Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Between Love and Fear: On Raising our Children Sensibly

Welcome to the July Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Philosophy
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared their parenting practices and how they fit in with their parenting purpose. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Love over Fear
One day a few weeks ago, a good friend of mine was getting ready to go on holiday with his family. With just a few bits left to pack into the car and the kids running riot, he decided to pop the children into the car whilst they finished up.

Living where they do, their car is situated in a residential car park a little way from their house but within viewing distance, so whilst his wife finished up in the house, my friend took the kids to the car, locked it and then went back for the last few bits. On his return trip to the car (he'd left them for no more than 2 minutes), a woman absconded him and told him if she saw him do that again she'd refer the couple to social services: "You don't deserve to have children," she said. When he opened his mouth to reply in stupefaction, she snapped back "Don't even dare or I'll call them right now". So he had no choice but to wait where he was. Some minutes later his wife appeared, fully laden and rather cross at him for not coming to help - until he told her why.

When Father Earthly and I starting to think about raising a family, I found myself careering crazily between the much-promised delights of parenthood and an enormous gulf of fear. At times the fear threatened to overwhelm me completely and I couldn't comprehend how I could trust myself to look after such a small and fragile being - particularly as I wasn't even too good at looking after myself.

If you pay even one iota of attention to the Western media, then you may believe the world to be a very scary, dangerous place. A place where hazards of all shapes, colours and sizes are just waiting to jump out at your precious bundle of joy the moment you turn your back (or not in some cases). Ferocious (maybe even rabid) dogs and other assorted animals, omnipresent bacteria and viral infections/diseases, household medicines and chemicals, garden dirt, mindless motorists, small pieces that may or may not be included with your child's toys, and of course paedophiles and child-snatchers who may be lurking just behind those bushes or be luring them via their Facebook account.

I do not mean to trivialise such very-real dangers. As I said above, I was absolutely terrified of all of these things before having children. Interestingly though, since starting a family the fears have shrunk back to a more manageable size again. Perhaps it's because once you have kids there is simply too much to worry about, every second of every hour of every day. If we went around with adrenaline pumping out nineteen to the dozen we'd simply drop dead ourselves.

More than this, though, the simple act of having children - and particularly via home-birth - is so empowering and demands so much decision-making along the way that by the time I was holding my first precious bundle, I already knew that the best way I could care for him was to follow my instincts first and foremost, and take all offered advice with the merest dusting of salt.

One of the turning points came when I was browsing baby stuff online whilst still pregnant, and looking very seriously at purchasing a Gro-Egg room thermometer - one which turns blue if the room is too cold, or red if too warm. At the time we were living in a camper van and so I thought it could be quite useful as we don't have a central heating thermostat like most folks. And then I thought, "hang on, we live in a van - what the hell am I going to do if it IS too cold or too warm?" I started thinking about how recent baby thermometers are and how people have lived to this century just fine without them, in all kinds of hostile environments. So what on earth did I need one for? When baby actually came, we just used our common sense: if the temperature seemed a bit on the cold side, we'd put another layer on him, or light the stove, or both. Just like we would do with ourselves, only recognising that he was much smaller and newer and therefore a bit more sensitive. Same with bath water. And bedding. And being in the sun or the snow.

And looky-look, he's now survived two freezing Winters (the coldest on record as they love to tell us), first in a van and then a canal boat - both of which must have plummeted below -10°C on more than one occasion overnight once the stove had died down. His sister is also thriving on the same brand of common sense.

Throughout my first pregnancy and our first year or so of becoming parents, we were plagued by the fear-mongers; they throng around new parents like flies round excrement, offering up platters of apparently well-meaning advice, admonition and cause for alarm in equal measure. By the time our second was on its way we had gained in confidence, and were able to fend off the flies with a few well-placed swats. Yes, we live on a boat with no running water, central heating or walls/doors/child gates (as yet) - so what? Can your imagination not stretch far enough to see how we might overcome these challenges just as you might when camping? Yes, we regularly co-sleep with our children and never squish them despite our oft-sleep-deprived states of consciousness; yes, we follow baby-led-weaning and are always so proud to see our children's gag reflexes working perfectly when necessary; yes, we believe in an educational environment over a protective one - so instead of placing a gate at the bottom of the stairs, we repeatedly explain why they are out of bounds. 

