The Future Generation #57

THE FUTURE GENERATION
Punk Parent Issue #3    
BABES IN ARMS

    When I had my child, back in 1988, I took to reading about childraising practices in various indigenous tribes around the world, (American Indians, Eskimos, Pygmies, Gypsies, etc.) - because we as punks were created in rebellion - not with any cultural childraising principles passed down to us.
    Some things I knew, I didn't want to do. I knew from my mom’s experiences birthing me that I didn't want to give birth in a hospital; and I had my child at home with a midwife. That was a very powerful incredible experience. Clover, (my daughter) slept with me in my bed, I found it much easier than trying to stumble out of bed half asleep to get her. And I believed in nursing her until she was ready to be weaned.  I was given information from my midwife, on these subjects, that affected how I choose to do things. My midwife even showed me how to pin a cloth diaper!  In a lot of states it is illegal to birth your child at home with a lay midwife. It was in Colorado too, but Boulder was kinda a "liberal" town so my midwife could operate pretty much ignored by the law.
    I was influenced, in a round about manner, by the principles of a book I have recently read on Yeguana Indians, even though I hadn't read it back then. I knew it was O.K. to sleep with your baby and hold it a lot,  but I didn't know how good it was, or that some cultures hold their babies all the time. This concept of raising "babes in arms". I also didn't know about slings which are a good way to carry your baby. I would like to share with you some information on how the Yeguan Indians of South America raise their children, from a book called THE CONTINUUM CONCEPT by Jean Liedloff.
    I don't agree with all of the authors views, but she has some important information from her experiences of living with that tribe. Her point is that the way we are raising our children is making it harder on us and on them. That we civilized people are not providing innate behavioral expectations for our babies, don't trust in instincts and as a culture - we don't know how to raise children. "Most of the literate world joins us in victimizing each new, trusting babe: it has become the custom."
    First, Hospitals provide much birth trauma in its civilized subjects. Interrupt bonding and take the baby away from the mother. I'm not sure hospitals still make the infants sleep alone in boxes in the nursery, it seems so barbaric ...
    Secondly our culture does not expect babies to be held in our arms, but to be placed in baby holders. However, Liedloff proposes that our innate human wiring has not programmed us to be left alone, as infants, asleep or awake - and even less to be left alone to cry. But some of our "experts" say to let the baby cry (until its heart is broken and it gives up, goes numb, and becomes a "good baby" ) to show the baby who is boss and that every effort should be made to force the baby to conform to the parents wishes. Just the abundance of playpens and cribs and strollers kind of points to how we think the baby is wrong when it cries to be held and has to learn to be alone.
    Many of our childcare manuals give advice with how to deal with the fall out from trying to get babies to conform to unnatural cultural expectations. She says, we civilized people have lost our trust in our own inherit sense of what is good for us and it has been undermined to the point where we are barely aware of its workings and cannot tell an original impulse from a distorted one (“expert" advice, commands from an authority that is not looking out for your best interests, restraints upon what your heart longs for, stereotypical t.v. standards we think we ought to live up to, psychological problems stemming from being abused, etc. - this is what I take to mean when she says "distorted” impulses.)
    Liedloff says how the Yeguana care for their babies, and how babies most benefit from being treated is - to be held, until they start to creep around - and slept with in the family bed. Otherwise they cry a lot more, like in our culture. Babies carried in a sling can nurse, sleep and be part of the activity of life. Babies treated thusly are less stressed and have soft pliable bodies (play pen babies bodies are more rigid) and easier to care for demeanors. This makes sense to me - cuz first the baby is carried in your body all those months... after birth you still have this strong pull to be close... the baby soothed by your heartbeat warmth, and motion. I did find a stroller helpful when she was heavier, older... and I enjoyed walking freely as my boyfriend pushed it, but I picked her up and carried her when she tired of the stroller.  It's apparently a good thing, that she cried to be picked up - and I was not "spoiling" her. (Note: I would  like to add that I did all those natural parenting things and I don't think my child was "easier to care for".  I guess cuz I wasn't living with the Yeguana! My child was a healthy and spirited baby who also had colic. I would also like to add - in tribes it is not just left up to the parents alone to hold the babies!  I would like to encourage non-parents to help out, cuz, like the saying goes - 11 Children are sunshine - and some of us are getting sunburned!")
    She goes on to say... "The need for constant contact tapers off quickly when its experience quota has been filled, and a baby, tot, or child will require reinforcement of the strength it gave him only in moments of stress with which his current powers cannot cope. These moments become increasingly rare and self-reliance grows with a speed, depth, and breadth that would seem prodigious to anyone who has known only civilized children deprived of the complete in arms experience....
    "Children cannot wholly apply themselves to the use of their growing strength and skill while part of them longs to be helpless in arms." I think, all of us ... are hindered by unresolved childhood issues - needy - wanting to be loved unconditionally like a little baby, with a hole inside of us. When you are right with yourself and have been given enough love - you have more strength to Fully live and Act, - I think. To gain enough of that nurturance at the infant level, allows you to go on to the next developmental levels.
    The Yeguana people let their toddlers explore their world more freely and in a different manner than our culture too, and gives their children much autonomy making them more responsible for themselves. This period of in arms , does not spoil, weaken, or cripple their children, the way people in our culture, thinks it does. The children take their independence for themselves and their parents are their for them when needed without smothering them.
    The book gave detailed accounts of the casual non-pushing ways that kids grew into society, learned from around them, which resulted in social, co-operative, people. People happy in their own skin, living in an entirely voluntary society with the absence of pressure by persuasion, by the imposition of one individuals will upon another. Children belong, like anyone else, to themselves. No one over rides their right to decide for themselves.
