Revisiting Jean Liedloff and the Continuum Concept
The very first book that I read that set me off and running on the road to "natural parenting" was Jean Liedloff's TheContinuum Concept. Having devoured Ina May Gaskin's Spiritual Midwifery and militantly given birth to my first son at home, I was off and running. Co- sleeping, using a sling, breast feeding on demand...off we went.
The Continuum Concept was a relavation. I had been a youth worker for many years and had studied child development at college - but here was a new way to conceptualize and bring together parenting practises in a coherent and, to my relief, humane form. The "in-arms" phase made so much sense to me. Having been a Waldorf teacher, the information about not making life centered around the child made so much sense. I loved this book!
But...I did have a few doubts. One doubt grew over the years and that was seeing women who followed the Continuum Concept becoming, in my mind, punch-bags and door mats to their children. I also witnessed parenting that was very verbal and centered on a child's choices. People took Liedloff's writing about the innate wisdom of children to mean that little ones could verbalize this potential - and thus slid toward a child centered approach which often created very unpleasant children, just the opposite of what Liedloff advocated. It was interesting to me to see, over the years, how those parents who favored the non child centered approach went toward Waldorf education and those who followed children's choices headed toward unschooling or free school options.
To make a long story short, I have spent 20 years trying to understand child development and a healthy way to bring new human beings into the world. My conclusions? That anthroposophy (ie Waldorf) has the strongest and most healthy way of parenting children but that people like Jean Liedloff have very important contributions to make.
So one of my problems with Liedloff is the core upon which she sets out her work - as a materialist, her methods are based on what I would see as a very limited understanding of human development (if human beings are spiritual beings, then a way of understanding development which takes no notice of the spiritual element is of course going to be restricted). And this is the basis of her work - that human consciousness is a continuum and that modern babies carry their needs which were formulated in the dawn of human awakening with them. Anthroposophy, on the other hand, tells us that human beings, most importantly, human consciousness, has developed over the millennia and that our present modern consciousness is worlds away from that of previous eras or epochs. Liedloff says that what we need to do is to get in touch with our innate wisdom that has been programmed (sic) into us and which is wise. Anthroposophy tells us that we no longer hear the voices of the ancestors and that our task as modern free human beings is to develop heart-warmed thinking which will help us form the correct conclusions.
So we can see that from the start we have two positions which are pretty much opposed. Nevertheless, I still maintain that there is enough in Liedloff's work which can be of use and that, moreover, I believe that some of her findings can be brought into the light of anthroposophical research and understood in new ways.
For example, in the article entitled The Importance of the In-Arms Phase, Liedloff makes some tantalizing observations about the effect of being held (or carried) on babies' energy. She talks about how the adult who is carrying the baby absorbs this excess energy and how this then is the reason why the Yequana babies are so peaceful (the Yequana are the non Westernized Amazon tribe she studied). I am fascinated by this - I too have observed that by carrying a baby, by not making him the center of attention and, critically, by that adult being peacefully centered and busy working with her hands, that this creates happy, content babies. In my anthroposophically-enriched terminology, this is a living example of the Madonna Cloak at work. This is the etheric link between the mother and child which nurtures and supports the baby and then young child, especially in those critical first three years.
Another example: near the end of The Continuum Concept, Liedloff talks about the phenomena of extreme sports and of children and then young adults who do not seem to be able to settle down, to be content in their bodies, who crave (or reject) stimulation. Whilst of course acknowledging that there are many reasons for this, I am intrigued by Liedloff's assertions regarding the need every baby has to absorb movement passively from his mother and, should this need not be met, that later in life, children or adults will find other ways to meet these needs. With the overwhelming number of children having some sort of issues with sensory integration, restlessness and basic uncomfortableness in being in their bodies, I wonder about this need and about how something as simple as wearing one's baby might help dramatically with this.
However..... as a Waldorf educator, I need to stress that another fundamental need of little children and babies is to not be over stimulated by sense impressions. So here we have a problem - how can one wear one's baby all day long and be engaged in movement and yet live in the modern world? We are not Amazon tribes people. We use cars or public transportation; we could have new experiences every day instead of walking down the same forest tracks that our ancestors made; we are surrounded by the hustle and bustle of modern technological life. We flip a switch instead of working from dawn to dusk engaged on tasks for our survival. And as I certainly do not advocate a rejection of all that is modern and technological, we have a potentially monumental challenge in front of us!
So wearing a baby is not an end unto itself - it is wear the baby AND nurturing the senses. And that can be very difficult. We need to demechanize our lives so we can spend more time in healthy active occupations at home; we need to slow down and make our lives more human-friendly; we need to let go of our driven modern go get 'em consciousness and instead Zen-out, bringing peace and centeredness to our mindful daily existence. And somehow, we need to not totally isolate ourselves while we create our lives.
There's much more to be said on this. As I've mentioned a number of times recently, we are creating a new website and there will be sections devoted to conversations like these. I hope to stimulate research and study on how we can bring health to our babies and little children and find new ways to nurture our children, based on modern consciousness and freedom.
By the end of the month (June 2009) our new website should be done. Please visit us and have a look and contribute to the discussions in the Madonna Cloak section of the website, which will host these explorations.