Yes, we are always there to watch our children like hawks so the split-second they step into dangerous territory, we are there to catch them and to show and explain where they went wrong. And yes, it's exhausting! We are forever carrying, (re)moving and running after our children. But we feel it is better to instil in them now a sense of naturally-won self-confidence and common sense upon which they can draw in later life, than bringing up sheltered, naïve children who are likely to unknowingly take greater risks with potentially disastrous consequences as soon as they reach a state of independence.

But no, I will not overshadow their lives with wretched tales of caution and I will not prevent them from making their own mistakes; only guide them mindfully away from those mistakes as far as I am able. They will know of the hazards in the world and they will be proficient in using their own judgement as to how they should negotiate them in their everyday life. But they will not live their lives in fear, for such a life is not worth living at all.

So, had it been me, to the woman in the car park I would have said this: 
"No, I don't feel great leaving my kids alone in the car because I love them with every shred of my existence. And to be separated from them for even a moment is painful for me. I do appreciate and thank you for your concern, which is very community-minded of you. However, I do not subscribe to fear-mongering and my children will not be brought up to fear for their lives at every turn and twist in their life-adventures, simply because it is popular to do so. Rather I hope, they will use their own brains and follow their own instincts in life and take risks where they judge it to be safe enough because life is too short and precious to live in the constant fear that something untoward may happen." 
Of her callous, monochromatic and self-righteous, social-vigilante-style behaviour - and as a peaceable person myself - I can only hope that she is someday soon visited by Scrooge-like spirits who force her to see life, and everyone in it, anew and in a more positive, fearless light.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon July 12 with all the carnival links.)
  • Between Love and Fear: On Raising our Children Sensibly — Mamma Earthly at Give an Earthly discusses the fear factor in parenting and how she overcame it, despite societal pressures.
  • really, when do i get my cape? — Sarah at small bird on fire is a working city mama trying to learn how to set aside her expectations of perfection and embrace the reality of modern parenting.
  • Baby, Infant, and Toddler Wearing — Child wearing is part of Sarah at Nourished and Nurtured's parenting philosophy. In this post, Sarah describes benefits of child-wearing and gives tips for wearing babies, infants, and toddlers (even while pregnant).
  • First Year Reflections — As her daughter's first birthday approaches, Holly at First Year Reflections reflects on how she and her husband settled into attachment parenting after initially doing what they thought everyone else did.
  • Making an allowance — Lauren at Hobo Mama welcomes a guest post from Sam about the unexpected lessons giving a four-year-old an allowance teaches the child — and the parent.
  • How to be a Lazy Parent and Still Raise Great Kids — Lisa at Granola Catholic talks about how being a Lazy Parent has helped her to raise Great Kids.
  • Philosophy in Practice — Laura at A Pug in the Kitchen shares how her heart shaped the parenting philosophy in her home.
  • What is Attachment Parenting Anyway? — Gaby at Tmuffin describes the challenges of putting a label on her parenting philosophy.
  • Of Parenting Styles — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom talks about how she and her husband tailored various parenting styles to fit their own preferred parenting philosophy.
  • Moment by Moment Parenting — Amy at Peace 4 Parents encourages those who care for children (including herself) to explore and appreciate parenting moment-by-moment with clarity, intention, trust, and action.
  • Maintaining Spirituality in the Midst of Everyday Parenting, Marriage, and Life — Sarah at Nourished and Nurtured shares her perspective on finding opportunities for spiritual growth in every day life.
  • Parenting Philosophy — Lily, aka Witch Mom's parenting philosophy is to raise child(ren) to be compassionate, loving, inquisitive, and questioning adults who can be trusted to make decisions for themselves in a way that avoids harming others.
  • Long Term — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis thinks about who she would like to see her daughter become — and what she can do now to lay a strong foundation for those hopes.
  • Connection, Communication, Compassion — She's come a long way, baby! After dropping her career in favour of motherhood, Patti at Jazzy Mama discovered that building solid relationships was going to be her only parenting priority.
  • My Parenting Inspirations - Part 4 — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at her biggest parenting inspiration and how that translates into her long-term parenting philosophy.
  • A Parenting Philosophy in One Word: Respect — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction summarizes her parenting and relationship philosophy in one word: respect.
