I’m a natural parenting advocate. But it doesn’t mean what most people think when they hear that term – “My son breathes imported air and plays with organic string.” Although I love being crunchy. 🙂
A better way of saying what I believe might be “parenting naturally.” To be a comfortable, capable parent with how you choose to raise your children. To learn from your mistakes, to feel at ease with your decisions, to (as I’ve said before) know why you do what you do.
Parents have strong intuitions about what their child is ready to learn and do. But too often, this gets pushed aside with the madhouse scramble to have our kids at the top of the smart pile. We have Your Baby Can Read, Baby Einstein, baby flashcards, learning toys, pre-preschools, and constant barrages of experts and marketers reminding us how much better our kids lives will be if we buy their product. It makes you doubt your own parent voice (which at times is intended).
The other day I took Bella to the Children’s Museum. While in the toddler center, another little girl about her size began to play near us. She was sweet, offering Bella a fake apple to share.
Her mother swooped in from behind. “Is that an APPLE? A, a, a, apple? A is for apple? Red apple Joanna? Can you put the red apple in the blue basket? B is for basket. Basket. Blue. Both have a B in them – buh, buh, buh, and we put the red a, a, a, apple in that blue basket and see it? See it go DOWN IN the basket? It went DOWN IN. DOWN. IN THE BASKET. Blue. Basket. Apple.”
Her mom narrated every.single.thing she did. I was exhausted just listening to her, and by the end of the hour the mom was too. You can hardly blame her; she put a ton of energy into trying to get her daughter, just once, to say or acknowledge what she was telling and showing her. And her daughter could have cared less. They were both very frustrated.
No doubt, she is a loving mom. That has nothing to do with this, and I’m not judging her – she was a kind person. I’m using her technique as an example of a common theme in many of us – unnatural parenting. This lady forced herself to spell, reiterate, and coax even when it was obvious her daughter (who I found out was 16 months old) didn’t know how to respond to what she was doing. Why? More than likely the pressure for her child to excel.
When you constantly read and hear about how the education gap is widening, how our schools are failing in their jobs to teach children properly, that the three year old down the street can already read Harry Potter while your kid lit a Barbie on fire yesterday… Yeah. That can make you a little less confident in how you parent.
I’m not comfortable spelling out things to Bella yet. I think, “She doesn’t even know what it is.” So, I try new things with her and see how she reacts. I talk to her constantly, but I don’t force understanding or make myself insane trying to explain everything. I watch her play to see what she already knows and what she’s trying to figure out. I read books that offer suggestions to gently challenge her while still staying within a range of something she can accomplish. It helps push down that little voice in my head of, “You aren’t doing it right. Buy this instead. It has lights and shiny things.” Sometimes…I still buy it out of insecurity.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the whirlwind of “Look at my kid – she’s a professional bull rider, knits argyle sweaters for the old folks home, studies French cooking, and her favorite thing to do is SAT prep. And she’s 4.” Certainly there are kids that love to do these things – that thrive on them. But the problem is that the media has capitalized on them to show how dumb your kid must be if they aren’t like the very few child prodigy’s.
But don’t. Slow down. For the sake of their ever-so-fleeting childhood – let them be. Leave the reading till they know what letters are. Set aside the flashcards. Remember the ads are there for a reason – your money. Follow your child’s lead and your instincts. Parent naturally, the way you know how.
Because honestly? You do.