Positive discipline begins at birth

Preparing for childbirth: The delicate dance between pushing out and letting go

Observing a friend struggling with, and complaining about, the last days of her pregnancy –constantly posting on Facebook about how she finally wanted her baby to make an appearance in the “real world,” listing details about all the activities she undertook in order to make this happen ASAP — made me reflect on the delicate dance that childbirth is. 

I get it. I’ve been there.

Ready to Push?

Feeling big — no, huge! Not being able to see my toes anymore, let alone tie my shoelaces. Feeling very swollen in the summer heat and out of breath after walking up the stairs to our apartment on the 4th floor. Rolling around on the mat in my prenatal yoga class feeling like a huge whale. Nights spent sleepless with heartburn, an active baby in the belly, and a bladder that never wanted to go to sleep.  

And then, there is all the excitement about finally getting to meet this tiny human being that you have lovingly and patiently grown in your belly for all these long months. The excitement about becoming a parent — for the first, second, third… time. There are all the people around you, asking when the baby is due — which does not really help or make waiting any easier — and so many other good reasons to finally push the baby out of your belly and into the world. 

But First…  

But there is another side to the story, which tends to be forgotten or at least does not enjoy a lot of spotlight.

A more delicate, more sensitive — even darker — side that might not be as limelight-worthy or Facebook post-worthy…a side, which in my opinion, is just as important as the “push side.”

It is the side that mindfully focuses on letting go.

On gentleness, on feeling, on making space for the baby to come into this world…and making space for what is to come and follow.

On becoming aware of and consciously reflecting what is transpiring inside of us: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. 

Facing Our Feelings

This includes facing our anxieties and deepest fears and doubts about birth and about parenthood, about our ability to “do a good job” at delivering and then protecting, nurturing, and growing this delicate, wonderful new being that we already love more than we could have ever imagined. It may also include acknowledging and confronting our fear of failure, our fear of pain, our fear of loss, and our fear of fear. 

Furthermore, it includes facing the reality that things are (again!) about to change tremendously. That not only our everyday life is about to get the next big overhaul, but also our whole universe: The way we relate to the world, and the way we relate to ourselves is going to drastically change.

It includes coping with our bodies changing — yet again — from the pregnant state to a postpartum state, which will look and feel very different from what we are accustomed to and from what we might actually enjoy or expect seeing and feeling. We might feel empty, tired, depleted, sore, and possibly a far cry from attractive and sexy for quite a while.  

I vividly remember mourning my “empty“ belly for several days following my daughter’s birth. It felt empty and somewhat sad to not feel my baby inside my belly anymore. While I was certainly very happy to finally be able to hold her and cuddle up with her in my arms, I missed this innate and exclusive feeling of connection to her.  

Bringing Together the ‘Pushing Out’ and the ‘Letting Go’

I believe that, in order to consciously and mindfully prepare for birthing our child, it is important to take the time to look at and ideally merge both sides of the equation: the “pushing out” and the “letting go.”  

The tiredness of being pregnant and the energetic eagerness to have baby out of my belly have certainly helped me tremendously in getting over my fear of giving birth and all the pain that would be — and certainly was — involved. However, being mindful, open, and receptive to the side of letting go, creating space, and facing anxiety, doubt and fear — even mourning during this transition — has certainly proven to be very helpful as well. I believe it might be one supportive part in the puzzle of alleviating or possibly even preventing feelings of the “baby blues.” 

So, I’m calling on all expecting moms: Take a deep breath and give yourself a mindful moment — and ideally many more — and some space to merge both ends of the continuum. By doing this, you will be giving your body, mind, and spirit a chance to holistically and soulfully prepare for what is to come instead of forcing it into birthing-action mode.

Photo source

Is human nature inherently good or bad? And does this predict what type of parent you will be?

I recently exchanged e-mails with one of my former students about the perennial question concerning human nature: Are humans good or bad?