  • Knowledge and Instinct — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment believes that knowledge and instinct are super important … as are love, encouragement and respect. It's the ideal combo needed to raise happy and healthy children and in turn create meaningful relationships with them.
  • THRIVE!The Sparkle Mama wants to set a tone of confidence, abundance, and happiness in her home that will be the foundation for the rest of her daughter's life.
  • On Children — "Your children are not your children," say Kahlil Gibran and Hannah at Wild Parenting.
  • This One Life Together — Ariadne aka Mudpiemama shares her philosophy of parenting: living fully in the here and now and building the foundation for a happy and healthy life.
  • Enjoying life and planning for a bright future — Olivia at Write About Birth shares her most important parenting dilemmas and pours out her heart about past trauma and how healing made her a better parent.
  • My Parenting Philosophy: Unconditional and Natural Love — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about her parenting philosophy from a year of following her instincts as a mama.
  • An open letter to my children — Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine writes an open letter to her children.
  • My Starter Kit for Unconditional Parenting — Sylvia at MaMammalia discusses her wish to raise a good person and summarizes some of the nontraditional practices she's using with her toddler son in order to fulfill that wish.
  • Responsiveness — Sheila at A Gift Universe has many philosophies and goals, but what it all boils down to is responsiveness: listening to what her son wants and providing what he needs.
  • Tools for Creating Your Parenting Philosophy — Have you ever really thought about your parenting purpose? Knowing your long-term goals can help you parent with more intent in your daily interactions. Dionna at Code Name: Mama offers exercises and ideas to help you create your own parenting philosophy.
  • Be a Daisy — Becky at Old New Legacy philosophizes about individuality and how she thinks it's important for her daughter's growth.
  • What's a Mama to Do? — Amyables at Toddler in Tow hopes that her dedication to compassionate parenting will keep her children from becoming too self-critical as adults.
  • grown-up anxieties. — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life explains her lone worry concerning her babies growing up.
  • Why I Used Montessori Principles in My Parenting Philosophy — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells why she chose Montessori principles to help her now-adult children develop qualities she wanted to see in them as children and adults.
  • Parenting Philosophies & Planning for the FutureMomma Jorje considers that the future is maybe just a fringe benefit of doing what feels right now.
  • Not Just Getting Through — Rachael at The Variegated Life asks what truths she hopes to express even in the most commonplace interactions with her son.
  • Parenting Philosophy? Eh... — Ana at Pandamoly shares the philosophy (or lack thereof) being employed to (hopefully) raise a respectful, loving, and responsible child.
  • Parenting Philosophy: Being Present — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses the changes her family has made to accommodate their parenting philosophy and to reflect their ideals as working parents.
  • Who They Will Be — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro shares a short list of some qualities she hopes she is instilling in her children at this very moment.
  • Short Term vs. Long Term — Sheryl at Little Snowflakes recounts how long term parenting goals often get lost in the details of everyday life with two kids.
  • Parenting Philosophy: Practicing and Nurturing Peace — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle sets personal goals for developing greater peace.
  • Yama Niyama & the Red Pajama Mama — Part 1: The Yamas — In part 1 of a set of posts by Zoie at TouchstoneZ, Zoie guest posts at Natural Parents Network about how the Yoga Sutras provide a framework for her parenting philosophy.
  • Yama Niyama & the Red Pajama Mama — Part 2: The Niyamas — In part 2 of a set of posts by Zoie at TouchstoneZ, Zoie explores how the Niyamas (one of the eight limbs in traditional Yoga) help her maintain her parenting and life focus.
  • Our Sample Parenting Plan — Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey shares hopes of who her children will become and parenting strategies she employs to get them there.
  • Philosophical Parenting: Letting Go — Jona at Life, Intertwined ponders the notion that there's no right answer when it comes to parenting.
  • Unphilosophizing? — jessica at instead of institutions wonders about the usefulness of navel gazing.
  • Parenting Sensitively — Amy at Anktangle uses her sensitivity to mother her child in ways that both nurture and affirm.
  • how to nurture your relationships — Mrs Green at Little Green Blog believes that sometimes all kids need is a jolly good listening to …
  • Philosophy Of An Unnatural Parent — Dr. Sarah at Good Enough Mum sees parenting as a process of guiding her children to develop the skills they'll need.
  • Life with a Challenging Kid: Hidden Blessings — Wendy at High Needs Attachment shares the challenges and joys of raising a high needs child.
  • Flying by the Seat of My Pants — Heather at Very Nearly Hippy has realized that she has no idea what she's doing.


