Kindred Media Sharing the New Story of Childhood, Parenthood, and the Human Family Tue, 06 Oct 2015 19:34:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 BreastSLEEPING: What Is It? Can The New Holistic Science Insight Inspire Cultural Support And Resources For Parents? Tue, 06 Oct 2015 18:23:42 +0000 Editor’s Note: In the interview below, Kindred’s editor, Lisa Reagan, talks with the world’s leading expert on mother-baby sleep, Dr. James McKenna about his new research-based term “breastsleeping” and his hopes for the holistic insight to bridge the non-existent gap between breastfeeding and cosleeping. Dr. McKenna intends for this research-based term to once and for all end the […]

The post BreastSLEEPING: What Is It? Can The New Holistic Science Insight Inspire Cultural Support And Resources For Parents? appeared first on Kindred Media.

Editor’s Note: In the interview below, Kindred’s editor, Lisa Reagan, talks with the world’s leading expert on mother-baby sleep, Dr. James McKenna about his new research-based term “breastsleeping” and his hopes for the holistic insight to bridge the non-existent gap between breastfeeding and cosleeping. Dr. McKenna intends for this research-based term to once and for all end the imposed ignorance of cosleeping safety by the American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP, whose draconian recommendations against cosleeping and bedsharing are cited by McKenna as unscientific, immoral and dangerous.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, and other lactation consultant professional organizations, agree with McKenna, also citing the critical imperative for parent education to support a breastfeeding culture and infant wellness in the US. Currently, parents face a lack of education in hospitals – who threaten lactation consultants jobs if they try to educate parents on cosleeping or bedsharing, pediatricians informed by the AAP who discourage cosleeping, and terrorizing billboard campaigns featuring babies sleeping with meat cleavers as metaphors for sleeping with their mothers (see the poster below).  Despite these obstacles, the number of bedsharing parents have doubled in the past decade and currently, as McKenna notes, ” two to three million adults sleep with infants every night in America.”

For over 30 years, Dr. McKenna has studied the neurobiology and physiology of mother-baby sleep.  He is the director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame and the  In recognition of his work,in 2009 he was admitted as a Fellow into the select body of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s most prestigious scientific society.  Read Dr. McKenna’s essay, Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone. Watch Kindred’s YouTube playlist of Dr. McKenna’s video interviews here.


Listen to Dr. James McKenna Share The Science Behind The New Term “Breastsleeping”


BREASTSLEEPING: Can A New Science-Based Research Term Create

Cultural Support And Resources For Parents?

“There is no such thing as infant sleep, there is no such thing as breastfeeding, there is only breastsleeping.”

– James McKenna, PhD, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame


Research Science Recognizes Mother-Baby As Inseperable

Acta PediatricaLISA REAGAN:  Welcome to Kindred Media and Community, a nonprofit initiative of Families for Conscious Living found at  This is Lisa Reagan, and today I am talking with Dr. James McKenna, the Director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. McKenna has introduced a new term, the holistic, integrative concept of breastsleeping in a peer-reviewed commentary in the prestigious European journal Acta Paediatrica now found online and out in print in October 2015.  So, welcome Dr. McKenna.

JAMES MCKENNA: Thank you, Lisa.

LISA REAGAN:  I need to read the title of your commentary, because this will start us off in the right direction.


LISA REAGAN:  So the title is, “There is no such thing as infant sleep, there is no such thing as breastfeeding, there is only breastsleeping.”

JAMES MCKENNA: Well, you probably wonder why such a peculiar title. Certainly, it does catch your attention, but it actually is making a very important point, and the point is this, that traditional models of both infant sleep, that is how normal human infants sleep, even models of how species wide human infants breastfeed, are generally studied quite distinctly from each other, and I am trying to make an important biological point, that is to say, based on empirical data there really is no way to measure normal human infant sleep nor any way to measure what constitutes normative patterns of breastfeeding, that is numbers of times per night and sleep architecture that goes along with it unless you have the two conjoined together because in fact it is a biological and behavioral system that coevolved and is indeed simply one system.

