The Natural Parenting Center Interviews Kelly Wendorf
Q. What do you do and how did you get started on this path of natural parenting?
Kelly: I’m the founding editor of Australia’s only natural parenting magazine, and the only magazine in the world that connects natural parenting with sustainable living and social justice as a single platform.
Before becoming pregnant, I was an environmentalist, a horse trainer, a social change activist. I loved nature fiercely and spent my weekends hiking alone in the mountains with my dog. There was something about the natural environment that was sane, connected, peaceful and real. This was diametrically opposed to what I was seeing society become. At first I thought it was the trouble with mankind–that we were just some lost greedy cancer upon the earth. You could say that I was deeply discouraged by humanity and what it was doing to itself and the planet.
So when I became pregnant for the first time, this was a real issue for me. I was now going to give birth to one more human being, one more person on this poor, overtaxed earth! It was a real issue! My heart was bonding with this new little soul, but my head was resisting my participation with the propagation of my species! However, I was fortunate in that I hung out in circles of people who looked at life differently, who questioned the norm and who were committed to transformation. Many of my friends had birthed their babies at home, breastfed and co-slept. I just thought it was a lifestyle choice, not really anything more than that. It seemed groovy, but, still, just a lifestyle choice, like vegetarianism or being sporty.
One of my friends gave me a copy of Jean Liedloff’s ‘The Continuum Concept’, with one of those looks like ‘You’d better read it or else’. And I remember the exact moment the penny dropped for me. I was reading that part of the book that compared the birthing experience of modern babies in the West, to the birthing experience of the South American Yekuana indigenous babies. I was sitting on my bed, pregnant, reading these pages. And I began to cry, really cry, because I could just feel the horror babies must feel when they enter the world without the continuum of connection that they’ve been neurologically hardwired to expect. There it was in black and white: we are neurologically hardwired to connect, to feel our mother’s skin, to look into her eyes, to breastfeed from her, to feel her close, to smell her smell and hear her voice. Our biology insists on close ongoing intimate contact with our mother and father, not cribs, playpens, bottles and daycare. And I could see the cost we were paying individually, and our society was paying collectively, by not honouring and supporting this biological imperative of connection.
From a mother’s perspective this was profound, and completely influenced how I birthed and nurtured my babies. I birthed at home, wore them in slings, slept with them, breastfed for years. But from an ecological and social change perspective, it was even more important. There are so many talks, articles, websites and initiatives about living green, saving the planet, stopping wars and famine, saving the forests and the orang-utans, and yet not one recognises the fact that how babies are raised determines the kind of society that is forged. We may save a forest today, but if a child is denied some very basic bonding experiences, raised through the childcare system, fed by McDonalds and educated by Disney, then that forest will be cut down tomorrow. All the ecology and sustainability initiatives in the whole world depend on one common denominator—people to implement them. Without people who feel a natural connection to the earth, to humanity, who feel empathy, compassion and love—these initiatives that are so essential to our survival will fail.
So, yes, I was the Continuum Concept cliché. But it set my life in a whole new direction and I began to do more research behind bonding, attachment and the origins of love—influenced by the work of James Prescott, Michel Odent, James McKenna, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Sheila Kitzinger, Joseph Chilton Pearce, Lloyd de Mause, etc. It was and continues to be a profound journey of healing for me personally because it has reconciled my dislike of and disappointment in humanity.
As a result, I’ve experienced a radical turn around and I now have a love affair with humanity. We are so profoundly beautiful. We have such wonderful potential. We are, in fact, sacred, because our biological destiny is one of love, care, compassion and joy. We are hardwired for this. We are not hardwired for sadness and violence. Humanity is not some greedy, selfish, messed up species. We are love. And when we don’t honour this, because of some deep cultural misunderstanding, then we express that misunderstanding with all kinds of symptoms. But they are symptoms of misunderstanding, they are not a true expression. It’s important to know the difference.
So I saw that natural parenting is not just a lifestyle choice, it is a profoundly affirmative evidence-based gesture of intimately responding to biological and emotional needs towards our divine birthright as human beings—to know ourselves as that connection, as love. Once I recognised this, and recognised it’s role towards a peaceful sustainable society, then I was moved to create Kindred.
Q. What’s on your mind these days?
Kelly: There’s a lot of talk about the credit tsunami that is about to strike us. We have another, bigger, scarier tsunami that is about to strike—a ‘disconnection’ tsunami—a huge monolithic wave of generations of children birthed by the medical system, raised by the childcare system, educated by the the corporate system and who have never climbed a tree, never fed from a breast, never had time to really hang out with both their parents.
I really fret for today’s children. Yes, some might say they are brighter, smarter and ‘more advanced’. But I also see other things: sadder, more anxious, discontented, bored, disconnected, uncommunicative, overwhelmed, disempowered, uneducated, uninspired, disrespectful, spoilt, entitled, confused, angry, depressed and unimaginative.
We really need some major child-centred, human-centred reform:
1. Education reform – kids sitting in chairs all day doesn’t work. The brain needs the body to move in order to develop and learn properly. Let’s start there.
2. Community reform – educating communities that the entire community is responsible for children’s wellbeing, not just parents.
3. Parenting reform – to wrangle the stronghold of information away from the corporate media, the corporate driven articles and the corporate funded research, and arm parents with real evidence-based information that empowers them to make the right choices for the optimal wellbeing of their children.
