Why I Practice Biological Normative Parenting |

Why I Practice Biological Normative Parenting

admin April 7, 2016

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.

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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.

Do you practice biologically normative parenting?

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  1. I think I finally found a “label” lol


  2. This resonates with me. I probably practice this too, but in a different way because I work full time so my kids are in school or daycare.

    I find myself evaluating things like shoes & wondering what our ancestors would have used. Certainly not stiff soles & supportive. Other things like making a child sit while doing homework. Mine can stand or wiggle while he does it. I don’t believe we’re designed to sit for so long. I have noticed that my kids go outside the moment they get home – into the backyard, poking at dirt & weeds, eating kumquats or kale or whatever we’re growing. I think we need to pay more attention to this & not get so concerned if they get filthy or eat unwashed fruit from the backyard, or even something that fell on the floor. I think there is a balance between enjoying modern medicine & overusing antibacterials. We evolved with bacteria. Ok – we evolved with worms but I’m not going that far 🙂


  3. Thank-you for writing this, and defining a new label that accurately describes me! I love that you differentiated between normal and common.


  4. You impress me, my kids are grown but I have grandkids that I am in time 28th and this is what I do with them just didnt know it had a sorta name. Keep up the good work im sure your kids will become very patient caring individuals.


  5. Yes, absolutely! I didnt always do that, but with my last chikd, I learned more and changed what I did. I I wish I had parented this way with my eldest who has both Down Syndrome and Autism. She needed it probably even more than my youngest.

    Thanks for giving another framework. I love unschooling, but the complete lack of guidance in certain areas like feeding and sleep is confusing to me. I get that there might be say fewer food issues because there is no battle over food. On the other hand, most “food” out there is crap and made to override our natural instincts. Also I dont think many unschoolers I have met understand how gut microbiota can affect cravings. My youngest doesnt seem to be able to stop eating sugar, and she gets plenty of natural sweetened foods.


  6. Hi Kate

    I am wanting to do this with any potential children, in the future.
    My worries are:
    * How do your children get “graded” through the “School system”? – When people ask what level they completed, how do they know?
    * If they want to go to University, how can they achieve this? – when not going to “school”?
    * How will they get a job? – If they are not “going to school”?

    I live in Australia, so I assume that our rules are very different but would like to know from someone who is actually doing this.

    Are there any other things to know, before heading down this road?

    I appreciate your wonderful blogs & Facebook page.

    Thank you so much


    • Hi George — not Kate, but having had some experience with
      unschooling in particular (which I think has serious disadvantages addressed in the article) I feel qualified to shed some light on some of your questions.

      I was radically unschooled. There were some other factors in there, such as religious extremism and mental illness, but the ultimate takeaway was that my parents did not teach me, and instead let me guide myself in all ways while allowing me many types of life experience and support as I taught myself to learn.

      In retrospect, and as someone wrestling with education methods to utilize with my own child, I think of my child-self as occupying the space between feral child and radically unschooled.

      Your questions are things I’ve personally had to overcome, sometimes with great difficulty.

      + How do your children get “graded” through the “School system”? – When people ask what level they completed, how do they know?

      = I wasn’t graded. I would talk about what I was learning if someone asked me about “school”, and would usually shrug when someone asked my grade. In general, I found it irrelevant and more a method of categorizing people than giving any true indication of the level of intellect or education.

      + If they want to go to University, how can they achieve this? – when not going to “school”?

      = when I became determined that college was something I wanted to approach, I started teaching myself the specifics of what I needed to know to accomplish it. The method of teaching myself to learn to overcome obstacles probably illuminates itself more here than most places in life — I took my GED, took standardized tests and applied. I was accepted, and did just fine in school after the initial learning curve of formalized academia.

      + How will they get a job? – If they are not “going to school”?

      = While I was living my feral child life, I developed countless skills that I was incredibly enthusiastic about. The first job I had was at a specialist hobby shop. I walked in, asked if they were hiring, explained that I was quite proficient in said hobby and asked if they would consider me for the job. They asked for examples of my workmanship, and deemed me fit at 18 to start teaching classes, assisting customers and filling in with running the shop.

      To this day, getting jobs has been the least of my concerns with my upbringing. I’ve always simply set my sights on a job, showed my competence and reaped the reward. I now work in a job I find incredibly gratifying, pays enough to survive and provides for myself and my family.

      In many ways, I do feel Kate’s ideology of biological normative parenting is far superior to how I was raised, but there would appear to be many strands of shared experience. In the end, the two primary lessons I’ve taken from my education are that challenging the notion that there exists only one pathway to any given destination is wise, and that I can teach myself anything I need to learn — these lessons have given me the power to shape my life into anything I want it to be.


  7. We basically follow this philosphy as well, but we’re not home educating right now. They are all in school and doing great! But life is all about change so who knows what the future will bring.


  8. Are you sure you’re not living in my head and heart? Thank you for writing this post.

    I had pretty rogid ideas about what kind of mother I would be while I was pregnant with my first. Then I had a c section (unnecessary) which made getting him out of the bassinet difficult and he was a very frequent nurser and could only sleep on my chest which led us to co sleeping. When he was about two months old I went to a LLL meeting where I picked up several great books and was encouraged to listen to my mama gut and my baby.

    9 years later I am cuddling my 3 month old 4th son after an unassisted pregnancy and birth who (along with our 3.5 year old) slept in our bed all night and has been sick or seen a doctor (neither has our 3.5 year old now that I think about it). All those labels (crunchy, unschooling, attachment parent, etc) are just the culmination of me listening to my mothers’ intution and my baby. Meeting needs in the way we were designed to meet them, to the best of my ability.

    The research I’ve done has only confirmed that, because we were designed to mother, we inherently know what we need to do. We just need to be brave enough to step out of the “common” and into the normal.


  9. I just want to say thank you so much for being an outspoken supporter of biological normative parenting. Thank you for putting your voice out there. Thank you for your bravery and your commitment. Thank you for standing up for the many women and moms who agree completely and who aren’t as comfortable speaking out about their parenting practices and beliefs. Thank you.


  10. Wow. I totally agree with you. This is the life I strive for as well. As biologically normal as I can get it. Thank you for defining how I feel. You’re the best mama! I love you.


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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