Organic Intelligence & Parenting: How Far We Have Come
When I was asked to write about Organic Intelligence® and Parenting I got very excited. As both a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a mother I have been exploring how to create healthy parent-child relationships for clients as well as between my own daughter and me.
For those who are not yet parents, it is not for the weary to embark upon the path of sleepless nights, constant worry about your child’s safety, self-doubt about your own instincts to properly care for your child, and an onslaught of “helpful” input from other well-intended bystanders, be they family, friends, or other shoppers in your grocery store. For those who already are parents, you might be nodding your head saying, “Yup.”
But, I wonder, was it always this hard, or hard in this particular way? Did our early ancestors of the Pleistocene era fret about how to deal with behavioral issues in their children? Was there such thing as ADHD and Major Depressive Disorder out on the plains? Has there been a shift from child bearing and rearing as a natural part of life to an overwhelming challenge, and for some, a burden? I think so, because over the course of my studies in somatic practices and human ecology, as well as in my professional experience, I have continued to drift back to two areas to consider as major differences between life “back in the day” and the world as we know it now:
1) There is a general disconnect from the intuitive sense of what it means to be an embodied human being (mammal)
2) There is a lack of sufficient social support.
So what is up with that? The Organic Intelligence approach, which supports the embodiment of “integrity, harmony with nature and support for diversity in human existence,” has led me to some perspectives that I would like to share. First, let’s go back in a time a little.
Our Parenting History
Hundreds of thousands of year ago, human beings roamed the earth in small groups, or bands, working together for survival. Mammals, but especially primates and even more so, humans, understood that survival increased exponentially if they worked together to make things happen. They knew that more mouths to feed put a strain on survival capacities and, interestingly, their biology had set them up to ensure a higher rate of survival. For instance women sexually cycled every 4 to 5 years, which not only contributed to the homeostasis of the population, but may have also allowed children to not have to compete for position with other siblings, gave children the opportunity to nurse for an extended length of time in their development, and deepened the attachment bond between parents and children.
Because adults generally outnumbered children, there were extra sets of arms to take the baby so that mom could rest. Some of these extra arms belonged to older children to whom child-rearing and other responsibilities were delegated. These hunter-gatherer peoples lived in close relationship to the earth. They felt it breathe. They knew when inclement weather was coming. They were practical in their food sharing and storage. They played with each other and the landscape for fun. The family bed was a real event and at times necessary. There were well-defined roles within their many cultures that helped clarify who they each were in their identity. Life was pretty simple.
They didn’t have Internet access or Starbucks, but those amenities didn’t support what was important to them at that point in evolution. Was living 500,000 years ago all rainbows and roses? Definitely not. But we’re looking at what worked well in terms of parenting, and what we can glean from our ancestors who were pretty darned good at living in a way that was intrinsically human.
“Relaxation” of Parenting
Then somewhere around 10, 000 years ago, something called the agricultural revolution happened, and humans realized they could get more bang for their buck via the domestication of plants and animals. This produced all kinds of benefits such as having animals do the work for the humans, and the humans feeling more secure that there would be food for the winter. People stopped being as nomadic and were able to “relax” a little more knowing they didn’t just have to pack up and move to follow the food source. It also brought competition and a sudden need to own and covet land. With that, a market economy developed. Although people began to have more children in order to have extra hands for farming, population levels were relatively stable on the planet.
The next and most recent big phase shift in human evolution took place over 200 years ago, the industrial revolution, heralded by the invention of the printing press. Now things were really different. Information could be mass-produced, which meant oral cultures and all their traditions and practices began to lose their place. Humans began to trade out time spent in circles socializing for more independent ventures. Machines that could reduce manual labor and create convenience were all the rage.
People didn’t have to work together to strategize about how they were going to carry the laundry down to the riverbanks, they could go their separate ways and throw it all in the Kenmore. People could leave the hearth where they once gathered for comfort, company, and food that came directly from the plant or animal source, and instead stay up late under artificial light, working in isolation on a document for something called money while eating a meal they purchased from a grocery store or fast food establishment. And around the same time as the dawn of the industrial revolution, the human population skyrocketed. The orientation of humankind became less about what’s good for the group and shifted to what’s good for the individual. And the day-to-day rhythm that was once moderated by the position of the sun was and is now a dissonant pounding out of hecticness due to the perceived shortage of hours in the day.