You will not get normal measurements of infant sleep without seeing how breastmilk delivery by the mother and breastmilk digestion affects metabolism, affects blood pressure, and heart rate, and body temperature, just as you will not understand how breastfeeding unfolds in the environment within which it evolved, its biologically normal environment, unless you are in fact engaged with the baby and the baby is sleeping and/or arousing next to the mother, because that proximity changes the whole patterning of feeds as well as, of course, at the same time changing the ways in which the baby is arousing to feed and to progress through, once it falls asleep, through the various stages of sleep: stage 1, 2, 3 and 4 and REM.  That is all tied into the way in which the mother is breastfeeding and the sensory exchanges that go along with it that affect the sleep architecture and the feeding itself.  So, even describing it I have to keep going between each of the sort of previously separated domains, breastfeeding on one hand infant sleep on the other.  So, I am trying both symbolically to represent that as one uninterrupted word, breastsleeping, as well as a highly-integrated singular system that needs to be measured when in fact mother breastfeeds and her baby is sleeping right next to her.

LISA REAGAN:  Right, mothers will get this.  Mothers will get this and it will be a big head slap,”Yeah, right” (we saw their reactions already on Facebook to the press release).  There is no separation here between what is happening with the baby and the mother nursing, sleeping toward the goal of optimal lactogenesis…

JAMES MCKENNA: Right, exactly.

LISA REAGAN:  But what we are looking at with this term is that it has the ability to be very powerful in reconciling what parents are told and what parents are doing anyway.  Even with zero official guidance or support, cosleeping has doubled in the past decade and 40% of mothers say they sleep with their babies, but researchers think that number is very, very low because most parents will not admit it.


LISA REAGAN:  So, right now the landscape that this term is being rolled out onto is one where we have families cosleeping without guidance or support, so not admitting it, and then the American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP, spending millions of dollars in the last decade waging a terrorizing anti-cosleeping and bed sharing campaign.  How can the term “breastsleeping” impact this landscape?

JAMES MCKENNA: Well, the interesting thing is acknowledging that, as you are suggesting, this shift has already occurred. We are now a breastfeeding normal culture, and the point of the word breastsleeping is to indicate that where you find one you find the other, and it is because of the biological interdependence of the two.  They are functionally interdependent systems. And so I am trying to acknowledge that indeed already we are a breastsleeping society as well.

If you consider that 77% of mothers now leave the hospital breastfeeding, which is in fact the most recent numbers, we know that there are at least six studies in which the numbers range from the low of about 22% that routinely bed share to a high of 80 to 90% where those breastfeeding mothers in fact are admitting to, and I do not like to put it that way because you know it suggests something is wrong with it but that is indeed how parents worry about it…talking about it, but if you do the numbers already each night in the United States of America starting with the lowest percentage of breastfeeding mothers that do admit to bed sharing, we have anywhere from 1 million to 2.9 to 3 million mothers that are sleeping in bed with their infant and they are doing so without support and without educational guidelines as to how to do it as safely as is possible. 


It is interesting that one of the reasons that justifies this new concept too is to distinguish it from bottle feeding bed sharing.  The baby and the mother on a physiological and a behavioral level are enormously differentially situated compared with what happens when bottle feeding and is bed sharing.  Let me explain.  A breastfeeding mother who places her baby on a surface next to her, places that baby underneath her tricep at mid-chest level, the baby is always put on its back even without instruction, and the baby turns toward the mother and for most of the night as our laboratory work is documented the baby is looking right at the mother and is really very, very immobile.  The baby is able to get to the breast and away from the breast.  Now, as they engage with each other the whole sleep architecture of the baby and the feeding patterns change too.  With the baby being so close to the mother the baby detects the arousals mom that keeps the baby sleeping more lightly but it also puts the baby in position to process the smells of her milk, which also keeps the babies more aroused and more likely to suckle.

