Parenting: traditional wisdom and modern life

by Lilia Efimova on June 8, 2007

One of the highlights of Reboot for me was talking to Rob Paterson. Behind his slides on early human development (on that in a blog post) I saw traces of things that occupy my mind for a while now.

Funny enough, during our conversation Rob recommended the book of Jean Liedloff The continuum concept, which came as a reference from someone from totally different context the day before we left Reboot.

The book is based on insights about human nature that were a result of spending “two and a half years deep in the South American jungle with Stone Age Indians”. I’m still waiting for my copy of it to arrive (=I haven’t read the book), so this is how the concept is introduced online:

According to Jean Liedloff, the continuum concept is the idea that in order to achieve optimal physical, mental and emotional development, human beings — especially babies — require the kind of experience to which our species adapted during the long process of our evolution. For an infant, these include such experiences as…

  • constant physical contact with his mother (or another familiar caregiver as needed) from birth;
  • sleeping in his parents’ bed, in constant physical contact, until he leaves of his own volition (often about two years);
  • breastfeeding “on cue” — nursing in response to his own body’s signals;
  • being constantly carried in arms or otherwise in contact with someone, usually his mother, and allowed to observe (or nurse, or sleep) while the person carrying him goes about his or her business — until the infant begins creeping, then crawling on his own impulse, usually at six to eight months;
  • having caregivers immediately respond to his signals (squirming, crying, etc.), without judgment, displeasure, or invalidation of his needs, yet showing no undue concern nor making him the constant center of attention;
  • sensing (and fulfilling) his elders’ expectations that he is innately social and cooperative and has strong self-preservation instincts, and that he is welcome and worthy.

The bold is mine. Another quote, from Who’s in Control? The Unhappy Consequences of Being Child-Centered explains it a bit better:

[…]the Yequana [the indians Liedloff lived with] are not child-centered. They may occasionally nuzzle their babies affectionately, play peek-a-boo, or sing to them, yet the great majority of the caretaker’s time is spent paying attention to something else…not the baby! Children taking care of babies also regard baby care as a non-activity and, although they carry them everywhere, rarely give them direct attention. Thus, Yequana babies find themselves in the midst of activities they will later join as they proceed through the stages of creeping, crawling, walking, and talking. The panoramic view of their future life’s experiences, behavior, pace, and language provides a rich basis for their developing participation.

Now to my point. I believe in wisdom of traditional societies, especially when it concerns birth and babies. I also read modern research (e.g. recently finished fascinating What’s Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life), that confirms that early years are extremely important and explains why and how in a language of science. What I miss is a connection between those two worlds.

Liedloff’s observations are coming from the context that doesn’t fit the way I live. There is no extended family around to share the load of caregivers (once in a while you have to do things incompatible with holding a baby in your arms). I tried to carry Alexander while “going about my business”, but he gets tired easily from the noise of networking at events and gets bored while I sit in front of the computer and type. He is interested to look at moving things on a screen, but I’d rather show him the wind moving leaves in our garden (the only problem that ‘my business’ involves lots of typing in front of a screen).

Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant HygieneMy husband summarised the issue pretty well when I bought Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene: he looked at the cover depicting a child playing naked in a grass and said that we could go diaper free if we would live in a field…

I don’t want to sound too critical here. The books mentioned are well worth reading, but it takes a bit of imagination and lots of experiments to figure out how traditional wisdom could be applied in a modern life.

Blurring work-life boundaries mean that being with your child while going about your business could be an option. Now the only “small” thing left is figuring out how exactly.

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Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2007/06/08.html#a1905; comments are here.

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