The word ‘instinctual’ is often heard within the context of attachment parenting. Instinct is not meant to imply reacting without thinking; but that one should forgo arbitrary parenting methods like sleep training and punishment in favor of an introspective, fluid approach to raising new people. This kind of interaction communicates integrity, and respects the emerging sense of self within each child.
Instinct may connect with our own innermost longings for an optimal experience, but that doesn’t mean the implementation will be easy. Doing what we know is right is the most challenging path to take. Families are distant, beds are cramped, there is not enough time, and not enough help. The deep desire to be with our tiny, warm, bundle of life, 24/7, to be connected to them, won’t always be convenient. This doesn’t make the desire wrong, nor does it make the relationship not worth cultivating to the fullest potential. When the vision is there, our mandate is to create a structure to support those values.
Many of us who strive to realize a more empathic civilization may not have experienced all of the prerequisites ourselves. Most of us slept away from our parents, in cribs. Only some of us were breastfed for more than a few months. Some endure physical punishment and alienation from a young age; experiences that form a foundational part of existence and self-doubt. And yet, many of our parents did so much more for us than theirs could for them. “Wait son, you think you have it bad? My parents used to…”
The lack of accessible example for what we want to create is both heart-wrenchingly devastating and profoundly invigorating. Cultivating something we may have lacked ourselves is therepeutic. What I have realized through the process of pro-creation is that our beds, cribs, and baby “essentials” like pacifiers, food, diapers, and expectations need to be rethought. For many traditions there seem to be better ways to meet the biological expectations and needs of babies without deviation from principles of connectedness and integrity in our relationships. Maybe we want to sleep together as a family. Maybe a lot of traditional home and furniture designs are actually ridiculously impractical. Maybe kids can handle the truth. Exactly why am I supposed force them to sleep alone? Why wean them so young? And why do so many parents continue to rationalize their violence (verbal or physical,) towards children? After all, war narratives won’t end until we no longer model aggression and isolation as a default coping mechanism ourselves.
We have been born into an era of rapid industrial growth and scientific experimentation that has us removed from our evolutionary experience. Our instincts are often at odds with our ideals, and the systems in place around us, if they are distinguishable at all. The norms constructed around us are entirely arbitrary, and every single one should be checked and re-checked both from an evolutionary perspective and philosophically to ensure they fit with the kind of world we want to create. I want all kids to have this culture-hacking skill as a second-nature. Do adults want you to call them Sir or Ma’am because you are a child? I will tell you the truth. It’s self-important behaviour on their part, but you can decide for yourself if what will happen if you refuse to call them by a title is worth your rebellion. Neither good nor bad, norms form the foundation of what we call culture; which, at best, is a romantic flourish on our lives. At worst, culture stagnates and becomes a totalitarian fist on our expression and exploration. That which stands blatantly in the way of us achieving our highest values doesn’t need adherence.
The best part of human progress is that we are learning more about our experience on this planet, who we are, where we came from, and where we might be headed. We are growing into the universe, and may just have some say in our destiny. Where we fall short is our sense of intimacy and trust with other living beings, starting with our earliest relationships with those closest to us. Our families. Practicing attachment parenting, and positive parenting, can help ensure our children have the emotional security to cope, trust, and develop healthy, empathic minds that can engage in a full and interconnected world.