeding was never a question. 25 months later and we are going strong. Healthy, green living and foods in their most natural state were also not a question. That was simply the lifestyle I led. However, peacefully, gently guiding my daughter is something I have to work hard at. I have to constantly stop and take a deep breath before having a knee jerk reaction. Although I completely disagree with the tenants of mainstream parenting, I will admit that they certainly are easier. But I WILL NOT allow myself to fall into those patterns. My daughter deserves better. Plus, she naturally thrives on things like a nurturing touch, responding with sensitivity, compassion, gentle and positive discipline, flexible and evolving boundaries, and sleep/bed sharing.

I am so very thankful that my parents raised me in the spirit of natural parenting. If I had not had that to emulate, I would probably have gone the more mainstream route. That is how my husband was raised and together we would probably not have looked deeply into other parenting styles and options. I am a researcher by nature and surely would have taken the time to see what else is out there but may not have been as vocal and adamant with my husband about what I saw as the better way to parent. I also incorporate a lot of Rudolph Steiner’s (Waldorf) principals into how I parent. His approach takes natural parenting a step further and really connects it with the developmental needs and will of a child. It is pretty profound stuff and again, it falls in line with my beliefs and what my daughter thrives on.

Natural parenting is NOT the easy route. Mainstream parenting is always trying to encroach. Natural parents are subject to more questioning, more ridicule, more insults, and more dismissive behavior from other parents. We are considered “crunchy,” “hippies,” “going against the grain”, “off our rocker”, “lazy,” and a whole host of other na├»ve and purely ridiculous labels. It seems like we always have to justify why junior is breastfeeding at age 3, or wearing cloth diapers, or not being told “no”, or being allowed to get dirty in a rainstorm, or given the opportunity to learn from their own actions, etc… It takes a strong person to stand behind a natural parenting philosophy but the payoff is HUGE. Once you establish a natural parenting rhythm and learn what works best for your family and child, parenting (in my observation) is a lot easier. Children are much more responsive, understanding, compassionate, respectful, trustworthy, and closely bonded to their parents. They are happy. They have the freedom to grow into the person they will be in 20 years without feeling shame or guilt along the way. They become the freest of thinkers and the most willing of doers. They are NOT spoiled or poorly prepared for life. In fact, I will venture to say that naturally parented children may be much better prepared for life because their decision making skills are based on sound reasoning, good judgment, natural consequences, and the desire to do what is best for the greater good and NOT threats, time outs, scare tactics, verbal bashing, or physical punishment.
I encourage all parents to explore natural parenting practices and approaches and to stay the course. It is not the easiest parenting road but, like the name suggests, it is the most natural. And it works. I am proof. You have me at my word.

Blessings,

Jennifer

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Jennifer is mama to a daughter, “Tiny," and a passionate supporter of natural parenting. She shares her passion at Hybrid Rasta Mama.

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