New Parents! This next ditty is mostly for you.
About four or five years ago, when Natalie and I really began seriously considering conceiving a child together, in an effort to describe the kind of approach I wanted us to take, I told Natalie that I wanted “to get more Cro-Magnon with it.” She laughed and asked for some clarification. As we discussed it further, it became clear that we not only agreed on a general theory and methodology for raising children (as we had already experienced with the two daughters I brought to our partnership), but that we also agreed on our particular roles in that methodology as it applied to a newborn and infant.
I have since then used “Cro-Magnon” as a way to describe our general mind-set for the parenting approach that Natalie and I use(d) with Echo (and to a lesser degree with Xi and Bella), however, I have only once or twice used that description as a suggestion to other parents. One of those parents recently let me know how much the idea of “getting her Cro-Magnon on” helped her find her bearings in the early months of motherhood. It occurred to me then that other new parents might find it help too.
I keep saying “new parents” because I think of the Cro-Magnon approach as one part general theory (more useful in the beginning when one is formulating a general theory), and one part infancy survival information (yes, survival of the infant, but more specifically of the parent). But, truthfully, there is much in the general theory that is applicable at all stages of parenting and childhood.
So whether you’re a new parent or old hat, feel free to get your Cro-Magnon on. Here’s the basic idea:
- First, put yourself in the proverbial shoes of our Early Modern Human (that’s Cro-Magnon to you and me) ancestors. The idea is to imagine how they instinctually related to their children and themselves as parents. Sound weird? It might be by modern standards, but by evolutionary standards it may actually make more sense. I’m not suggesting you dress exclusively in animal fur and hunt Mastodons with a stone-tipped spear. I am suggesting you allow yourself a moment to think about how ancient peoples would handle things like feeding, sleeping, and carrying their babies. We may think we have surpassed Cro-Magnon parenting with our innovative tool developments, but there is still much that they knew about child rearing that we would do well to consider. The objective is to tap into our own version of the most natural way to handle a baby, as well as to get in touch with our own instincts about best practices.
- Second, hold all newfangled ideas, techniques, and rhetoric as highly suspect. Late Modern Humans are notorious for inventing novel ways to do things without actually finding out if the “novel” way is a better way. The last two or three generations of children have been raised with a lot of hooey based on “new scientific research” that was supposed to make better, smarter, more realized humans of us all. And perhaps you will disagree, but I would say Behaviorism (advanced by B.F. Skinner et al) and other “pop psychology” methodologies have done more to damage our understanding of proper nurturing and care of children than anything else. I’m not saying that those infant carriers (you know the ones that lock into car seats) are evil, I am simply saying they are not as good for our little babies as our arms. And the same is true of many of our newest ideas about what environments, techniques, and perspectives are best for nurturing our children into becoming healthy, balanced adults.
- Recognize that whether or not they are convenient for modern living, there are “natural”, and naturally selected, methods for raising children that are actually the reason(s) why we have become such a prolific species in the first place. Which is to say, whether or not modernity agrees with them, there are things that humans have done for 99.9% of our development that worked so well that we have overrun the planet with our progeny! Furthermore, as part of the species, we are actually genetically engineered for certain kinds of interactions, both as parents and as children, and things just go better for all of us if we respect that.
- Be aware that certain tactics and practices are more “in” with Cro-Magnons than others. Natural child birth is probably the most paramount. There is now a good deal of documentation about the physiological ramifications of natural, versus pharmaceutically altered, child birth, and the evidence is rather damaging to how we have been predominantly giving birth the last few generationsº. Which is to say, we have invented nothing that surpasses the mechanism of an average woman’s natural body chemistry and instincts for delivering her baby, nor anything that has trumped the importance of the first moments of parent-child bonding that occurs immediately following a natural child birth. Other important Cro-Magnon techniques also align perfectly with what we Late Modern Humans call Attachment/Connection/Natural Parenting. Ideas like breastfeeding, co-sleeping, practicing elimination communication, infant carrying/wearing (as opposed to stroller-ing and infant carrier-ing), and lots of skin to skin contact are all no-brainers for the Cro-Mag parent. On the other hand, methods like letting babies “cry it out” or “learn to self-soothe”, cribbing, play-pin and infant carrier sequestering, plastic diapering, over-emphasizing cleanliness, mass non-familial child-caring, and other products of our super intelligent modernity are right out.
As is (hopefully) obvious, the general idea is to follow in the footsteps of our earliest modern ancestors when dealing with our babies. The reason is simply that their methods were naturally derived. They weren’t just sitting around making stuff up. They weren’t even hypothesizing about it, or creating experiments to see if they could improve the naturally-selected methodology. Cro-Magnon parents were the result of eons of honing of parental processes, and their methods were likely not founded, but were experiential outgrowths that evolved as slowly as the species. I happen to think that has more of a basis and more of a proving than 100 years of psychological philosophizing from the sidelines.
Cro-Magnon Parenting™ — it’s the new oldschool. And it is likely to be the best way to care for your baby and honour your own instincts in the process. Good luck, my fellow cave painters.
º See The Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce for more on the physiological differences between babies born naturally and ones born institutionally with pharmaceutical intervention.