Gentle Mothering - God’s Design
by Gaye Ward
Parenting in our Western SocietyWe’ve all seen it - the article in the paper or item on the news about yet another infant who has been injured or even killed by the violent actions of his parents. It’s commonly referred to as ‘child abuse’, and it’s unfortunately all too common in our increasingly violent society. What many do not acknowledge, however, is the more insidious harm that is being done to children day in ,day out, by parents who do love them, and want what is best for them, but who are parenting in a way which, although common in our western society, goes against our God-given instincts and our conscience. As Jean Liedloff says:
“The societies for the prevention of cruelty to babies and children concern themselves only with the grossest sort of abuse. Our society must be helped to see the gravity of the crime against infants that is today considered normal treatment.”
You see, in our Western society in the 1990s, it is ‘normal’ for infants to be restricted or weaned from the breast, it is ‘normal’ for children to be bundled into strollers rather than given the touch they so long for, it is ‘normal’ for babies and toddlers to be left to ‘cry-it-out’ under the guise of ‘teaching them to sleep’, in short it is ‘normal’ for our children to be denied the very closeness, comfort and care which I believe God designed them to need and us to provide.
We live in a takeaway, throwaway society where credit cards have made it unnecessary to wait to purchase goods, microwaves have made hot food almost instantly available and double income households have made paying off a mortgage within the grasp of most families. We don’t want to - and usually don’t have to - wait to have our desires fulfilled. People are used to convenience and instant gratification. Want it now? Have it now!
Unfortunately, this lust for ‘convenience’ also pervades child-rearing. We are told that we can ‘have it all’, that we can have our ‘bodies back’ and not be ‘stuck with’ our babies by weaning early, or perhaps not breastfeeding at all. We are bombarded with images of Hollywood superstars’ post-baby figures, and led to believe that returning to pre-pregnant shape as soon as possible is vital. We are informed that we can and should get a full nights’ sleep once baby is a few months old, that he is being unreasonable to expect anything from you ‘out of hours’, and that don’t worry, you can ‘teach him to sleep on his own without bothering you’. We are warned of the dire circumstances of ‘making our baby too dependent’, and urged to put him down whenever possible. If he cries a bit, well, he’s just trying to manipulate you. We supposedly have to ‘get away from’ our baby as soon as and as often as possible, both individually and as a couple.
So many in our society try to parent in a way that is ‘convenient’. Parents try to manage babies’ feeding, sleeping, and a little later toileting, and give out love in measured, calculated doses so as to not ‘spoil’ them or ‘make a rod for their own backs.’ They have it all - a career; a marriage where they have plenty of time alone without the kids; a sex life unaffected by thoughtless babies who demand to nurse at an inappropriate time, or who want to cuddle up in the parental bed, or by hormones produced by a breastfeeding mother, or by leaking breasts; plenty of time devoted to following our individual desires and dreams.
And so we are warned of the dangers of making our children ‘too dependent’, of letting them manipulate us, told that our marriage cannot possibly stand a child’s ‘intrusion’ into the parental bed. We are even told that we are damaging our children if we do not ‘help’ them to ‘develop good habits’ such as sleeping through the night. We are given ready excuses for breastfeeding ‘failure’ rather than the support and information we need to develop this beautiful art. Despite laws which supposedly protect breastfeeding mothers and their nurslings, women are still being asked to leave public places, even given the suggestion of nursing in a toilet cubicle.
God’s Design for MothersDespite the disturbing trends in our society and the pressures to conform, there are those of us who shun this style of parenting. There are those of us who cannot stand to hear a baby cry, who could not bear to ‘Ferberize’ our children, who have endured and overcome breastfeeding difficulties, who love to hold our babies close, who want to discipline our children with love and respect rather than fear.
Why do we do it? I parent in this way because I firmly believe that it is God’s design. Children are a blessing, more precious than anything in this world.
Children are also a huge responsibility. The way we parent them, especially in the early years, has a great influence on their emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual development. It is rather strange, and certainly very sad, that most animals look after their young with more dedication and care than many humans do. We humans are supposedly the most intelligent of all God’s creatures, yet many of us certainly have a lot to learn.
Readers of this beautiful passage from God’s Word cannot help but be touched by the gentleness of mothering portrayed here:
William Sears, a Christian pediatrician and father of eight, certainly advocates an attachment/gentle style of parenting, and believes in the benefits for children and parents alike:
“Children who experience attachment parenting exude a feeling of rightness, the basis for a strong self-esteem. If your child feels right about himself, he will be a source of great joy to you. Attachment parenting can give you a better opportunity to enjoy your child.”