    The Yeguana adults are relaxed with their children and expect the kids to turn out cool. For that is their experience; that the children pick up social skills (such as sharing some things, not hitting, talking, basic manners of the tribe, working, etc.) as a natural course, and in their own good time, being their elders are truly good role models and teachers, in the best sense of the word.  (They will assist their self directed and self-motivated youngsters. For really, can any one learn against their will?) Yes they have a culture, but with also acceptance of eccentric and individual behavior. They are chill.
    Their kids have their desirable actions accepted and their undesirable actions rejected (sometimes just by a smile or a frown .. we are after all, social animals) while they themselves are always accepted. But "no orders are given to a child which run counter to his own inclinations as how to play, how much to eat, when to sleep, and so on. But where his help is required, he is expected to comply ... “The people expect their kids to grow up cool, cuz they are cool and society is being a good example all around them. They are not concerned with punishing and molding ...they just live "normally" ... all ages around each other. All ages enjoy each other. I think this is part of the "babes in arms" thing, for the babies are part of the action of life, being held by someone who is gathering food or dancing at night, and the mothers are part of the action of the community, where there are many willing arms of hold babies.
    We in the USA, have a lot more to think about. Some of us would like a social system with some of the qualities of the Yequana people - like where people can enjoy their "work" and live without violence to each other and trust each other more when bartering, and have fun parties. The Yeguana provide some good material for researching how to live Anarchy! Which is why I would be interested in their child care ways in the first place.
    However a lot of parents are interested in the happiness of their children, not just us anarchists. To sum up; "The feeling appropriate to an infant in arms is his feelings of rightness, or essential goodness. The only positive identity he can know, being the animal he is, is based on the premise that he is right, good, and welcome. Without that conviction, a human being of any age is crippled by a lack of confidence, of a full sense of self, of spontaneity, of grace. All babies are good, but they can only know that by reflection, by the way they are treated ... all other kinds of feelings are unusable as a foundation for well being...
    That "feeling of rightness" reminds me of how Emma Goldman describes the individual that could be, that would exist in an ideal anarchist community where the individual would not be subordinate to the violence of religion, property, and state - in her essay : Anarchism, What It Really Stands For. That "feeling of rightness" reminds me of what Walt Whitman says - "A fitly born and bred race, developing in the right conditions would probably, from and in those conditions - find it enough merely to Live and would in their relations to the sky, air, water, trees etc., and to the countless common shows and in the fact of life itself - discover and achieve happiness - with Being - suffused by wholesome ecstasy, surpassing all the pleasures that wealth, amusement, and even intellect and art can give...
    I however, don't think we must be bred or must live in a better society - in order to benefit from applying some feeling of rightness, anarchist theory, and parenting skills ...right here and now. However, heed my warning; don't think if you do everything "right" your child will be "perfect".  Books like this can make you feel that way, easily (as Faith pointed out to me). That’s not how life is! Ha ha! There is enough unreasonable pressures and expectations on mothers to load that one on them too! Their is difficulty in growing, it’s just more how you generally handle it, and the big picture. Don't throw your baby, or yourself, out with the bath water! Don't feel guilty your not perfect and that you make mistakes. I'm only talking of ideals, so we have some stars to navigate by. To share with you some ideas and opinions - not in any way to tell you what to do, or set up some kind of revolutionary yardstick of "rightness" and all other ways are wrong. Ick!
    We in America, are oppressed from the cradle to the grave. What is impressive to me, about the Yequana, and other cultures I have read, is that they are living more fully alive in all the stages of life. Kids do not think they will be free to do what they want when they reach adulthood, and adults don't long for the unselfconscious expression of childhood days again, cuz they are already free. All stages of life offer their rewards.
    I know with myself, as I get down with myself ... my life becomes much sweeter and vivid. Just my senses and myself and the world and people around me...are interesting enough for me ... I don't need to escape into a Hollywood movie. I feel alive, even when I have to deal with misfortune.  I can't explain this exactly except by just saying it’s like you’re down with yourself. Kinda like enlightenment, kinda like getting comfortable under your skin and really being yourself. Working out and surviving your problems. But its not just all in your head, I detest that. You need the basic human requirements to feel good too, at least some of them and some hope for achieving more of them. Like food and safety and love and work.  We need stuff from others and the world ... like social justice!
    We can increase the betterness of our world, or decrease it ...in the here and now - no matter what age, it’s never too late. I don't want to fall into dangerous utopian thought, however, I also don't want to have to accept any shit I live with and don't like ... as an unchanging reality, either. We can not better our existence simply by changing childraising practices ... children learn from us and they are not going to learn from hypocrites. We have to live our lives, whatever stage of life we are in and we as a society have to change to be a place a child can grow into - not delay the horrors of our society to protect our children ... but make this society better for all of us. We need to meet human needs and give consideration to every phase of life and to every individual.
    If we look at the cultures of the world through an anthropologists eyes, we see there are many possibilities for human nature. Nothing is more natural than something else. Different cultures selectively emphasize certain human potentialities and dis-allow others - giving a general flavor to its society, with of course, always some deviant individuals. The thing is, anthropology shows us in cross cultural comparisons, that most cultures of the world that are war-like, exploitative, and competitive ...are anti-child cultures.  (The children are subordinate, held less, segregated away, hit and killed in higher numbers). Margaret Mead’s book Black Berry Winter touches a lot of these issues, about anthropology and childraising, on a personal level. I have to agree with Margaret Mead; any culture that repudiates children, can not be a good culture.  There is a ton of research out there that shows there is a direct correlation between violence in adulthood and lack of touch in infancy. Holding our babies is necessary for their neurological and psychological development. Duh!
     You take care now! —China/The Future Generation (it’s a zine)