This question continues to fascinate us. When I lecture about human nature to my students, I like to frame the debate by pitting Thomas Hobbes against Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

thomas_hobbes_portraitThomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was an English philosopher and the author of the book Leviathan. Famously, Hobbes declared that primitive human life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

I use Hobbes to illustrate a pessimistic view of natural man. That is, as illustrated by his famous summation, Hobbes felt that the natural state of man was bestial. According to Hobbes, therefore, it is civilization that steps in and rescues humanity from our primal depravity. In this view, human nature is a nasty thing that human culture rescues. In Hobbes’ view, being civilized is good and being a savage is bad.

jean-jacques_rousseau_painted_portraitContrast that with the view of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), the Enlightenment philosopher whose book The Social Contract influenced the French Revolution: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”

In contrast to Hobbes, Rousseau declared that humans in earlier times were “noble savages.” According to Rousseau, humans are naturally and innately good, and it is civilization that turns man into a “beast.” Consequently, Rousseau argued that modern man should seek to restore the conditions of our lost Eden and live a more natural, rather than technological, life.

To summarize, we can create a quick schematic contrast of Hobbes and Rousseau:

  • Hobbes — Human Nature = Bad, Civilization = Good
  • Rousseau — Human Nature = Good, Civilization = Bad

For Hobbes, civilization saves us from ourselves. Without it, we would regress to a beast-like state. For Rousseau, civilization is killing us. For Rousseau, the goal is to reclaim a more natural existence.

So, who is right?

Unfortunately, by this point in my lecture, only a about two students are awake. So, to show them that this question is actually of practical and not just academic interest, I like to ask the following question: Are you planning to breastfeed your baby?

This question gets the girls awake, for obvious reasons. It gets the boys awake because the word “breast” was used. Human nature, good or bad, can at times be remarkably predictable.

I bring up parenting in the conversation about Hobbes and Rousseau, because it is in parenting where we tend to reveal if we vote with Hobbes or Rousseau.

For example, Hobbesian parents tend to think that a child’s nature is unruly, undisciplined, and selfish — not in an evil sort of way, more of a benign “they don’t know any better.” Thus, these parents tend to emphasize training and structure.

Rousseauian parents tend to think that a child’s nature is innocence and goodness. These parents tend to de-emphasize structure in the child’s environment.

Here are some more possible locations of contrast:

  • Painkillers during delivery — Hobbesian parents more likely to use painkillers; Rousseauian parents more likely not to use painkillers.
  • Feeding — Hobbesian parents more likely to bottle-feed; Rousseauian parents more likely to breastfeed.
  • Feeding Times — Hobbesian parents more likely to feed on a schedule; Rousseauian parents more likely to feed on demand.
  • Discipline — Hobbesian parents more likely to spank; Rousseauian parents more likely not to spank.
  • Sleeping — Hobbesian parents more likely to allow child to cry in crib until asleep; Rousseauian parents more likely to hold child until asleep.

Now, I’m not suggesting this as some kind of rigorous, diagnostic classification. I’m mostly trying to illustrate a point: Whether we like discussing human nature or not, we are all working with a theory of human nature and that theory of human nature has practical consequences. For example, when parenting, some of us go “natural.” Others are more “technological” — painkillers, formula, behavioral parenting strategies.

And parenting is hardly the only place where we see these differences. We see Hobbesian and Rousseauian contrasts in how we choose to eat, how we choose to use medicine, and how we feel about city life — to name a few things.

Hobbes and Rousseau are still with us. And we, in the choices we make, keep their debate alive.

*Reprinted with permission from Richard Beck, PhD. The original article is published on Experimental Theology.

**Philosophers’ photos from Wikimedia commons.

Parenting as a Spiritual Path

mother kissing babyRaising children is hard work. It’s deeply trying, physically and emotionally. Many studies have confirmed the drudgery of parenting, finding that the work itself is more tiring than chores or paid work . For those of us who have little ones, whether we care for them all week long or after hours, that’s no mystery.

Parenting is an all-in occupation, with every bit of us being needed for the job, including those parts of us we’d rather forget about. Parenting pushes all of our buttons on purpose. It’s our second chance to dig up and heal all of those old traumas we’ve buried. And depending upon how many kids we have, it’s also our 3rd chance, 4th chance, etc., because with each new character in our brood those feelings emerge as freshly as we experienced them in childhood.

How do you react when you hear your child screaming? It hits you deep down, right? And you’d do anything to make it stop. And that’s by design. By observing how you handle that feeling, and your reaction to your child as they get bigger and push your buttons, we get a unique window into our own childhood, into our parents’ experience, and theirs before them.