So, the amount of feeds that this breastfeeding baby will have immediately does go up.  In so far as the mother is concerned, she too is changed by the presence of her baby.  She too is very much alerted to the baby’s sounds and movements and touches, etc., and we in our laboratory here have documented how mothers increasingly become even more sensitive to the arousals of their babies and their movements and sensory stimuli.  I can tell you that one of our papers we calculated by observation and polysomnography that 60% of the mother’s arousals are explained by the baby having aroused plus or minus two seconds before her, and 40% of the baby’s arousals can be explained by the mother having aroused plus or minus two seconds before the baby did meaning these arousals are induced by the partner and are synchronized and that is telling us that mothers maintain a great sensitivity to what the baby is doing and likewise the baby too that is breastsleeping maintains quite a sensitivity to the mother. 

You do not find that degree of arousal overlap or partner-inducing the other to arouse in the bottle feeding bed sharing dyad.  The reason that is important is we know this is that breastsleeping mothers are highly sensitive and aware of the needs of their babies and where they are in bed compared with the bottle feeding bed sharing dyad.  We similarly know that the breastfeeding baby is more sensitive and aware of and interested in what the mother is doing and thus is aware of where it is sleeping in relationship to her too and is able to manage the protection of its own breathing much better by virtue of this awareness.  So, you get in addition to all of that, the progression of sleep staging of each that is related to the sleep staging of the other.  Again, justifying the fact that the sleep between the two are in fact highly integrated and dependent on the other.  So, again I am giving you both the behavioral and the physiological kind of correlates of this very different arrangement when one looks at what happens when a bottle feeding mother or bottle feeding baby sleeps with its mother in bed.

The Dangers Of Not Educating Parents On Bedsharing And Cosleeping

JAMES MCKENNA: The other factor that can be dangerous for the bottle feeding bed sharing baby is that the babies move around a lot more.  They move up, they move down, they move to the side much, much more than do the breastfeeding baby who is only interested in one thing, and that is smelling its mother’s milk and getting close to where the milk actually is or will be delivered.  So, again every way you want to look at it you are finding that the numbers of breastsleeping mothers and babies is in fact extraordinary given those figures.  It could even be as high as 3.2 million mothers and babies will have been in bed with each other during the first year of that baby’s life, and to think that this is not, in the sense of numbers, normative is to be naïve and further more is…by withholding safety information which is what is exactly occurring in hospitals, all the safety information for bed sharing has been retracted, you are really putting mothers and babies in jeopardy.

800x800_Art of the Well-Rested WomanKathy Kendall-Tackett did a survey study of over 6,000 mothers and 25% of those 6,000 mothers found themselves trying to avoid bedsharing by coming out into the living room and sleeping on a much more dangerous area, a sofa or a recliner, and many reported having dropped their babies, and these are reports that are coming out of Great Britain as well by my colleagues Dr. Peter Fleming and Dr. Peter Blair.  Did you want to ask a question, Lisa?

LISA REAGAN:  I did want to talk about the British study that shows the dangers of not educating parents on bedsharing and that they end up on the couch and recliner.

JAMES MCKENNA: Yes, indeed. It is also important to know the epidemiological study that has really given me the confidence to take this final step toward creating this new word, and that was a study that was just published in 2014 in PLOS ONE by Peter Blair, lead author, and Dr. Peter Fleming, two of the world renowned leading epidemiologists and no one would challenge that description of their work.  They have produced the most internally consistent epidemiological study on SIDS and conditions that may create or hinder it.  They have produced the most data-abundant study ever done, meaning drug and alcohol data is in the surveys and is provided, which most studies lack, as well as of course information on smoking and sleeping arrangement and breastfeeding behavior itself.

And they found that in the absence of all known hazardous factors such as maternal smoking pre and post, babies being placed on their stomachs, other children in the bed, you know obviously desensitization by drugs or alcohol, and not breastfeeding which actually is an independent risk factor for SIDS, in the absence of these factors not only is bed sharing, which I will say breastsleeping, not dangerous but after three months breastsleeping becomes protective. It is the first epidemiological study showing the protective effect even though many of us have suspected it and have always thought that perhaps it was the fact that most case control moms and dads were not reporting.

