My son, my teacher
My son is my greatest teacher. In our first meeting our eyes locked as he looked, all knowing and serene, into my eyes shining with wonder. He communicated, with a depth amazing for a newborn, that it was all OK, that he would show me the way. Each and every day he keeps this first unspoken promise, teaching me to listen to him and to my mothering instincts, to really trust nature.
There are moments when I am swayed by mainstream society, becoming a sheep plodding along the well trodden, comfortable path, craving approval, normality and recognition. At such times all I must do is stop, question, and look to my son to steer me back to the right path. Yet this path is little travelled in this modern age, weeds tangle and knot as tree trunks lie haphazardly blocking the way, ancient wisdom and primordial practices, half lost, so difficult to find amongst the debris.
Walking this lonely path I eagerly look for other like-minded souls. I find a few and stumble upon others who are supportive and appreciative of this alternative style, even if they choose not to practice it themselves. I also begin to search the virtual world, one of the many wonders of our modern age, sharing my parenting style through writing. I find a growing online community who listen, applaud and reflect on my words, as I in turn listen and learn from theirs.
Support groups are also a lifeline to me, one an informal weekly meeting between local mum friends, the other a local La Leche League group. I also find wisdom in natural parenting literature, including research about the benefits of attachment parenting, which helps affirm my belief what I am doing is right. My cousin recently pointed out that my parenting is an example of research-based practice, which to a certain extent is true, although my son is by far greatest teacher, research often backs-up my practice.
I nurse my (almost) two-year old son on demand. He will naturally wean, be this when he is 3 or 6 (or older), it is his choice. We share our bed with our son nestled between us, owning no cot and with no plans to separate him in another space until he is ready, again whenever that time shall be. We carry our growing son in a toddler sling every day, in the house, on walks, in town, wherever we are, whenever we need to and shall continue to do so until Ewan asks otherwise. This is natural, child-led weaning from the parents body, a continuum of comfort of womb to world at the child’s pace.
An extension of this natural parenting practice is home educating, a continuation of Ewan’s current learning within the home and the wider community as he nears nursery and school-age. These four practices – sustained breastfeeding, bed-sharing, baby-wearing and home educating – are the main tenets of our practice, (there are many other tenets too, such as cloth-nappy wearing and vegetarianism), all ‘outside of the box’, alternative, in some people’s eyes ‘hippy’ and extreme, unsettling and even ‘wrong’.
We receive a myriad of different responses to our alternative parenting style from our family, friends and members of the public, most of which are relatively supportive, genuinely interested and open. I delight in sharing our experiences and reasons for natural parenting with others. Yet at times I feel alone in a world of weaned toddlers, acting so far out of the box I feel a little lost.
Reactions have mainly been more subtle than conformational or downright hostile. The concealed shock when people realise I’m ‘still’ breastfeeding, even more so when I inform them it is down to Ewan when this practice shall stop. My health visitor expressing surprise that my son is still feeding during the night, her reaction that ‘well, it’s only for comfort’, as if breastfeeding could neatly be separated between nutrition and nurturing, the latter somehow wrong, the former OK up to a point (that being about a year, certainly no more than two).
The unasked for comments as I carry my toddler in a sling, ‘can you give me a lift love’, ‘that looks like hard work’, ‘aren’t you going to let him walk?’ etc. The amazement when I tell people Ewan sleeps in our bed, the typical reaction ‘how can you sleep with all that wriggling?’, ‘how do you get any privacy with your husband?’, ‘how will you ever get him to sleep alone?’ etc. These revealing comments are often simply reactions to lifestyles different from the norm, questions about practices little understood or known about. In my own way I try to inform people of their merits and how natural they, in fact, are, without judging or lecturing others.
I have not had to suffer what a close friend of mine recently did, evicted from the premises of a cafe for nursing her three-month old son, informed her behaviour was ‘dirty’ and ‘inappropriate’, and another who is feeling pressure from the medical establishment to wean her daughter, who is eighteen-months old, because of apparent ‘failure to thrive’ (surely doctors should be encouraging her to continue feeding, no?) The list goes on… I am also well aware that as my practices become ever more ‘extreme’ and alternative it is likely I shall at some point experience this direct criticism. One only has to look at the reactions to Veronika Robinson’s brave YouTube video of her breastfeeding her eight year old daughter to know what is potentially in store for me in regards to optimum (sustained) breastfeeding.
However, in the one instance I was confronted by a passerby, as I carried my sleeping baby in a sling, I was left mute and frustrated, unable to articulate the depth of my emotions or answer the ignorance of her comment. She simply walked up to me, saying ‘excuse me but your baby looks very uncomfortable in that’, as he slept peacefully, leaning his head on my chest. Astounded, my immediate reply was ‘no, he isn’t’, as I walked off, heart beating wildly. This woman, a complete stranger, felt she had the right, as many people do, to comment on and criticise my parenting style. She was really asking ‘how can a baby be comfortable in a sling when prams are really for that purpose?’
This woman revealed her ignorance and deep-seated fear of the ‘other’, in this instance the other being a younger mother who was carrying out a practice she knew nothing about and which she naively believed was more uncomfortable for the child than being placed separately in a plastic travelling device, the norm. The fact my son was sleeping contentedly was no indicator to her that he was in fact completely comfortable, blissful in fact, in his rightful place at his mother’s breast.
As my son approaches the pre-school years I prepare for further more open attacks of this kind. Living in a society which espouses values such as competitiveness, independence and materialism completely goes against how I am attempting to parent, through gentle, natural led child weaning practices our ancestor’s and many tribal (and indeed some industrialised) societies practice(ed). Against the grain, I have a fight on my hands, but feel self-assured and committed, ready to answer those who doubt, ask, comment or openly criticise. This may not be an easy path to take, but it is the right path, one I walk down with pride. One only has to look at my son to know this; he is shining with health and happiness as he moves through his preschool years developing a secure, positive self-image. He is thriving.
As my son runs towards me in need of Mummy’s milk, chuckling in anticipation of his next feed, delight spread all over his face, he is teaching me the value of love, which knows no bounds. This is enough to answer any criticism ever directed my way.