I’ve spent so much time — maybe too much time — reading about parenting philosophies and ideas. Every time I think I’ve found “it,” the method that best describes what I do, I realize — nope. I find that the people who are strong proponents and strict adherents are rather too strict for me (and might not even consider me a follower of the philosophy!), or I find that something they are promoting is something I just don’t agree with.
Now, I know many people would say, “It doesn’t matter what label you use; you don’t need labels. Just do you.”
I agree, to a point. Really, we don’t need to label ourselves. We don’t need to follow any philosophy strictly. We don’t need to listen to someone else’s words more than our own intuition.
But, I’m also a blogger, a writer, a teacher. I need some kind of shorthand to explain what it is that I do, and what I’m trying to share with you. That’s what a label is — shorthand lingo to describe something, a way of being or believing. In that case, I do need a label, just for ease of communication.
Why I Practice Biological Normative Parenting
This is the name I gave to my style — “Biological Normative Parenting.”
It’s because since my babies were little, I have always been most interested in knowing what the biological norm is. What are we, as humans, supposed to do? What is ideal/optimal for babies and other tiny humans?
For example, breastfeeding is the biological norm. Females (generally) produce milk after they have a baby, and babies are meant to nurse from their mothers. We can argue all day long about what is or isn’t in breastmilk, and how similar artificial milks are, and so and so forth, but the bottom line for me is that we were designed to breastfeed. Period.
(Let’s just take a quick pause to say, my goal is to identify the biological norm first and then get as close to it as I can. Obviously, life isn’t perfect and “optimal” is not always possible. This is not to say if you can’t or don’t want to do one or some of these things that you can’t parent this way. I’m explaining my thought process, not a rigid set of rules.)
We also need to differentiate between ‘common’ and ‘normal.’ “Common” is when something happens with great frequency; most people experience it. It’s common in our culture to have food allergies. “Normal,” however, is what is biologically supposed to happen in an optimal situation. It isn’t normal to have food allergies.
I think that discovering what humans really need — and ignoring our culture entirely — is the best way to parent. I’m concerned with what is going to produce the best outcomes, emotionally, physically, socially, and otherwise. (And yes, parts of this will look different for different people.) It’s not to say I outright reject our culture; some of it is very valid and some is not. I simply ignore our culture either way and accept the practices that I believe are best for my family.
What is Biological Normative Parenting?
As I described above, “Biological Normative Parenting” is about looking at what is biologically normal and going with that.
It is biologically normal to be very responsive to your infant’s needs because otherwise, they wouldn’t survive. In our home, this plays out with breastfeeding on demand, frequent babywearing or holding, co-sleeping, and otherwise keeping baby very close in the early months. I also find that when I am very responsive to my baby, I quickly become “in tune” with his/her communication, and s/he quickly comes to trust me (stops crying when I come near even before needs are met, cries less in general, communicates in new and more sophisticated ways).
After the early months, baby spends increasing time down on the floor, to explore the world. It’s not very much time until they can sit, and then crawl. (My 9-month-old spends much of his day on the floor now! He loves to move around and explore everything. When he’s done, he crawls over to me and asks to be picked up.) When we’re out and about, if they’re not wanting to be down, or if an area isn’t safe for them, they are worn and kept close. Even a wary baby can learn about the world and new people from the safety of mama’s arms.
We tend not to use very many “baby holding” devices. We do have some, whether for safety reasons (like a car seat) or for sanity (a bouncer in the early months so mama can eat or use the bathroom while baby is in a safe spot). But, generally, we don’t put baby in places that they cannot get themselves, like jumpers, exersaucers, etc.
We used one only briefly for our current baby (a jumper) and he seemed stiff and it took him a bit longer to crawl than it probably should have. Physical therapists will even say that these are not a good idea for most babies and that they should be given the freedom to move on their own and not manipulated in these assistive devices. We most likely won’t use them anymore.
As babies grow into children, we listen to them, we communicate with them. We strive to understand their needs — not necessarily what they say to us, but the true underlying need. A child who is rubbing his eyes and screaming, but also yelling “I WANT TO WATCH TV!” does not need TV, he needs to sleep! We strive to meet those true needs as quickly and effectively as we can.
We help children explore and interact with the world in a way that is comfortable for them. We also help them learn if and when they ask for help. Our 8-year-old decided at age 4 that she wanted to learn to write — and so she did. She decided at age 5 she wanted to learn several math concepts — and so she did. She decided more recently that she wanted to work on her reading skills, moving from rudimentary to fluent — and so she is. She asked for our assistance in her ways and her time, and we helped her.
We do not impose arbitrary rules. All the rules we have surround health, safety, and respect for people and their property. It is not okay to take someone else’s belongings. It is not okay to hurt someone else. If you accidentally hurt someone or break something, then you make it right. We work together to teach them how to behave, by modeling it, correcting them, and keeping them and others safe when they are young and having a hard time.
There are fewer rules as they get older, and they manage themselves more. We have a bed time for our little ones, but our older ones get to choose — sort of. (There’s kind of a ‘maximum’ on when they can be downstairs, and then they can read or play quietly in their rooms if they want until they’re ready to sleep.) As they get older they’ll have more and more freedom to make their own choices.
I’ve found myself distancing myself from the “unschooling” label very recently — especially the “radical unschooling” label — because many strict adherents seem to think you can’t ever teach, encourage, or require anything of a child. No imparting of wisdom on behavior, or food choices, or getting enough sleep. Simply let the child figure it out eventually…or not.
I’m not about that. I’m about allowing my children freedom to choose within the framework of loving, hands-on parents. I don’t fight unnecessary battles. I don’t make them do things “just because.” But in all societies throughout history, the elder people imparted wisdom to and took care of the youth. It makes no sense to change that tradition because young people can be quite foolish!
Neither do I agree with being harsh, punitive, ignoring children’s feelings, hitting them for messing up. I’ve found a peaceful middle ground, with firm boundaries, lots of grace, and respectfully communicated directions. Education is child-led, but I work with them as a partner. I empower them, but I encourage them and expose them to ideas — I don’t ignore them and hope they figure it out.
Making Parenting Choices
In some cases, we simply have a ‘way’ our family is. We like to encourage more creative play than screen time (although they do watch TV and use the computer). We prefer to cook homemade/healthy foods and we teach the kids why that is…and how to cook. We prefer to use natural remedies, and we teach the kids about those, too.
See my book, Natural Remedies for Kids, to learn more about how we use natural remedies (and how easy they actually are).
If something comes up and I’m not certain, then I start researching. I look at recent studies, I look at history, I read several opinions. Then I make an informed choice on what I feel is best based on the evidence I have and my own intuition.
This philosophy is one of informed, purposeful parenting. A philosophy of mamas who care about “best practices” and who want to be emotionally present with their children at all ages. It’s one for parents who are thinking and paying attention to the fact that our modern world promotes a lot of weird, odd, or simply wrong ideas about children and parenting.
It’s not a rigid philosophy. It doesn’t say, “You must _____ or you can’t be a biologically normative parent.” No, because every family is a little different. Every child’s needs are a little different. This is about meeting your child’s needs with the best information you have.