That is to say, those are families where their babies lived for the first year of life, those case control families were not reporting that they actually were bed sharing and that is critical for getting an accurate what is called a denominator that compares the numbers of babies that do something, in this case those that are bed sharing, that live versus the numbers of babies that do something and die and the variable that we are talking about in terms of doing something is bed sharing.  If you have babies that lived parents reporting that they did actually bed share, even though they were reporting they did not you will get a skewed statistical findings showing obviously that it seems to be per any given number of people it is much more probable that a baby will die if those numbers are not reported accurately.

We know from England that there is reason to doubt that mothers and fathers are in fact reporting their actual bed sharing behavior.  My colleague Dr. Helen Ball who runs the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab at the University of Durham did a study in 1999 of over I believe 190 families in terms of where their baby slept.  The first part of her project was just simply asking mothers, Do you bed share?  Where does your baby sleep? and about 80% of her sample said, “Oh baby sleeps, you know, in its crib.”  Well, upon further probing and upon doing video studies of what really goes on in family homes at night she found that over 40% of the parents that originally said their baby did not bed share did actually bed share. And what the parents were doing is they were willing to answer that they had a crib and the baby is supposed to sleep in the crib, and they were quite willing to tell Helen after probing that yes it is true that the baby begins the night in the crib but we really, after the first feed, relocate the baby to the bed, but they did not think that that was necessarily cheating on giving the answer.  That is the baby starts the night in the crib but then at some point in the night…

LISA REAGAN:  Oh my gosh

JAMES MCKENNA: The mom and dad take the baby and put the baby in the bed. So, what I am…in this long-winded way what I am trying to say is that those epidemiological studies that have shown risk factors for bed sharing never tested how the parents were actually indeed answering that question or even perceiving that question. So, we have a really good reason, and I mention this in the article, for doubting that all of those statistically significant findings were in fact based on not necessarily accurate data on how many of the case controls of the babies that lived were actually bed sharing as well.

LISA REAGAN:  So, let’s get back to what you said at the beginning which is the reason you saw this term is needed is because it needs to provide some common ground for this very explosive and divided discussion, now if you can call it a discussion, battle that is going on out there.


Can A New Research Term “Breastsleeping” Create More Support And Resources For Parents?

LISA REAGAN:  How do you see it reconciling these two sides, and you have kind of answered that but I would like to move into like the practical piece of for example, lactation consultants in hospitals in the press release from Notre Dame it says this is intended to help them with their argument that the AAP actually does undermine breastfeeding with its very conflicted relationship with formula companies and then they find themselves torn between their hospital administrators and keeping their jobs and preparing families to be successful in breastfeeding once they leave the hospital.  So, in these practical ways how is this term going to help? (See the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine’s statement on cosleeping/bedsharing here and the International Lactation Consultant’s statement asking the AAP to sever its ties with formula companies here.)


JAMES MCKENNA: Well, for one thing it is a fresh term, and it makes a very strong case for the fact that not all bedsharing is the same, and that is acknowledged in the paper. I have been erring on the side of caution in my support of families that bedshare, and I do make the case myself that I have always thought that because of the physiological and behavioral changes that I have documented and Helen Ball has between the bottle/bed sharing diet and breastfeeding/bed sharing – or now breastsleeping diet – that those differences are so significant that I feel more comfortable supporting the breastsleeping diet than I do the bottle bedsharing.

Now, I do not want to imply that if this meant the world to a non-breastfeeding mother I could never submit that no matter what she did she could not take care of that baby and avoid overlaying it because I do believe that a non-breastfeeding mother could indeed protect her baby and not roll over on it, but in so far as population-wide recommendations, I think that it is indeed legitimate to distinguish this group.

Thus far though, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institutes of Health, the government for all intents and purposes, the people that in fact are involved…and keep in mind it is very tiny number of people – when I say the American Academy of Pediatrics I am talking about 7 to 10 people not hundreds of thousands of scientists arguing over what should be done – and an extremely small number of people in NICHD, National Institute of Childhood Health and Development, that have made these decisions. 