Parenting: It Took a Village
Things are very different now, they are much much more complex. There are more demands and therefore more needs that are going unmet as the lives of what once might have been the members of our bands have become crazy busy. The concept of “it takes a village” is no joke and is, in fact, paramount now for our physical, emotional, mental, and yes, spiritual health. But what’s not so funny is that the village has become a fading concept.
A Return to Nature
However, there is hope. Underneath all the capitalistic, Coca-Cola, and Concerta culture we are still human beings. Science has proven what those who operate more intuitively have always known that we are built for relationship; we evolved in relationship, we need relationship. Science has also taught us that our nervous systems aren’t that different than they were hundreds of thousands of years ago. Our biology still prefers that we go to sleep when the sun goes down, as do our children’s bodies. Fortunately we have learned about this thing called stress and its negative effects, and that part of the remedy in treating stress is to enjoy time in nature, get back into our bodies, and to gravitate towards fulfilling relationships with other people. We need to play, yes, and we need not just one, but several shoulders to cry on when things get tough. We need to share good food and tell stories about our adventures. We need to feel the sun warming our skin and smell the salt air of the ocean. We need to remember who we are as human animals, and the architecture we came with, to fully experience what it means to be alive.
Creating More Social Support for Parenting
The second important point in this dialogue is how we might begin to rebuild the village and thus expand the support network available for parents. There is a belief I have heard among many parents, particularly the more domestic parent, that they should be the sole caretaker of their child and that they should never leave their children with a baby sitter even once a month so that they (the parents) can have a day to themselves either alone or to play with other grown ups. I would like to begin to challenge that kind of thinking with an analogy I heard in a class on child abuse assessment and reporting. The analogy being that before a plane takes off, the flight attendants remind parents traveling with young children that in case of a loss of cabin pressure oxygen masks will drop down, and that parents are to place their mask over themselves before assisting their child with their own mask. The moral of the story is that if the parents’ needs are unmet, they cannot be of assistance to their child. When parents can model a sense of play and enjoyment, when their bodies demonstrate trust in life, it sends a message to their children that life is something to enjoy, and that human relationships are good.
The Human Animal
Finally, I want to return to the topic of what it means to be a human animal. We are so complex in our design that it is certainly a conundrum to think about who we are at an intrinsic level, underneath all the cultural overlays. However, we can still learn from our fellow humans who continue to live in as close to a non-industrialized culture as is possible. The late Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost, was a psychotherapist and anthropologist who studied the indigenous Yequana people of South America, a culturally sophisticated and happy people. She brought up an ethological issue about the importance of what is inherent to us as a species. She wrote, “If one wants to know what is correct for any species, one must know the inherent expectations of that species.” She gives several examples of expectations such as lungs being an expectation of air, and a baby’s ears “are an expectation of vibrations caused by the events most likely to concern him, including the voices of other people.” Liedloff also wrote about how the people she studied didn’t have to “read a book written by a strange man” on how to raise their babies because raising children was woven into the fabric of their existence. The Yequana people had been living in such a close relationship with their own nature that child rearing was pretty much a no-brainer; it was intuitive. From this we can really get the sense of Organic Intelligence in action. Our species wouldn’t have made it this far without it.
With the idea that there is an intuitive logic inside of us, perhaps we can begin to de-pathologize “problematic” behavior in children and see it in the larger context of psychobiological expectations that aren’t being met, or that maybe the problem is within the cultural construct or conditions in which the behavior is occurring. Perhaps we can find ways to “re-band” ourselves and recreate that village so that parents can feel a fullness in the experience of parenting rather than chronic depletion. It takes 300 years for a single gene to mutate, but, overall as a species, our psychosocial needs haven’t changed that much. Our biology hasn’t caught up with our egoic endeavors, and we have created a culture of lost instincts. So in order to get in touch with our “human animalness” we have to really look at what we’ve created, and then go back and experience, on a sensation and impulse level, how it feels to be in our bodies. We need to let that be a point of reference so that we can, once again, trust our instincts and intuition as our guides.
Karen Ouse, MA, OIX is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist, and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner who brings a holistic approach to her healing services. A graduate from JFK University, Karen has clinical experience working with children, teens, and adults as an LMFT formerly at Family Services Agency in Watsonville, and currently in her private practice in Aptos, CA. Her clinical focus is the art of relationship to oneself and the larger expanding circles of family and community. More about Karen on her website.