  1. I love your common-sense conclusion about raising aware, self-confident children. We can actively parent (moving and removing, etc.) and still allow our children the freedom to explore, learn from their own mistakes, and grow. Thanks for a great post and for participating in the Carnival!

  2. Yes, yes, yes! The fear mongering is insane! So much of it can be laid to rest by just being present with our kids. Why do I need to teach my 4-year-old daughter to be afraid of strangers when she is with me all the time anyway (and will continue to be since she is homeschooled)? I'll save the scary realities for when she is older.

  3. thanks for such a wonderful post; it was really insightful and I agree it's a wonder we don't all wrap our kids up and never let them leave home but it comes down to one word - 'trust'. Trust of ourselves, of our children's desire to preserve their life, of the Universe to provide us with what we need and of fellow humans of whom 99,999% are wonderful, loving people...

  4. I love this. The world is what it is...just like thunder is not inherently scary, neither is the world. Living in fear doesn't teach anyone how to cope/deal/interact with ANYthing that happens to them. And I hope that the woman who yelled at your friend reads this!

  5. My friend who also practices baby led weaning JUST talked about how people react to their baby's gag reflex when they are eating out. She said that's her biggest challenge to doing baby led weaning, is having to calm people down and assure them that if her child is actually choking, she WILL help her. . . but that real choking and gagging as a form of exploration are two super separate things. Nice post. I think you're right on about fear-mongering.

  6. I totally identify! I let myself be frightened too much early in my son's life, but as he grows older, I am embracing "letting go" and watching him learn from his experiences. I, too, have noticed how much "fear marketing" is done to sell products to nervous parents. How true that this can impede our childrens' ability to flourish as they develop their abilities to reason.

  7. I love this! A FB friend once said she saw someone letting her toddler run 20-30 feet ahead of her and said, "That makes you a bad parent. Someone could swoop in and snatch her before you could get to her." But I let my toddler do the same all the time, if there are no cars or other dangers! There's a difference between prudence and fear ... and if we let fear govern us, if we forbade everything we could *imagine* a danger for, our kids will never learn to live. And is that really what we want -- a "safe" existence at the sacrifice of actual living?

  8. Thank you so much for this post. I also try to strike the balance between protection and paranoia. I remember as a kid riding our bikes all over the city from about 10 years old on. I can imagine getting protective services called on me if I let my own kids do that, and yet — we were fine growing up, and it was good for us to learn the self-reliance we did and enjoy that freedom (and for our parents to have a break!). Your story of the thermostat replacement reminds me of the rubber duck we got that told you whether bathwater was too hot — I early on decided to ignore it and use my skin and my common sense instead. ;)

  9. Yes, exactly! My parents used to let me roam around outside all day long. I remember them once saying that we lived in a community, and everyone looked out for everyone else's kids. I think it's so sad that we've just lost that, where now people feel it is their 'duty' to call social services rather than simply look out for one another...