This is a behavior that is fundamental to defining what our own humanity is, the emotions underlying reaching for your baby and nurturing and caring for your baby at will at night.  This is not something that the government, NICHD, or the American Academy of Pediatrics has any right to demand of parents, in fact it is the opposite.  They should be serving the interests of parents, which in fact are in record numbers regardless of 15 years of demonization and stigmatization of bedsharing mothers, regardless of all of that, the numbers have doubled and tripled across every group. 

But, again I think the best way to explain that is to understand breastsleeping: the functional interconnections between breastfeeding and sleeping on the same surface with your baby.  That is the way the system was designed to function.  There is no conjecture there.  There is no speculation.  There is no science that even needs to prove that. All one needs to do is look around the world and see universally breastsleeping is in fact the pattern. 

Now, granted we live in an urban industrialized complex culture.  Beds did not evolve, mattresses did not evolve, drunken parents did not evolve or desensitized parents by drugs did not evolve.  So, we take that reality. I take that reality very seriously and always have in my work and always have been careful to talk about the conditions and circumstances within which given mattress and blankets and pillows, etc., that there are modifications that need to be done to let the natural protectiveness and the benefits find expression.  But, these are modifiable factors.

What has been very disturbing to me on a professional level and as a father and as a U.S.A. citizen is that those in authority should know that they are in part misrepresenting what is actually killing the babies and are misrepresenting what the dangers actually are.  Bedsharing is not bedsharing is not bedsharing.  Very specifically its outcomes are very dependent on exactly who is involved and what they are doing and how it is practiced. But the AAP and NICHD have refused to acknowledge this and by doing so they have created an ideologically driven view of all and any bedsharing that is really absolutely scientifically implausible, untrue, and I believe I must say immoral – to present a perspective that essentially pathologizes one of the fundamental behaviors that human beings have throughout all of our development and evolution and history practiced in the best interest of the baby. I feel that this…this terrible rhetoric is stigmatizing mothers and making them feel guilty about one of the best things that they can do for their baby, to choose to nurture, to breastfeed, and to sleep close to that baby.  And to have them have to even consider their bodies are incapable of protecting their baby or that they are appropriately compared to metal cleavers and/or wooden rolling pins who have no control over their bodies is to me immoral and it takes away something from mothers that is theirs only to claim, and that is the ability to use their instincts to respond to their particular babies in ways that make their babies the most happy and healthy.

Babies sleeping with their parents risk death, according to an ad campaign by the Milwaukee Health Department.
Babies sleeping with their parents risk death, according to an ad campaign by the Milwaukee Health Department.

LISA REAGAN:  Right, I just want to point out to our listeners that what Dr. McKenna is referring to is the AAP and NIH Safe to Sleep Campaign which was the anti-cosleeping campaign. The city of Milwaukee created billboards in neighborhoods across the country showing babies sleeping with cleavers in bed and…

JAMES MCKENNA: And saying that sleeping with your baby is as dangerous as this.

LISA REAGAN:  Yeah, putting them in bed with a meat cleaver, which may be a contributing factor to parents fudging about where the baby sleeps..

JAMES MCKENNA: But there have been posters that Safe to Sleep campaigns individually statewide and community wide have produced material that is inappropriate, and I do fault the American Academy of Pediatrics for not protecting parents that do choose to bedshare from this kind of attack. They have never come out at all and condemned that kind of rhetoric and they have permitted hospitals to retract all safety information, and they have permitted hospitals to threaten lactation consultants with their jobs being taken from them, that is to say being fired should they say anything about safe bedsharing or that women may consider or may find themselves actually bedsharing without previously planned, and thus when and if they are found in bed with their baby, which they will be, here are the things that one should be very careful of and be on guard against and ways to make your bed as safe as is possible and that information has been taken from them.

And you were asking me earlier as to one of the reasons why I am using this word, well it is because above all else parents and mothers should have open venues by which they can talk about their practices with their pediatricians, and the AAP and the NICHD and the kind of these vitriolic warnings have all but made that impossible for responsible caring mothers to be able to feel comfortable approaching the subject and getting information from their own physicians.