I believe that God gave women breasts for the purpose of breastfeeding our infants, and that we are designed to nurse for far longer than this society’s norm of a few months. In Biblical times, several years of nursing was the norm. Our breasts produce such perfect nourishment for our children, and the act of nursing is of unparalleled comfort to a child. No artificial milk nor a silicone or rubber teat can replace this wonderful gift. Breastfeeding is a whole relationship, an unbreakable bond of love and comfort. Not only does breastfeeding give an infant the best possible physical nourishment, it provides immeasurable emotional benefits. (and not only to the baby, to Mum too!) Mum even receives her own special gift when she breastfeeds, a hormone called "prolactin", which seems to relax her and promotes further contact between her and her baby. It is a win-win situation!
“Just as infant formula can never match mother’s milk, so the rubber nipple of a bottle or pacifier can never replace a warm, soft breast, and a cold, hard, crib mattress is a poor substitute for a warm body to sleep with. When the child’s instinctive needs for contact and stimulation are not met by breastfeeding, the child may turn to finger- or thumb-sucking, pacifiers, rocking, hair-twisting, or other self-soothing behaviors in an attempt to assuage these needs. Such behaviors, rather than being viewed as adaptations or accomplishments by independent infants, might be viewed instead as the accommodations of infants to an environment where their primary needs are not being adequately met through the multisensorial contact of extended breastfeeding.”
I believe that God designed infants with ‘immature’ sleep cycles for a reason, perhaps to help prevent such tragedies as SIDS, and that mothers and infants are meant to sleep alongside one another. I believe that it is dreadfully cruel to leave a baby to cry himself to sleep, and that a baby’s nighttime needs should be attended to as readily as should his needs in the daytime.
It is an absolute joy to sleep with your baby! Often we are presented with a choice of either meeting our own need for sleep or meeting our baby's needs. When families adopt a flexible attitude to sleep, and are willing to try options such as the family bed (or variations thereof, such as the "side-car" arrangement), they usually find that everyone gets a good night's sleep. It is possible to nurse a baby or toddler several times each night and still get up (reasonably) refreshed in the morning. Obviously, this arrangement will be a disappointment to parents who believe they have a right to eight hours of totally uninterrupted sleep, but I suggest that the measures most parents have to take in order to accomplish this are grossly neglectful of their children's needs.
“Experts who recommend against co-sleeping in all circumstances do not seem to consider the longer term consequences of such brutality. What do sensitive children learn? They learn that their need for warmth and reassurance is a character flaw; that parents are cold, distant figures; that fear and loneliness are the expected currency of existence. They learn that important figures in one's emotional world cannot be trusted to understand and respond with a caring attitude. Since their need is in-born and cannot be controlled, they often adjust by either withdrawing and removing themselves from their emotions (depressive tendencies as adults) or by learning how to manipulate and control others who won't give freely when it is so needed (oppositional, antisocial tendencies), or by learning later to soothe loneliness and pain, not with people, but with means that, to them, seem more reliable, such as alcohol or drugs.”
I believe that infants should be held, cuddled, stroked, as much as they desire. Children don’t just desire to be held, they need it. In societies where infants and young children are carried most of the day in a sling and sleep alongside their parents at night, these children hardly ever cry. They don’t need to! I’m sure that it isn’t a coincidence either that it is in Western societies, where a ‘detached’ style of parenting is the norm, that emotional illness, violence, and general unhappiness are so rampant that one could be excused for thinking these afflictions are highly contagious.
“The infant lives in the eternal now, the infant in arms in a state of bliss, the infant out of arms in a state of longing in the bleakness of an empty universe.” “The missing experiences of the in-arms phase, the consequent gap where his feeling of confidence ought to be and his ineffable state of alienation will condition and influence all that he becomes as he grows up around the rim of the abyss where a rich sense of self might have burgeoned.”
We need to stand up for our childrens’ rights to be given the love and nurturing that they need. We need to nurse them, hold them close, sleep alongside them. We need to look to God’s infallible Word for reassurance, guidance and strength. We need to stand firm against criticism of our gentle parenting. We need to go with our God-given instincts, and not be swayed by mainstream arguments. Our children are depending on us.
References*All passages from God’s Word are quoted from the New King James Version
1. Liedloff, J. The Continuum Concept 1989 Arkana p.159
copyright 1999 by Gaye Ward
Copyright 1997-2015 by Gentle Christian Mothers™
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.