Natural parenting

The word natural has been making rather too many appearances in the comments here for my liking; 'natural parent-child relationship', for instance. We have also seen 'artificial' used in a pejorative sense when talking about my own parenting techniques, 'The artificial excesses you describe'.

I don't know what it is about this concept of 'natural' being good and 'artificial' being bad; especially when it comes to parenting and training children. It is part of a particular mindset which I can't abide. 'Natural' seems to have become generally synonymous with wholesome and good. Of course cholera is quite natural, as are earthquakes and tsunamis. Radioactivity is the most natural thing in the world; even our own bodies are naturally radioactive. We are also made of nothing but chemicals, but 'chemical', like 'artificial' and 'radioactive' seems to have become one of those words which indicate 'bad' and 'dangerous'. It's like those who talk about 'natural' food and compare it unfavourably with 'artificial' foods, foods full of 'chemicals'. One sees on smoothies and so on; 100% natural ingredients- nothing artificial added. Well that's all right then! But wait a minute. I could mix up a solution of orange juice, uranium, arsenic and typhoid germs and then market it with the label; '100% natural - no artificial ingredients'. Yummy!

The idea of 'natural' parenting is so absurd as to hardly need examining. I suppose that in homes where this is the norm, nobody bats an eyelid if the baby shits on the sofa and then starts eating it. After all, it's perfectly natural. Surely they won't try to get the poor little mite to open his bowels over a potty? I wonder what terrible method one would use to achieve that end? What did somebody yesterday describe this sort of distasteful conditioning as? Ah yes, I remember; ' consciously applying a technique that involves, at some level, a distortion of the natural parent-child relationship'. Presumably this obsession with the 'natural' is why so many home educating parents are dead set against vaccinations; there's nothing more natural than a case of polio. There's a comforting thought when you're laying flat on your back in an iron lung, 'At least I didn't use anything artificial to prevent the polio virus from multiplying.' But hang on a moment, an iron lung? That's artificial too! Better switch it off at once. I'm sure that death is far more natural than relying upon some complicated machine in order to breath.

How do we avoid 'distorting the natural parent-child relationship'? Do we try not to impose our will upon the developing child? Are we to avoid conditioning the child and inculcating certain habits? Certainly from what people were saying yesterday, parents should not decide in advance to follow any systematic programme with the kid. That really would be 'abhorrent'. Suppose the baby wishes to eat from the cat's bowl? I have seen a child that wished to do this; crawling around on all fours and copying the cat, even sharing its food. Should we permit this? if not, why not? Will we distort the natural parent-child relationship by insisting that the child voids her bladder in a specified place rather than randomly around the house? This sounds pretty artificial to me! What if my child wants to go out to the park without wearing any clothes. Should I allow this? After all it is a sight more natural to walk about naked. Anybody on here allow their six year old to walk to the park or go shopping without any clothes on at all? You prudes! What about eating earth? Or how about this. Your toddler has insisted on going to the shops naked and then while he is getting bored, he begins fiddling with his penis. What do we do? Try and persuade him that this is not quite the thing in public? Steady on there! What sort of complexes are you going to set up in his infant mind around sex and his genitals? Best leave him to get on with it. Mind you, if you say nothing, he might continue with this habit and still be doing it in public when he is five or six, or even perhaps when he is fourteen. Oh well, it's his body!

It strikes me that nearly all parent impose certain parameters upon their children's behaviour and lifestyle. The rule seems to be that as long as you do this unobtrusively and pretend that you are very laid back about parenting, you qualify for being a 'natural' parent. Admit that you plan ahead and have a system that you are working to and you automatically become that most dreadful of beings; the controlling parent. There is a lot of hypocrisy involved here. Many parents read Penelope Leach and then try to apply her methods consistently. A lot of these techniques are every bit as contrived and artificial as anything which Skinner suggested and yet Penelope Leach seems to be OK for the natural parents. I wonder why this should be?

Firstly of course, she is a woman. I have I think mentioned before that when I used to write for some magazines, Nursery World springs to mind, they would always change my name from Simon to Simone! The reason for this is that mothers feel much more comfortable reading stuff that other women suggest about babies rather than something written by a man. I used to cringe, because I would write a perfectly sound, somewhat dry piece on language acquisition in the under fives and it would be headed, 'Mum Simone Webb explains....' I suspect that if the things which I have written here over the last few days had been by a woman recommending stuff from Penelope Leach or Maria Montessori, nobody would have remarked upon it at all. It was that fatal combination of a man following another man's ideas to raise a little girl. Creepy or what?

Times change. I remember when the most popular book on childrearing was the one by Dr Spock. These days, a book on this subject by a man would probably not sell like hot cakes. So I am thinking that the negative reactions to what I have written on childrearing and operant conditioning are probably less based upon objective analysis of the text and more upon an instinctive feeling that men should not really be involved in the care and upbringing of babies at all - that's really women's work - and secondly in the wooly-headed view that 'natural' is good and 'artificial' is bad. There may of course be a measure of personal dislike and animosity towards me too, which might tend to colour the opinions of those who read anything which I write. How else to explain the comment left by some fool who said: ' everyone's happier when following their own interests, but I suppose that would be such a minute consideration of yours as to be hardly relevant' ?