So, I really think that is one of our, my colleagues Dr. Lee Gettler’s and my hope, is that this word will look neutral and will set a course of defining specifically what type of bedsharing can be considered the safest, that in fact then opens it up for contributions that parents can also make in creating a more holistic bed sharing environment.

The other negative factor that has occurred is that for all intents and purposes the only research that that AAP has chosen to do is research that shows negative outcomes. In fact, the kind of information that they want to analyze and what they do not analyze reflects their biases in so far as producing scientific papers and it has really limited if not completely ameliorated a very different kind of science that could look at how mothers – rather than looking at how mothers kill their babies by bedsharing – looking at how mothers keep their babies alive, and believe me that data is there, but you have to have the administration and you have to have an AAP subcommittee that values that and knows that can be important and is important to mothers, and that is not happening and that is why this will have to be I would imagine a bottom up change that it – the change – will come from the fact that mothers and fathers are refusing to comply with these recommendations against any and all bed sharing.

And so, I will be really be quite interested to see whether or not this might change the monies allocated for other kinds of research that could actually look at how we can teach moms and dads how to better prepare their beds or what kind of furniture to use to actually bedshare on.  But, you need to value it before that kind of allocation for research will take place, and I am hoping to press that issue and to at the very least give mothers and fathers the information they need and a valid beginning point for them to explore and become more informed.  I have a website that I get 20 to 40 thousand hits every month on, and people go to the Safety Guidelines for Bedsharing and Cosleeping.  So I am very happy that at least I and my colleague, Dr. Helen Ball, have websites that are used very prominently to get information that is being retracted and held back from them by pediatricians – who really do not have any reason to know about the physiology and behavior of bedsharing.  They are just simply touting what they are told to say.

The pediatricians s most of us have are not researchers in this area and they do not know the kinds of things that you know I have been talking about today, and there is no reason they should.  It is unfortunate that they are the vessels by which parents get this bad unqualified, uncompromising news never bedshare that immediately quiets mothers and makes sure that they will not really reveal what they are actually practicing.

Breastsleeping Championed By Lactation Consultants?

LISA REAGAN:  I am wondering in a practical sense if breastsleeping could eventually become a part of the lactation consultant’s training and the understanding that this an integral part the process of reaching optimal lactogenesis. The term has its own epidemiological category now and it is shown to have its own benefits to risk assessment, and lactation consultants are very strident in their training, so I would like…I would personally like to see this included in future lactation consultant training so that there is a way to get the information to parents in hospitals.

Note: The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine already champions the inclusion of bedsharing education for parents and you can read their recommendations here, as well as a particularly enlightening blog, “Should The AAP Sleep Alone?” on their website here.)

JAMES MCKENNA: And maybe that will come about. I, and the first point actually that helps justify this new concept too is that to maximize lactogenesis, to bring the milk in and to make it mature you need sustained body contact with the baby, so the baby’s body is designed to experience the stimulation of its mother – its mother’s smell, its feel – and to immediately approach and latch on to the areola. And the baby’s merkel cells on the buccal surface of its cheeks are responding to it and memorizing the feel of this latch – all of these biologically-based behaviors are taking place but the critical ingredient here is sustained contact and touch.

"You would not put a puppy in this environment." - Dr. McKenna (Image from NICHD website)
“You would not put a puppy in this environment.” – Dr. McKenna (Image from NICHD website)

So these babies are going to just to breastfed, are of course going to understand and have in their sensory memories these wonderful feelings of what it feels like to actually breastfeed and be in relative constant contact, in one form or another, with the mother. And they are never going to accept going back because it is unusual and an alien experience for a baby to be breastfed and then put back in its own container so to speak.

If you really want to see a sterile environment for a human baby or even a mammal you would not even think of putting a puppy in an environment the NICHD has up on its website that says what a safe sleep environment for a human baby looks like.  Then you look at it, and it is not safe at all.  It is not safe at all even by their own standards because there’s not sight or sound of another person nearby and babies are never supposed to sleep outside the supervision of an adult. 