  10. Oh crikey! Yes that's just what I mean. I'm afraid those sort of people just put my back up! You've hit the nail right on the head in saying it's about using a little prudence but without letting fear overrule all. If you've read my other post on "Love and Fear" this month, you'll know that I believe those who pander to negativity and fear are only giving that negativity a means of realisation. Of course, bad things happen to all of us. But if you can only see the bad in life, then how can you expect ever to catch the good?

  11. It's so easy to fall into the trap of feeling scared for our children, as suddenly life is about our responsibilities rather than simply looking after ourselves. This precious life you have the responsibility for demands the best of you - which can seem a struggle at the best of times to new parents. And so we feel we must do what is 'expected' of us as much as possible for fear of looking like bad parents. But I truly believe any parent who is trying their best according to their own instincts and within their own constraints, can only be labelled as the best parent. Those who buy 'all the right things' and abide by 'all the rules' are simply doing what they *think* they should rather than what is genuinely best for them and their children.

  12. Oh yes! I can empathise with this too. Even now, with our 2nd, I still feel self-conscious feeding my 8mo chunks of fruit, bread, cheese or tofu in front of other people who gawp at me as if I am a lunatic. Though quite often there is a small glint of amazement and something like admiration as they see how well she deals with it all :)

  13. Love your thunder analogy! I know quite a few people who spend their days gazing anxiously at the sky or watching the weather forecast on repeat as they try to figure out just how much rain we're going to get ;/

    :) The problem is, I've found in the past, that this type of person will often not be able to see beyond their point of view at all, even through discussion. Otherwise she would have given my friend a chance to speak in the first place...

  14. Absolutely, trust is important. And I get your reference to kids being self-protective too. One of my biggest fears is what my children will do when they start to become independent, with minds of their own... I know what I was like as a teenager and the thought that my children may mirror me absolutely terrifies me! But by providing a model by which we are always there when they need us, I hope to avoid the kind of problems I faced. I'm only too aware that this model is fallible, but I still feel that it is a better method than using up our cotton wool resources ;)

  15. I suppose the counter-argument to this would be that your 4yo could easily take it into her head to wander off at some point, or be whisked away from the garden or a playpark... but I believe there are other ways in which to instil in them a sense of self-responsibility than by simply teaching them to mistrust everyone. And yes, as an attached parent, we are always there, waiting in the wings. Allowing them freedom to do their thing, be their own person - yet there just in case.

  16. Thanks Dionna :) Well time will tell won't it?! But I certainly hope that my children will grow up to be community-minded and know how to use their own judgement about situations and individuals rather than being automatically mistrustful.

    Thanks for a great topic, and for a wonderful carnival!

  17. Dreaming Aloud15 July 2011 at 09:15

    Yup, I've had the social services threat thing for leaving kids in the car whilst popping into a shop. Horrible. Really horrible.

  18. I admit to being rediculously fearful. On the one hand, I trust my 5 year old to cross our street by herself. On the other hand, I'm obsessively afraid of her being kidnapped out of her bed.

    But I think The Universe is trying to tell me something, since this is the third article that I have randomly come across this week that all tell me that I don't need to be so afraid.

    Thankyou for being part of The Universe that is giving me a kick in the pants! Clearly, I have some internal investigating to do. :-)

  19. It's awful isn't it? I'm not quite sure what such people think they are giving back to society with their efforts. In another article I've just written, I discuss how our NHS midwifery services have become so volatile that they also feel they must report parents who are deemed a 'concern' simply because they don't wish to follow NHS protocol in order to achieve a more natural birth. This is the hypocrisy of Western civilisation at its best. We are allowed freedom of choice - in NHS speak "informed choice" and yet we are not allowed the liberty of using it! ;)

  20. I could have written this myself! ( Only much less eloquently ) everything you say here is just so darn true.


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