I have recently been reading Steiner’s “Theosophy” and re-reading bits and pieces of Lois Cusick’s wonderful book, “The Waldorf Parenting Handbook“.” (This is an excellent book, by the way, although it probably could have had a better title!)
At any rate, what I have been discovering is the view of the baby through the lens of the three – (and four-fold) human being. Even if you are not an anthroposophist, I think there is a lot of wisdom to be gained from this perspective. Grab a cup of tea, sit down and think with me for a few minutes! You can understand this!
From an anthroposophic viewpoint, birth is seen as the end of a long spiritual process where the infant chooses parents and the infant struggles to “incarnate” into a new physical body. This notion seems odd to many folks, but I ask that even if you don’t believe this, observe babies! As a neonatal/pediatric physical therapist, I have had the opportunity to observe literally thousands of babies – some developing “normally” and some not. Watch them, look at them – their arms and legs are not under their control at first, they have to develop that control over time and yes, through a bit of struggle! The tasks of the first three years from a simplified anthroposophic viewpoint especially is to develop eye contact, to develop this physical control of the muscles, to then attain an upright position, to learn to talk (through imitation) and then that glimmer of thought when they first refer to themselves as “I”.
Lois Cusick notes in her book on page 1 that when small children ask, “Where do I come from?” that a picture is a better way to answer than an abstract notion. She remarks, “One old picture that has done good service is the archetypal white dove-shaped form winging its way down from heaven. This shape on the medieval tapestries and stained glass Cathedral windows is called the Dove of the Holy Spirit. To the peasants, it looked remarkably like the shape of the homely village storks dropping down to roost in the chimmneys. From them we have inherited the notion of the stork bringing the child’s soul to earth.”
No, I am not suggesting you tell your child the stork brought them per se! However, read on for an interesting connection to this as seen by Lois Cusick: “It is interesting to find that the archetypal shape of the descending Dove of the Holy Spirit is indeed laid into the very structure of the human body, in the larynx, breastbone and womb……..The human larynx gives birth to human words; behind the breastbone lies the human heart, where love is born, and the womb gives birth to the child…..In early Christian art, where the Dove of the Holy Spirit hovers over Mary, there are often the words Et incarnatus est. And it incarnates. What incarnates? In the larynx, the human word; in the heart, the divine quality of love; in the womb, the child of God. Those are my answers,” she writes, “The picture symbols leave each mind free to interpret and judge according to one’s inclinations.”
All of this is very interesting! However, even if you don’t believe in or agree with the anthroposophic viewpoint that the child has come to you after a long spiritual journey with a destiny to have you as a parent, perhaps you can resonate with the fact that the physical body and control of that body is something an infant has to grow into! In fact, this process of “growing into” the physical body happen during – yup, you guessed it!- the first seven years of life! We lay down rhythms to help our child in this process, we keep our children in their bodies and not so much their heads and we help our children lay a foundation for their future health in doing so!
So the question becomes: what can we do with the baby to assist this process? Here are some thoughts!
- We can work on ourselves! We can work hard to lead the lives of good people, moral people, upstanding people. This work never ends, but does continually grow. As a Christian, I personally think about the Fruit of the Spirit, those traits. Steiner talked about “The Great Virtues” – justice, prudence, courage, wisdom. He also talked about faith, hope and love. Most major world religions have these attributes as part of their faith. If you have no specific spiritual path, I urge you to look closer at this for the sake of your children; leave your own adult baggage behind and investigate it further and see if you can open your heart to what may resonate inside.
- We can protect our child during birth with good birthing practices and by breastfeeding. Rahima Baldwin Dancy has much to say regarding this in her book, “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher.” Perhaps you can go back to that book and re-read that part and see if it resonates differently with you.
- We don’t let infants “cry it out”, we provide loving warmth and joy and eye contact between all family members and this new life.
- We keep the baby home for at least six weeks after birth, and we protect the infant’s 12 senses by not dragging the infant around for endless errands in a carseat after that if possible! Who has done a 40-day “lying in” out there? Please do leave some comments in the comment section!
- We can keep our babies warm! Warmth is such an important thing in small babies. Try this post to help give you inspiration: http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/early-years-nurturing-young-children-at-home/the-waldorf-baby/dressing-the-very-young-child.html
- We can take our babies outside, weather permitting, for walks and even for naps outside!
- The baby experiences “good” in its world in these early months by being loved by its mother and father. The parents can attempt to live an unhurried and unstressed life so the baby can develop trust and see goodness.
- We can recognize that it takes years to develop into the physical body, and we honor not to rush this process through infant walkers, through the use of “Teach Your Baby to Read” programs, through “Baby Einstein.” We respect that the baby is a baby with skills and abilities that will unfold.
- We allow the baby to move – we have times where the baby can move freely in a safe environment. By the same token, we allow the baby to speak without “teaching” speech and correcting the heck out of the imitated speech that is just forming! However, on the other hand, we don’t use baby talk!
- As the child learns to think, to have a sense of themselves as separate, around the age of “3”, we can provide boundaries even if we had not had to set many before! This is of utmost importance – provide these loving, warm boundaries but yes, boundaries that exist for the child so the child learns to function in our world and in our space. In the article “Birth to the Age of Three: Our Responsibility” by Dorothy Olson and available at www.waldorflibrary.org, she writes, “When we give direction to the child or make requests of the child, or say that we are going to do something, we must be clear in our thinking, phrase our request in the positive, then stay with the direction and be consistent. If we reverse direction, we damage the child, we cause nervousness and insecurity.” (Carrie’s note: And yes, I know many attached and loving parents who would totally disagree with that last sentence!). She goes on to write, “Parents and teachers who are constantly inconsistent, do not allow the child to meet the realities of existence. The child is then educated for a life which does not exist, becomes weak, and is at the mercy of its surroundings and of other people.”
(What this talk on boundaries means is NOT that you are a dictator – you are gentle, loving, and calm and you THINK about your house, the tone in your house, and yes, what boundaries you need in your house from there with the needs of everyone considered! There are posts on this site regarding creating family mission statements that may assist you. The key is to understanding a three year old and a four year old is in IMITATION, and in their BODIES. Thinking ahead and “consequences” is not really up their alley yet! :) ).
It is a big task, a wonderful task , a wonderful opportunity, a gift to be able to refine the kind of parent you want to be, starting from now!
Thanks for reading!
Just a few deep thoughts for today,