One of my good friends, many years ago, laughingly described me as 'a primitive' and urged me not to change, because our world needed more primitives. It was in reference to my ineptitude with technology at the time, when I was much more comfortable with a lump of charcoal or a paintbrush in my hand. The same friend says now - I have an iPhone, I blog, I work online, etc - that an alien has stolen her primitive friend. As far as the use of technology is concerned, I have moved beyond the primitive, but it appears that many of my views on parenting - from conception onwards - still fall within the 'primitive' range, in the opinion of some of my peers, and compared to a lot of what I find in contemporary media. Imagine my pleasure when I found an article on Kveller - an online parenting mag I subscribe to (not the least because it is where Mayim Bialik's blog is published - Amy from Big Bang Theory) that echoed many of my own sentiments!
The article, Parenting Tips from the Developing World, by Alexis Kort, shares insights she gained through travels to twenty different developing countries that, she says, shaped the person she is, and most definitely shaped the way she approaches parenting. The handful of things she focuses on in the article are such simple, basic things - sadly, things we've largely lost, and her implication is that we've lost them because we have so much - too much, sometimes, perhaps. There is a simplicity in the examples she gives that we would, in the main, be enriched by reclaiming. I don't say that lightly.
My mother, of blessed memory, was something of a forward thinker. At a time when birth was highly medicalised, she'd got her hands on Dick Grantley Reid's book about natural childbirth, and despite being forced to deliver me on her back with her legs in stirrups, she did it by using the breathing exercises she learned from the book, with minimal pain relief. She also breastfed me until I was three months old - and had she not had an old school baby nurse give her a hard time at that point about losing her milk (I was having a growth spurt and what she needed to be told was to stop doing everything else and go to bed for a couple of days and just nurse me frequently to build up her milk supply), she'd probably have gone on for longer. She watched me nurse the boys way past the then recommended six months with not a little envy... I know some women have difficulty with breastfeeding, and I firmly believe that everyone should have a choice in how they feed their babies, but had I not had the support I had OUTSIDE the local baby centres, nurses, and various well-meaning but misinformed family members, I think I'd have found it very difficult to stick to my guns in the face of some of the criticism I got - particularly at 'landmark' points... "Oh, but he's got TEETH!" - got that a lot. "But he's walking now..." Another common one. And, worst of all - apparently - "OMG, but he's TALKING!" You know what, I don't remember ever getting sprung in public - and I did nurse in public, discretely. And by the time No. 1 was both walking and talking, and still nursing, it was only before his afternoon sleep and before bed at night - he was far more interested in other foods, and those two breastfeeds were part of his going to bed routine, and dropped off - one when he stopped having afternoon naps, and the last one...one night he cuddled in, sort of thought about latching on, and then didn't, and that was it... No dramas. He just stopped. I truly can't believe the fuss and carry on that's raging in the media right now about women breastfeeding in public - you have to wonder what the hell has gone wrong with our society when it's these mothers who are the ones in the spotlight...for WHAT?
She also highlights something that was definitely part of my childhood, and something that both my children experienced...and something I see very little of in more contemporary parenting. From her time in Nicaragua, she writes:
In much of Central America, people eat a lot of rice and beans; maybe an egg in the morning, a little chicken once a week, a few vegetables, and lots of fruit. From what I saw, kids tend not to be as picky eaters in places where there is just enough to eat. And children eat what everyone else is eating for dinner, not chick’n nuggets or plain pasta with butter.There's a whole blog post I could write about children and food, believe me. I've actually started several drafts and they turned into rants, so I deleted them! Children grow to be picky eaters in Western society because we let them... We get our knickers in a twist because they refuse one food, so we offer them something else and they refuse that too, so we scramble around getting stressed and bust a gut trying to find something they will eat... What are the children in this scenario getting? Attention.... Stop and think about it for a minute. No healthy child will let itself starve. If it chucks a fruity at dinner time and refuses to eat what's put in front of it and the parent stays in parent-mode and doesn't give in, said child may end up going hungry if it's stubborn enough to also not give in. But that will only last until the next meal - where it will be so hungry it will probably eat whatever is put in front of it without a murmur.
I don't recall ever being fed special 'kiddy' meals as a child, but my mother was guilty of this with my children. I remember her turning up one day when No.1, aged just under one, was gleefully tucking into a crust of the homemade pizza my Italian next door neighbour, Mrs M___, had delivered (she was convinced we were all starving because we were all so slim...and kept feeding us!). Mum was horrified - "What's he eating??? He's just a baby!" She had no counter at all for my reply, which was something along the lines of, "the same as Mrs M___'s grandchildren!" Another time when I took them to her place for dinner, she drew me aside and said, "I have some steak for us, but I've cooked little lamb chops for the children, is that all right?" She was a little dismayed when I said no it wasn't... I couldn't afford steak very often at the time, and they got the, then, much cheaper lamb chops most of the times we ate meat, so I told her they'd probably feel a bit miffed to not be getting the treat of steak! It was the last time she cooked them a 'kiddy' meal.
Take a moment and read the rest of this excellent short article. It's a well put reminder of how simple the stuff of parenting can be if we don't get caught up in what people tell us we should be doing - whether it's our nearest and dearest, some well meaning health professional who is busy pushing their opinion, or the latest trend that's being pushed in the media. We have to go back to the simplicity of what these families in simpler cultures are doing - lets face it, if they can manage to parent and hold their families together with so much less than we have available to us, surely we can take a step back and just use what is absolutely necessary...without all the extra 'stuff' that can so get in the way of that most basic of relationship building experiences...between us and our children. Not us and all that 'stuff'!