Mental Health and Instinctual Parenting

Instinctual parenting. Trusting your instincts and doing what you believe is right for your children. Attachment parenting, building strong bonds by responding in a timely & sensitive way, modelling behaviour and connecting with respect and empathy, relationship quality built on physical & emotional closeness, feeling your way with trust in your instinct and compassion for yourself.

Pretty normal right?

So why is it that from the moment we hold our babies in our arms we are encouraged to do everything opposite by our society? In some cases even before we hold our babies!! Pressure to have x y and z invasive testing and vaccines during pregnancy, pressure to fit into the time table of health professionals with the Expected Due Date (EDD) following by intervention if baby does not arrive “in time”…. Life becomes about routine feeds, weight gain, sleep training, sterilising bottles and which pram to get. “Put baby in his/her own room, dont pick them up every time they cry, they are just doing it to manipulate you.” “Oh that toddler is FAR TO OLD to *STILL* be breastfeeding!”  “Why are you wrapping that baby up in a sheet? you can get such cheap prams on ebay there really is no excuse, that baby could suffocate in there!!”

From near enough new born there is pressure to give bottles so that other people can feed the baby to “bond” and to attend parent groups to allow your baby to “socialise” with other babies. Baby groups, toddler groups, creches, preschools, nurseries. Then its over, and our children are “compulsory school age” and off they go, 9 till 3 (if they are lucky to still be on those hours!) to have what they wear, what they eat, who they sit with, what games they play, what they read all decided for them.

After their 6 hours a day of pre planned pre organised and dictated learning they then get to go home with their bags packed with homework sheets to complete, spellings to practise and books to read. They have to find time to complete all of this whilst also trying to find time for non essential things like eating, bathing and sleeping, playing with friends and spending time enjoying family would be a bonus as well! As if this is not restrictive enough we choose to test the children on what they learning. Not necessarily for the benefit of the child, but we need to know that teachers are doing their job right dont we? I mean, its not like they have been trained and qualified to teach, its not like someone can observe the teacher working with the children to find out who effectively she is doing her job? Lets pressure the children. Then we can complain about the rise in children and adolescents with mental health distress, we can act concerned at the number of children battling depression, anxiety and eating disorders. I know what we can do!!! We can offer parents classes to educate them on how to raise their children!!

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class (1).
  • Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm (2).
  • There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68% (3).
  • More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time (4).
  • Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression (5).
  • Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression (6).
  • 72% of children in care have behavioural or emotional problems – these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society (7).
  • 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder (8).
  • The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s (9).
  • The proportion of young people aged 15-16 with a conduct disorder more than doubled between 1974 and 1999 (10) 

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What is going on here?!  Is it really THAT difficult to see the links? The young people that have formed the rise in mental distress cases in adolescents are the generation of the “Cry It Out” advice. These days studies have been carried out regarding the levels of stress hormones released into developing brains during sleep training, we know that babies cant be “sleep trained” we know that babies dont “learn to self soothe” we know that even when a self soothed sleep trained baby is quiet often their stress levels are still elevated, they just dont cry about it because they have learnt that no body comes to their cries.  This in itself breaks my heart, I am in my 30s and I know that if I am crying, even if its for no obvious reason, my husband or one of my friends will hug me. My daughter is 14, and I hope that she knows that no matter how old she gets, if she is ever sad, hurt and crying I will be there for her, I will hug her! Its what we do for those we love. Why would any parent ever want their baby to think differently!?

There are so many studies about attachment  and how secure attachment in infancy and early childhood sets the bar for secure adults.  Yet still we face pressure as parents to work, to put our children into childcare settings, to send them to school, to separate from them and send them crying and screaming into new environments before they are ready.

Preschool places are teaching nursery and reception level in order to prepare children for school, formal education is starting younger and younger. Yet its placed at the fault of the parents that children are experiencing more mental distress. It makes no sense.

For me, I always planned to breastfeed my youngest. I hadnt planned to breastfeed as long as we have so far, he is 2 with no signs of stopping. I breastfed his siblings but not for as long. I knew that i planned to babywear and cloth bum, I was prepared and knew i had these plans. I knew that I liked the idea of home education, that I hated my older children going to school miserable and that something seriously had to give for our family life to be a happy one. What I didnt know was how well the whole lot would fit together and become a complete lifestyle. As a family we have become so much more aware of nature, of products that we use, of ways we can help nature, wildlife and our environment. That all of this has been educational for me as well as for them.

Within home education I have found that instinctual parenting is pretty normal, its pretty common. I have met more breastfeeding, babywearing mamas who home educate than elsewhere in my life. Parents who allow their children to be autonomous, to feed when they are hungry, sleep when they are tired and learn naturally through play and exploration at their own pace. Funnily enough, it is the toddlers I have met who are raised in this way who are confident and secure and very curious. At a home ed meet up last week I watched my 2 year old charge around with an 18 month old. Neither were anxious or worried or looking for mum, they were just exploring the grounds of the adventure playground quite happily and confidently.

I guess that makes sense, the thing is, that so many young adults and teens who I know who are home educated following being in school now suffer from anxiety and depression yet are managing these a lot better without the stress of school. I dont think that adding to the class schedule to include lessons in mental health will really help those struggling within the classroom, and I dont think that parents are all to blame for the significant rise in cases over the past decade. I do think that parents need to be less scared to trust and follow their instincts and just go with what feels right instead of buckling to pressure from culture and society regarding what they *should* be doing.

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