We are the inheritors of a unique legacy. All of us come out of childhood with some form of baggage. And we spend an outsize amount of our lives burying it so that we can “function normally.” But normal functioning isn’t dancing on top of a garbage mound and pretending we’re at a beauty pageant. It’s digging down and finding out who we are under all that garbage. It’s allowing and even welcoming all the experiences of life, and all the messy emotions that come with them. And if we have children, we’ve signed up for the messiest of those duties.

Childcare is physically challenging, but as babies turn into children, we find that the emotional challenges feel far more difficult than those early months when our bodies ached from constant carrying and personal hygiene fell low on our priority list.

Parenthood holds up a huge mirror that helps us see our stuffed feelings, our ideas about what’s wrong with us and our beliefs about who it’s acceptable to be in the world. Dealing with that gracefully is difficult on a good day, much less when your charge has smeared peanut butter in your hair and peed on the carpet.

Here are three ideas to get you through:

  1. Laugh! A sense of humor can get you through just about anything. Another benefit is that laughter is healing, in that it lets us release tension and it tells our brain to celebrate. And celebrating is definitely the correct response to useful information that will help you to free your inner child so that you can actually enjoy watching your kid splash in the puddles while wearing her sneakers. Or better yet, join in!
  2. Take notes. I know it’s difficult to find time to journal when you have a kid, but some of us somehow find ways to send texts. So text yourself when you notice a pattern, when you’ve caught a glimpse of yourself (good, bad or ugly) or when you find something you’d like to ponder later. These truths about ourselves are gems, and it’s worth taking a few minutes to jot it down if you can.
  3. Roll with it… Yes it’s difficult. And it’s hysterical. And it’s sad. And every other emotion you can imagine. When we open ourselves to our inner experience, we can be present to what’s happening in this moment with our child, which is all there ever is.

Overcoming Isolation When a Baby Arrives

Welcoming your first baby is a very overwhelming experience for many parents. In North American culture very few of us spend much time around newborns until we have our own. I probably clocked in about 17 minutes total holding other people’s new arrivals before my daughter was born. Most of us just don’t see a lot of babies in our daily lives.

Many of us live far away from our families of origin these days. This means that when our babies arrive, they often arrive to a largely empty house. Most fathers don’t get much (or any) time off following their child’s birth, so new moms find themselves at home alone with their babies pretty soon after giving birth. The adjustment came as a big shock to me, and I think it does to many working moms. I was accustomed to spending my days in an office environment. There was order and a schedule and treat time on Wednesdays. In the span of a few weeks it was just me and a tiny baby and I felt totally lost.

This experience of isolation with a newborn is pretty common, but I this is not the way it was meant to be. If we examine the postpartum practices of traditional cultures, for instance, we see a very different story. Most traditional societies held that in the first 30-40 days of life the mother and baby were vulnerable and required special protection. They stayed at home, in bed, and the mother ate special foods, prepared for her by other women. There were rites of passage, and special rituals marked the completion of this confinement period. Mothers were not alone with their newborns, struggling to find some lunch.

Family of three
My husband Jon and I with our newborn daughter, Hannah
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Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting Blog Carnival – 2010

Welcome to the first of the 2010 Attachment Parenting International Blog Carnivals. Today’s carnival focuses on the 1st Principle of Parenting – Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting.

Here is an excerpt from the 1st Principle:

The remarkable journey of new life is a positive, transformative experience. Pregnancy offers expectant parents an opportunity to prepare physically, mentally, and emotionally for parenthood. Making informed decisions about childbirth, newborn care, and parenting practices is a critical investment in the attachment relationship between parent and child. Education is a key component of preparation for the difficult decisions required of parents and is an ongoing process as each stage of growth and development brings new joys and challenges.

We received several submissions for our first carnival. Below is an excerpt from each contributor as well as a link to read the post in its entirety. If you didn’t get a chance to participate this month, join us next month as we celebrate API’s 2nd Principle of Parenting – Feed with Love and Respect. The submission deadline is March 12. Click to find out more about participating in on of API’s monthly parenting blog carnivals.

Without further ado, here’s how other attachment parenting families have Prepared for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting. Please note that these links will open in a new window.
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