Natural(ish) Parenting: A Lesson in Flexibility

by: Suzie Marschhausen
When we think of natural parenting, we think of cloth diapers, breastfeeding and organic food, but it involves so much more. Also known as gentle parenting, conscious parenting and attachment parenting, it focuses on responsiveness and consciousness to meet your baby's needs. While many new parents set out to parent 100% naturally, the unexpected is bound to happen and alter your plan. Learn why one mother defines herself as a "natural(ish) parent" and has learned to be flexible in the best interest of her child.
mother and baby hugging

Before getting pregnant and having my son, I had a lot of plans for the kind of parent I wanted to be. When I thought about what my parenting philosophy would be, it would have been heavily categorized under the “natural parenting” label. Leave it to my strong-willed and life-lesson-teaching son to show me a thing or two about being flexible with my plans.

Due to some complications, his debut into the world was not the magical, all-natural water birth at a birth center that I had envisioned. I was transferred to the hospital for an epidural and luckily some other medical interventions for postpartum hemorrhaging (although his birth was still a magical moment for me!)

This was the best lesson I could have learned in regards to my “natural” parenting philosophy … that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

More: Attachment Parenting

That’s when I re-defined my parenting style. I now use the term “natural(ish) parent” to describe how I choose to parent.

To me, that simply means I consistently grow, adapt, and learn to parent in a way that feels right for me and my family — whether it is considered “natural” or not.

This is for all the parents out there who love natural parenting philosophies, but are searching for the approach that is realistic for them.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about being a “natural(ish) parent”:

Each situation and child will require different compromises.

It’s easy to have set rules and plans before you’re faced with the reality of a living, breathing, crying, pooping baby in your constant care. But that baby will need you to help him feel safe, loved, and secure no matter what you had planned.

For instance, I was highly against using a pacifier with my son Luken. Of course, he threw me a curveball with an intense sucking reflex. Finally I just decided to give him a pacifier in situations where I couldn’t feasibly nurse or let him suck on my finger, and it turned out to be the best thing I could do to help him feel safe and secure in those early months. Then around four months, he just naturally stopped wanting the pacifier because he was able to feel secure enough without it.

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“I’ve allowed way more screen-time than I ever wanted, at times of great tiredness/transition (end of pregnancy, first couple months with new baby). I started cloth diapers with my first, tried back at it with my third; not sure if I'm going to get into it with my fourth. On a better note, I'm more aware of healthy eating, homeopathic medicine, and I never thought I'd nurse as long as my kids have (four years for first two, and two years going with my third, and newborn) and never knew about co-sleeping...we now have a family bed,” says Niamh V., a mom of four from New Hampshire, about her experience with compromise.

I personally still co-sleep, buy organic food and body care products, breastfeed and my son is nearly always barefoot. But he also wears disposable diapers (I tried cloth … it just wasn’t working out), use a stroller when I don’t feel like “baby wearing” and have distracted him with my phone on many occasions.

More: Instinctive Parenting

When we come into parenting with strict rules and ideas of how we need to parent, we aren’t able to be flexible and make well-thought-out adjustments when it really is in the best interest of our children.

I can still stick to my “non-negotiables.”

Even though I have opened up my parenting style to include plenty of compromise and course correction, I still have my core beliefs that are non-negotiable. These are things that I will stay consistent with for all my children, and I am not willing to compromise on them.

Among many examples, I personally will never use a “cry it out” method for sleep training or in any other circumstance. I will never use “time outs” or punitive discipline. I will also do everything within my power to ensure a breastfeeding relationship with my children for at least one year. I will never shame, belittle or treat my child as less than me.

For me, these non-negotiable things are part of my personal parenting philosophy, not necessarily because they are considered “natural,” but based on research and my own intuition.

Each parent will have their own set of “non-negotiables,” and I think that’s important. It gives you a foundation to stand on and feel strong and empowered in your parenting journey. Some things we just feel so strongly about that we won’t compromise on them, no matter how much we are tested, and that’s a good thing.

There is no room for judgement or shaming, of myself or others.

As a natural(ish) parent, there just isn’t a place for passing judgement, or shaming myself and other parents’ decisions. No two children, parents or situations are the same, and therefore no two parenting styles can be the same. You’ll make mistakes and so will other parents.

Be gentle, be forgiving, and most of all, be willing to see areas of improvement without forgetting to celebrate all the things you are doing a great job with. Educate yourself on the things you’d like to work on, help educate others when they are open to it, and know that none of us have all the answers.

mom breastfeeding her toddler son

“When my kids were born I was determined to nurse. I read every book I could find, went to Le Leche groups, had lactation consultants, and no matter what I did none of my kids gained weight well. I ended up having to supplement all of them with formula. It was such a hard decision because I had a firm belief about nursing and was so anti-formula. By the time I had my sixth, I was more at peace with it and just fed her an extra bottle until she started eating solids. By supplementing, even though it was emotional in the moment, I was able to nurse all of my kids past age two,” Jennie W., a mom of six from Indiana explained.

Do your best and know that most parents are doing the same. The best way you can help anyone else is by being an example and letting your experience with certain parenting styles speak for themselves. When in doubt, review the 10 Lessons I Learned About Motherhood from Mister Rogers.

My child’s long-term health and well-being is at the forefront of everything I do.

No matter my beliefs, life situation or the loads of advice out there, I allow my parenting intuition to guide me on the right course to what is going to be supportive of my child’s long-term health and well-being. I stay open minded and take everything I read with a grain of salt. I do my research while also listening to my inner knowing as to what will serve my family in any given circumstance.

My health and well-being matter too!

I deserve to take care of me … and sometimes that might mean putting on a music video for my son to watch while I take 10 minutes to meditate or just be alone in the bathroom for once. I also know that natural lifestyle choices aren’t just for my kids, but are important for me to uphold in my own life.

No matter how strictly I might follow a natural approach to parenting, my own physical and emotional health will affect my child more than what type of diaper he wears or if he eats the occasional processed food.

Being a natural(ish) parent is all about finding beautiful and natural ways to honor your child and his development, but to always be willing to adjust if you feel there is a better way to care for your little one — not just in the moment, but for a bright and balanced future.

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