Now they make it clear that when they say that they mean on separate surface.  Well that is fine, but why would you ever say babies are supposed to sleep alone and picture that as a safe environment when it is a very dangerous environment – when babies sleep in rooms in cribs by themselves.  They have a third to a half chance of dying as an independent risk factor for SIDS.

So, I guess what to me it shows is how frightened these people are that parents will sleep with their babies or they do not know how to show even the normal healthy arrangement of a baby sleeping in – let’s say a co-sleeper, an arm’s reach co-sleeper or something – next to the bed of their mother.  In fact, I think I was the one that hollered at them and said why are you putting babies alone in cribs and saying babies should sleep alone? Even its little motto ABCs of safe sleep is not safe sleep at all, it practically always leaves out breastfeeding which is protective. And not only that, the first point is A alone and no, that is not safe sleep by anybody’s standard and yet that is another example of how biased and kind of the interpretations. The limited way these people want mothers and fathers to get messages is so limited that it is incomplete and thus it is faulty and in itself is dangerous.

Can Breastsleeping Support Mothers Getting Better Or More Sleep?

LISA REAGAN:  It is.  And the last thing I just wanted to clarify because I know this is a practical piece in the forefront of exhausted parents’ minds is – can the recognition of what we’re already doing  and doing it more – breastsleeping – result in better sleep for the parent?

JAMES MCKENNA: Well, that is a relative. Let’s see, my answer has to be relative.  No breastfeeding mom sleeps like she did before she had her baby.  You know, I mean in fact you probably would not want that because the mother needs to be sensitive to her baby’s presence and movements and needs, etc. But I can tell you in so far as my lab is concerned, and I really do think that we probably have the best data on the physiology on sleep, of breastsleeping, of anyone because it was all not only infrared filmed but both the mother and the baby were being monitored physiologically for brainwaves and breathing and oxygenation and saturation levels, and we had the most variables being measured of any study ever been done.  So, I think that the…and what was I talking about?  I totally lost my point?

LISA REAGAN: I was actually thinking of Kathy Kendall-Tackett’s research that shows mothers do sleep better, breastfeeding mothers.

JAMES MCKENNA: Oh, I am sorry…that was the point. We did find well two things.  We asked the mothers how did they sleep and our bedsharing moms as opposed to our solitary sleeping breastfeeding moms – 60% of them said they slept enough or good whereas only 40% of the breastfeeding moms that solitary slept said they slept enough or good.  But the point I was going to make is that statistically speaking we did find that bedsharing breastfeeding mothers slept more in minutes per sleep night than did the solitary breastfeeding mothers. And it was very clear where the solitary sleeping breastfeeding mothers lost their sleep time: it was when they tried to relocate their baby after they fed them back into the crib where the baby just refused to go, and we finally realized, “Well listen, this baby does not want more milk, this baby just does not want to be left alone.”  So the mom kept trying to feed the baby again and the baby really did not even most of the time take the milk, but more than anything they just wanted continuing proximity and contact with the mother.  It was a very interesting insight to see where the separate sleeping breastfeeding mothers were losing all their sleep, and it was trying to get the baby to be alone.

LISA REAGAN:  I just thank you so much for is it 25 years now that you have been doing this work?

JAMES MCKENNA: Well, I started about 30 years ago in the theoretical training and neurobiological studies that I wanted to do before I really shifted my emphasis into human mother-infant sleep in relationship to SIDS and breastfeeding, so it has been about 30 years I guess at this point.

LISA REAGAN:  Well, thank you so much for that.  Three decades of your life, and I want to tell everyone if you want to see the Safe Cosleeping Guidelines that are up on Dr. McKenna’s website it is


JAMES MCKENNA: Great, well thank you for. Thanks, Lisa. It was great talking with you and sharing what I have learned.

LISA REAGAN:  It is tremendous, and I look forward to talk to you again soon.

