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,
Very interesting, Carrie. I always enjoy reading your posts. Thank you for breaking all of this down in a way that is easy to understand.
I agree! Thank you so much for this great piece of sharing from the heart!
Carrie you are a blogging machine! I wish I had had a 40 day laying in …. I managed 2 1/2 weeks and even then was still called upon to do too much around home. I had 3-4 weeks before he was born where I was either in hospital or at home unable to do much, so I used up my support peoples ‘personal leave’ entitlements!I am convinced a proper six week laying in period would not just massively benefit infants, but also mothers. I am seeing such an epidemic of post natal depression and anxiety amongst my friends … I know more rest in that post partum period would have made a huge difference. I have half a blog post on this subject in drafts … must finish it 🙂
Finish that post and I will link to it, I think this really is a subject that deserves way more attention!
I’m happy to say I was blessed with a 40 day plus laying in period. So funny we were invited to a skating party at a friends house on almost exactly the 40th day but it turned out to be such a snowy day I didn’t want his introduction to the outside world to be about huge flakes to the eye!
I can really see the effects of this hibernation period on this little being. He is the happiest little guy – rarely cries and I was able to heal quickly and smoothly (we were blessed to have a beautiful home birth as well). At my blessing way I asked in lieu of gifts if friends could bring frozen meals instead. There is a tradition in this small community that everyone brings the family meals to the door but that usually results in ‘can I have a quick peek at the baby?”. It may have seemed like a strange request but I was thinking too of a friend who experienced a very frightening postpartum infection in her uterus of an ecoli variety that is unofficially blamed on a day-after visitor with well intentions.
Another friend was out and about grocery shopping soon after her birth (because she felt soooo good!) and had a nasty mastitis episode. Anyway, I’m blessed I was able to lay low!
Love the parallel of the dove and the heart center. Beautiful!!!
>Personally, I tell my children they were up in Heaven and choose us to be their family and how lucky we all are!
How would you work adoption into this type of outlook?
(adoptive mom who made her way here in a roundabout way from americanpapist)
Check out Eugene Schwartz and his website; he has some WONDERFUL things to say about adoption and the child having etheric bonds with two mothers – what a lucky and blessed child! I think Donna Simmons also has some things to say regarding this on her Christopherus website and the wonders of the Madonna Cloak….look in the Madonna Cloak section of her website! Adoption is a wonderful thing!
Many blessings to you,
Have finished it, thanks for giving me a bit of a push to get it done.
I know this reply to your post is a bit late, but as I am expecting my second child, I am revisiting, reading again articles on babies and pregnancies.
This 40 day lay -in period is a very old custom, in Europe, Arabia and Africa, where many mothers still practice this,….maybe not so much in western parts of Europe anymore as it has become a bit more, how shall I say, modern. In some areas of Arabia and Africa for example the mother and child still moves back into the house of her family for those 40 days, where all the man of the household move out and other female family members move in to care for and help the mother and child. Only after those 40 days will she move back into her own household with the husband.
This lay- in period is exactly what I did with my first born, we both needed to recuperate, I also intend to do this with my second child. Her first outing will most likely be to church for her baptism. 🙂
Thank you for your wonderful and inspirational blog!
Maggie, I love this, thank you for sharing!
40 days? Not coming home from the hospital & faced with having to purchase groceries!
How — do I keep my son from ‘being in his head?’ I write this with my younger son in my arms, one-handed at 0530!
Carrie, my second baby will turn 2 months tomorrow and we managed to almost have a 40-day lay-in after a great home birth (there were two exceptions after the first month, where we had to leave the house). Fortunately it is still (sort of) a custom here in Brazil.
One question I have is about warmth. We live near the equator, so it is extremely hot here most of the time. I dress my baby girl with a hat, long sleeved shirt, pants, and socks when it rains or cools down a bit, but should I do that all of the time despite the heat? Also, since she sleeps between us (and sometimes sweats quite a bit!) I usually don’t worry too much about dressing her up at night.
I would be interested in your thoughts about this climate-baby warmth issue.
Welcome to this blog and congratulations on your second baby! How exciting!
Yes, definitely be aware of overheating! I go to St. Croix quite a bit and it is the same there, we have to watch for over heating and the switch from any air conditioned spaces (cold) to outside (hot). I think just use your good common sense and also remind yourself the Waldorf view on warmth also is about the emotional sense of warmth we hold toward our children.
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