Conscious Parenting – Ramblings from our first Pathways Connect Kelowna gathering of 2018

We had out first Pathways Connect Kelowna gathering of 2018 on January 30th. Here are some ramblings put together during my preparations for the event and from reflections afterwards.

Pathways Connect Kelowna is part of a bigger movement organized by Pathways to Family Wellness. The focus is to elevate and educate families as they explore parenting. It’s as simple as that.  As a group, we will choose a topic, usually out of Pathways magazine, have 15-20 minutes of someone (hopefully not always me) teaching on the matter, and then explore as a group of parents who want to grow as people.  I want to emphasize that this is a safe space for us to explore topics that we will not all agree on. That’s ok!  I have invited moms who I know are very different from one another and at all different stages and we have an open door to anyone who wants to come. Plus some of the magazine articles may have a pretty heavy slant, so it can definitely bring up some hot topics! Please, have compassion for each other. It's ok to disagree and to challenge, but always in love. This is also notable not the ME show.  I am organizing the group as part of some of the advanced pediatric training that I am doing, which is why it is free for all of you!  I am not a parenting expert nor am I the model for all of you to follow. I am a mom and a doctor focused on raising up children who can impact the world for the better, and that often means supporting parents to be the best version of themselves.

Today our topic is:  The Continuum Concept & Conscious Parenting (initiated from the article Beyond Babywearing in Issue 49).

Who has heard of the continuum concept? Attachment parenting? Conscious parenting? Much of these terms are based off a book written by an American author (Jean Leidloff) in 1975.  In the book Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost, she describes her observations after spending 2.5 years living with the Yekuana natives in the Amazon.  At first glace, at least from our western perspective, two things stood out to her:

  1. Everyone seemed very happy. The babies weren’t fussing. The kids weren’t fighting. The adults were fulfilled.
  2. Parents seemed to be neglecting their children. They were focused on their adult tasks while their children were off playing, in a notably “unsafe” environment riddled with pits and animals and pointy objects.

 

This apparent societal bliss warranted further investigation. What they found was that the parents were not ignoring their children at all.  In fact, they were connected with their children on a deeper level. Anthropologists discovered many subtle interactions between mothers and children that were akin to a whole other mode of connectedness which they have termed “liminal consciousness”.  [FYI, Liminal means “threshold” or transition; I have to look that one up.]

 

Now, we could spend a whole hour exploring how we are NOT the Yekuana natives and how different our physical and social environment is from that of the Amazon, but I do believe that there is something to be learned here about social development, about happiness, and about the connection between parents and their children and within communities.  It has been a really cool exploration for me in preparation for this group. I actually haven’t read the book,  but I have been around and read around this concept a lot and Dr Pam, who I really wish was here tonight and who sends her hugs from Swaziland, really lived out some of these principles in a fascinating way that I would love to learn more from.  There is just so much to unpack within this field!

One fascinating thing that developed out of the observations noted in this book is a theory of human social development.  Basically, we are born with an inborn expectation to go through certain experiences (in sequence) in order to develop normal interpersonal connections and be a functional member of society.  This theory is actually very in line with what we see in physical and neurological developmental science.  Normal brain and physical development rely on us going through predictable stages (like rolling and crawling) in a specific sequence based on inborn brainstem reflexes.  It appears as though there are parallels for social-emotional development, including being held at birth and an extended in-arms period throughout early infancy. If we don’t go through normal physical "programming" patterns, our structural and neurological framework will not be strong.  If we don’t go through normal social-emotional programming in our early years, we may have trouble integrating into society.

It is from this book and these concepts that the movements of Attachment Parenting, cosleeping, extended nursing, and babywearing really started coming to the forefront in western cultures.  It’s a little easier to talk about attachment and connection in the early stages.  First-time moms learn to tune in to baby in a new way as they grow inside the womb.  Taking a “birth pause” to soak in that new being and reframe your connection is intuitive for many.  Feeding your child and caring for an infant that needs you to survive automatically builds dependence.  But as they grow and life starts moving faster, it can be hard to keep that connection and to maintain that level of intention in your actions. Parenting becomes more reactive.  Part of why we do these groups is to deliberately take time to examine our values and work through our beliefs so that our choices automatically become more in-line with our core values (which reduces stress!).

 

Beyond infancy, there are some specific principles that we can explore to encourage this connectedness and contentment within our children.

1- A profound trust in the child.

Do you believe that your child is an inherently good person/citizen?  They have an innate desire to please and an innate sense of self-preservation, which is why they can be so easily moulded by social influences.  This also underscores the importance of modelling “good” behaviour and the value of instruction based on actions over judgement and labelling based on character.

2- The child is NOT the centre of attention.

This one can definitely strike some counter-culture cords at first, but it has definite value as you unpack it. Children are able to observe adults doing their work, which respects their role as a learner in society. They can begin to participate as they feel ready.  On a personal note, I have been observing the impact of this on my own parenting.  In an effort to encourage my daughter to be a confident decision maker and because I was trying to make my time with her focused on her, I had developed a habit of periodically letting her make all the decisions.  From what she would wear, to what I would wear, to what we would eat, to what we would play, and on and on.  She started becoming very bossy and entitled and it was becoming a problem.  By slightly reframing some of my interactions and words with her, I am already noticing much more harmony in her relationship with me and with others.

  • Don’t do all your adulting behind closed doors. I know it is tempting because you can move at full speed, but your children need to see you cleaning and cooking and gardening and building, etc. so they know it isn't magic fairies and so they can learn to be self-sufficient someday.  (It can be a fun time to spend with your children too!  Which is why Sequoia and I are working on an online course called Tidying with Toddlers.)
  • A child needs a mom who is calm and confident (and consistent), not asking child permission all the time.  We have all seen this go to the extreme, with an adult begging and pleading with a four-year-old. It's not pretty. It is also very stressful for the child.  Just like with dog-training, if they aren't confident in your confidence, then they feel more uneasy themselves.
  • Does not mean a mom who doesn’t play! I have been obsessed with Jane Goodall since I was a child and I have read way too much on chimpanzee behaviour.  By far the chimps that were most successful in their complex social infrastructure had mothers who were interactive, attentive, and played with them (although, again, the child was not always the centre of attention).  The parents must be present when needed and are definitely free to interact and play.
  • The children were not playing ALONE. They were playing with other children, of all different ages. Parents were working alone either. They were cooking, cleaning, working, etc. together; not on computers or phones. That is not the world we live in. So how do we integrate some of this tribal sociology into our world? (So far the best solution I have come up with is buying a house to share with my sister so we can raise our children together and investing my time in groups like Pathways to connect with other moms as kids can play together. What do you like to do to encourage this aspect?)

3- A healthy human experience must include interaction between people of many different ages. This may have occurred automatically in the Amazon tribes, but it is not easy in our segregated society. Where is our village?  How do you encourage inter-generational relationships, let alone children of different ages?  It is easy to see the value in this, but difficult to routinely implement.

As I mentioned above, there is SO much more that we could unpack in this topic. We could dive into each aspect as its own study. And we did talk a lot more during our gathering about how we feel about safety and how to practically encouraging fostering these kinds of relationships in a modern world.  I hope this brief overview helps you review your thoughts on the matter and helps you become more conscious and values-based in your parenting relationships.

Happy conscious connecting.

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