We are bodies born bursting with wisdom. Even though as babies we are entirely incapable of taking care of our needs, we have the wisdom to recognize those needs and signal for a little help (that comes in the form of well-intentioned but oft miscalculating parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends). And over the span of a few short months, we formulate an entirely unique communication pattern of body movements and vocalizations – tailor made for the care providers in our lives – that do a little bit better job of indicating hunger, thirst, or a full bottom end. Somewhere between infancy and adulthood, the confidence fades, and although a full-out-fatigue-induced cry is not socially appropriate for an adult, many of us are too disconnected from our own wisdom that even if we had license to make use of our lungs, we wouldn’t know where to start.
We are bodies born bursting with wisdom. Even though as babies we are entirely incapable of feeding ourselves, once we have clued our caregivers accurately, we know exactly how and how much to eat. Our very survival depends on it! Over the span of a few short hours and days, we have put our latching reflex to good use and – through bottle or breast – have figured out how to fill our tummies. Somewhere between infancy and adulthood, after 70,000 sugary salty advertisements, we disconnect from our own wisdom about balancing physical activity and food consumption, and we do things like mistaking thirst for hunger, or mindlessly munching through a whole bag of Sugar-Os.
We are bodies born bursting with wisdom. Even though we are born as relatively stationary creatures, we wire up the neural pathways for movement rapidly, and within the first eighteen months of life, we will master waving our arms and legs, rocking, rolling, reaching, pulling, scooting, standing, sitting, inch-worming, cruising, stepping, walking, and running. Somewhere between infancy and adulthood, through the years of sedentary work and pleasure activities, our impulse to perfect our body movement and to keep our joints and muscles in prime form fizzles under a desire for media entertainment or just plain exhaustion.
And so it goes. We are born with an innate kind of wisdom that becomes obscured over the course of our life experiences, and once we become parents, we struggle to connect to our own wisdom and see the wisdom in the children we care for. I was reflecting today with a new friend about the primary challenge of being a parent of and care provider for little children. In her work with parents and early childhood’ers of all genres, Mary has heard a common idea: the most criticism comes from the inside – the most critical are the ones who are doing what you are doing, but choosing to do it differently. If you aren’t a cloth-diapering (or better yet, an EC’er), baby-wearing, co-sleeping, baby-food-making, back-to-your-pre-pregnancy-sizing, breastfeeding, vaginal-no-epidural-having, cheerful-all-the-timing mama, prepare to meet “generous-heaping-of-guilt” universe.
Now, before I get too far down this trail of thought, I do believe that science and society tell us a great deal about what is best for children, and as parents or early childhood professionals, it is our job to construct a well-informed philosophy of what we do. But if “what is best for children” is not “what is possible for the parents”, we must access our inner wisdom to inform which choices that are life-altering, and which ones are on par with what to have for dinner.
So often, advice comes disguised as make-it-or-break-it when in fact, it is matters of preference, privilege, or expectation. And depending on what circle you land in, the advice can differ greatly – even to the point of contradiction! Take cloth diapering. I am a huge advocate of cloth diapering. I cloth diapered my first two children with great success and pride. Then, when the third came along, our same set of diapers no longer provided the tight seal that afforded dry clothes, so we switched to disposables. In some circles, my choice to abandon cloth diapers is equated with all kinds of disastrous outcomes for Desmond and the planet. In others, the fact that I put my children into diapers at all, instead of practicing elimination communication from birth was a terrible decision. And still others support my ability to get my children into clean, dry clothes and diapers daily as a victory! (yea, parenting victory!)
What’s more, the advice we believe to be hard-and-fast, black and white, and scientifically supported is often culturally embedded. Child rearing looks dramatically different in other settings. (Check out How Eskimos Keep their Babies Warm, A World of Babies, and Babies for more on the cultural-isms of parenting.) What it comes down to is this: we have so lost a connection with our inner wisdom, that the volumes of advice and criticism can leave us paralyzed to make the best choices for ourselves and for our family.
I was quite set on having a “natural” birth with my oldest daughter, only to find out (high blood pressure + induction + epidural + 10 hours of labor later) that my pelvis is shaped like a heart. Who knew that could even happen? If it wasn’t for the life saving and quick response of the medical team, and if I had lived a couple of centuries ago, my daughter and I would have died. So with my second and third children, I had a scheduled c-section. I even sat with my surgeon and selected their birth dates at around 32 weeks. This birth decision is one that I have had to explain. There were clusters of well-intentioned supporters who always asked, with sympathy on their faces and in hushed tones, Why do you have to have a c-section? So I started preempting their question with too much information. “This baby will be a c-section baby. My pelvis is shaped like a heart so no kids are coming out that way!” At this point, I was often offered some serious condolences at not being able to deliver “naturally” (as if my ability to carry a child and birth it into the world was somehow unnatural…sheesh!).
In the information age, you can spend your life googling the right answer to any question, trying to perfect your parenting. And no matter which choice you make, you are likely to garner the criticism of some well-intentioned opposition. Here is what I know. For the most part, we parents are doing our very best to raise children in the very best way we know how. Sometimes, we are misinformed – and in those times, we want our supporters to come alongside and show us a different way. Change takes time, but we are committed to doing what is right for our kids: we don’t need the voice of difference to be mean, cynical, or judgmental. As we work to educate ourselves in the different styles of parenting, we find one that fits. In order to move forward and make choices for our children, we need to trust our wisdom to direct our actions. Information about children and child development (this coming from someone who is passionately passionate about child development theory!) is worthless if it is paralyzing. What we need is a “wisdom filter” – a way to know for ourselves what is best. This filter is made up of the people we trust, the sources we look to for information, a community of supporters (at our life stage and not) who can offer us feedback when we need a listening ear. And, our wisdom filter is made up of our own inner voice that tells us if something is a fit.
Today, I will leave it there. Throughout this week, I plan to do a little more exploring about the idea of wisdom. How do we forge a wisdom filter? And who in the parent-child relationship is the wisest? (hint: age does not always equal wise!)
For now, you can leave me with your thoughts. What does your wisdom filter look like? Are there choices you have made as a parent or care provider that you felt especially questioned for?
May your day be abundantly wise.