Our society – heck, all societies – have their ideas about how to raise children. I can go to a bookstore here in Vancouver and find hundreds of books on parenting. From sleep to feeding to schedules to discipline to all-around philosophies based on someone’s observations of the world, you name it, it’s probably there. The question I have to ask is: What good does it do us? A look at our society, including the declining rates of attachment and higher rates of mental disorders, tells me we’re kind of on the wrong track. I think we need change and so enter Evolutionary Parenting. The philosophy behind Evolutionary Parenting is as follows: Focus on how infants and children have evolved biologically, looking at what they are adapted for instead of asking them to adapt to us. That is, EP is here to help parents look to how infants and children have evolved, how we co-evolved to provide what they need, and then to use modern science to fill in the areas that we haven’t had access to through just observation of the external.
The tagline here is “Where History and Science Meet Parenting” and it’s almost entirely the focus of the site. I say “almost” because I wanted to add in “biology” there too, but then it just got too cluttered and so you can include that in the history or science, wherever you feel it fits best. Note that “history” is not your grandparent’s generation, but the history of humankind which encompasses (to me, as someone who believes in evolution), hundreds of thousands of years.
The other important element of EP is that it integrates the various perspectives on information and education that parents need. Take crying, for example. It has been long-held by many parenting philosophies or “experts” that to not cry equals being content or soothed; however, there are actually many reasons a child may not be crying, not all of them positive. When we look at crying, we have to look at it from the historical or evolutionary perspective (Why do infants or children cry and how is it adaptive?) and the biological or scientific perspective (What does crying do to the developing body/brain? What alters these physiological reactions?) before we turn to the personal (Why is my baby crying and what works best for him/her?). Then we can truly understand the meaning behind the cry, and in turn, the best way to respond.
One of the things that is often overlooked in today’s Western society is the pivotal balance between the infant’s independent and interdependent behaviours. The degree to which parents expect independence or interdependence from their children is often backwards: Parents expect babies to be able to handle far more independent behaviours than interdependent behaviours then expect far more interdependence or even dependence in childhood. Understanding how the ratio of interdependent to independent behaviours shifts with time is integral to understand the capabilities and limitations of our children and learning to work with them instead of against them.
Not All Children Are the Same
One of the main reasons I find it so hard to read things that proclaim absolutes (“All children should be sleeping through the night by 3 months” or “All babies can self-soothe”) is that they just aren’t true. Yes, babies in general have evolved to have certain capacities, like that of communication, and they are also highly adaptive to various environments. But relying upon a baby’s ability to adapt to what you want or expect a child to do (often because you believe s/he should be doing it) will not do your baby well (and often not you either; speak to any parent whose gone through weeks of crying-it-out – it’s almost as stressful on them as it is baby). What science and history have shown us is that while babies and children are resilient to a degree, if we want our children to thrive, we need to play to their biology when possible.
We also need to understand how much variability there is within children to realize how information pertains to your specific child. Although there are individual differences, there are rarely (if ever) such extreme variations that one can rightfully suggest, for example, that a newborn doesn’t need touch – even children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, who often dislike touch, do well with some forms of massage therapy, improving attentiveness after treatment