Q. What do you think our children need most from us as parents? What does our world need from parents?
Kelly: I always get a bit tetchy with a question like this because I think it is incredibly unfair and unnatural to put 100% of the responsibility of raising a child on the shoulders of just two people (and mostly it is just one). The whole Super Nanny thing, all this finger pointing at parents. It’s just awful. I know in my own experience as a very dedicated natural parent, that every day I have to face the onslaught of societal and cultural influences that make my job of raising a happy healthy child harder.
And every day, every month, every year it gets harder. The marketers get trickier, the economy gets more cruel, the media gets bigger, time gets tighter, the false mythology of pharmaceuticals gets stroppier…
But to answer your question (!)…what children need most from mothers and fathers is their presence, their closeness, their time. But by this I don’t mean doting, or permissiveness or over-extending ourselves. By presence I mean being very present in each moment to see what is the real need of your child. Sometimes it’s holding, sometimes it’s space, sometimes it’s a boundary, sometimes it’s listening.
What the world needs from parents is their politicalisation. I know that sounds a bit strange. But parents need to arm themselves with intelligent evidence based research and information, and from that create platforms that will set up systems that will support families to make the right choices for their kids—platforms concerning education reform; employee benefits reform (long parental leave); health care reform (midwives, vaccine inquiry); public breastfeeding reform; more financial support, especially for single mums, etc.
Q. I believe that parents may very well be the most powerful social change agent… yet this seems rarely talked about let alone realized. i actually think it’s tremendously inspiring, and some people experience it as ‘overwhelming’ or too much pressure. What are your thoughts on this?
Kelly: It is overwhelming at times, yes. Especially when you think about the mounting social and cultural pressures that work against us as fathers and mothers each day. Then take into account the fact that we, as parents, very very very much influence (did I say very enough?) who our children will become as adults. Yes, overwhelming. But also, what a privilege. Let’s not mistake how serious this is, how serious our role is and how serious these times are. Somewhere we’re going to have to summon that mamma lion and papa bear in us… that instinctual fierce nature that roars in the face of that which threatens our children’s wellbeing. This is what the world needs of us.
I was at a school meeting the other day. My son’s class was meeting about their upcoming 10 day camping trip to a remote island. It’s a Steiner school, so the culture there tends to be, well, soft and non-confrontational. The packing list handed out stated, ‘we are going to try and make this trip an electronic-free trip (ie, no iPods, no mobile phones, etc). Fortunately there were quite a few well-informed and strong parents who were concerned about how much screen time our kids have. ‘Try?!’ they cried. ‘We’re not going to just “try”’. ‘There will NOT be ANY electronic devices on this trip.’ And so, the trip was spared. Our children had 10 days of no screens, no earplugs. They returned transformed. It’s this kind of boldness, strength and willingness to confront that I am talking about.
Q. What are some practical changes that you would encourage parents to make for the benefit of their children and themselves?
1. Do some downshifting, release yourself from the buy, work, buy cycle. There are some great sites, and great books out there on simple steps towards downshifting.
Check out the article in Kindred.
There’s also a great book called ‘Living Simply with Children’.
2. Limit how much ‘screen time’ you and your children have…alternatively, write down every minute you and your children are in front of a screen and add up the hours. Then make a list of all the things you’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t had the time. See if you can throw away some screen hours for fun hours.
3. Spend time in nature… she’s a great doctor.
4. Have time alone… just you. And have something that is just yours that nourishes you—hiking, an art group, a singing group…
5. Give yourself permission to get feisty. Too bad if someone doesn’t like it.
6. Carve out ‘nothing’ time with your kids… where there are no plans, no agendas, no schedules… and just hang out.
7. Start making friends with the neighbours; there are lots of potential aunties and uncles out there.
Q. The natural parenting centre offers coaching, consultations, and classes for parents. We have noticed that there is a sort of a taboo about getting help with our parenting. It’s like we are all supposed to know how to do this and have it all together! What are your thoughts about this?
Kelly: I think many of us live under the myth of the perfect mother. I know my children love it when I own up to mistakes I’ve made… an opportunity to show them what humility and self reflection looks like. Also a lesson on not being perfect and that is OK. Society is quick to blame if we as parents make a mistake. Look at how people rub their hands with glee on the sidelines when Super Nanny comes on with the next out of control family.
But I also think it is much bigger than that. To deeply question one’s parenting, or to ask for help and admit that one needs help, there is a direct subconscious line back to our own childhood and how we were raised. There are a lot of painful memories back there (some remembered, some repressed), and from those are entire personality structures that have been formed as a result. To say, ‘I need help’, or ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ is then a very huge statement. You’re literally, simultaneously, throwing a line back not only to your own child, but to yourself as a child, your mother as a child, your father as a child, and on down the line. The whole lineage of family habits and pain comes there in the room with you whether you realise it or not. Strong. So… we need lots of compassion, patience, caring. Lots.
Check out Robin Grille’s book, ‘Parenting for a Peaceful World’, which is a psycho-historical account of child rearing practices over history. Wow, so much pain and heartache. So much.
Q. Anything else?
Kelly: I’m in awe of our capacity as parents and as people. The more readers I get to know through Kindred, the more privileged I feel to be a part of such a wise, brave, hopeful, determined community. They have given me hope for our future.
You know, we just might make it.
The Natural Parenting Center (NPC) is lovingly dedicated to fostering children’s natural well-being through exceptional support for parents and caregivers. Our experienced and professional team provide consultations, coaching, and workshops.