Featured Photo Shutterstock/Vitalinka


Watch Dr. McKenna Talk On Cosleeping Definitions, The History and Science Of Cosleeping, and Why Cosleeping Is a Parent’s Civil Right

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Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:47:09 +0000 JOIN MERYN CALLANDER ON A PARENTING AS A HERO’S JOURNEY VIRTUAL RETREAT!   Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education A Book Review By Meryn Callander In the early nineties John Taylor Gatto resigned from 26 years of award-winning teaching in Manhattan’s public schools. There he had used his classes as a laboratory […]

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Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education

A Book Review By Meryn Callander


In the early nineties John Taylor Gatto resigned from 26 years of award-winning teaching in Manhattan’s public schools. There he had used his classes as a laboratory where he could learn a broader range of what human possibility is; and what releases and what inhibits human power. He came to believe that genius is an exceedingly common human quality; and that he had been hired not to enlarge children’s power, but to diminish it. He saw that whatever he thought he was doing as a teacher, most of what he was actually doing was teaching an “invisible curriculum that reinforced the myths of the school institution and those of an economy based on caste.” He began to devise “guerrilla exercises” to allow his students to be their own teachers and to make themselves the major text of their own education.

The first chapter is the transcript of a speech Gatto gave on the occasion of his being named “New York Teacher of the Year” for 1991. I felt myself thrill to the courage, the heart, and the soul of this man as revealed through his words; and wonder at the reception of the audience who I imagine would be present at such an event. The intent of this speech was to convey his belief that while teaching means different things in different places, seven lessons are universally taught from Harlem to Hollywood Hills. Read on and you may share my wonder as, maintaining his voice, I precis his points.

  • 1. Confusion. Everything I teach is out of context. I teach the un-relating and disconnections of everything. I teach too much: from the orbiting of planets to adjectives. Curricula are full of internal contradictions and lack coherence. Kids leave school without one genuine enthusiasm or indepth appreciation of anything. Human beings seek meaning, not disconnected facts.
  • “In a world where home is only a ghost because both parents work, or because of too many moves or job changes or too much ambition… I teach you how to accept confusion as your destiny.”
  • 2. Class position. I teach students they must stay in the class where they belong. If I do my job well, the kids can’t even imagine themselves somewhere else, because I have shown them how to envy and fear the better classes, and to have contempt for the dumb classes. The lesson is everyone has a proper place in the pyramid and you must stay where you are put.
  • 3. Indifference. I teach children not to care too much about anything, even though they want to make it appear that they do. I do this by demanding students become totally involved in my lessons, exhibit enthusiasm for my teaching, compete with each other for my favor. But when the bell rings I insist they drop whatever they’ve been doing and proceed to the next class.
  • “Indeed, the lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything.”
  • 4. Emotional dependency. By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, I teach kids to surrender their will to the predestinated chain of command. Individuality is a contradiction to class theory and curse to all systems of classification.
  • 5. Intellectual dependency. Good students wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. They learn that we must wait for others, better trained, to make the choices that will direct our lives. successful children do the thinking I assign with a minimum of resistance and decent show of enthusiasm. Curiosity has no place, only conformity. Bad kids fight this, even though they lack the concepts to know what they are fighting. There are procedures to break the will of those who resist. Our entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned. Think of what might fall apart if children weren’t trained to be dependent. We’ve built a way of life that depends on people doing what they are told because they don’t know how to tell themselves what to do.
  • 6. Provisional self-esteem. It is impossible to make self-confident spirits conform. Our world wouldn’t survive a flood such spirits, so I teach that a child’s self respect should depend on expert opinion. The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but rely on the evaluation of certified officials.
  • 7. One can’t hide. I teach children they are always under constant surveillance. There are no private spaces for children, no private times. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other. The meaning of constant surveillance and denial of privacy is that no one can be trusted, privacy is not legitimate. Children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society under tight central control.

Gatto believes that the debate about whether we should have a national curriculum is phony. “We have one–in the 7 lessons outlined.” He finds this curriculum produces physical, moral, and intellectual paralysis, and that no curriculum of content is sufficient to reverse its effects. He asserts that what is currently under discussion about failing academic performance misses the point that the schools teach exactly what they are intended to teach and they do it well: how to be a good Egyptian and remain in your place in the pyramid.

Gatto presents a credible case for his belief that school is an essential support system for a model of social engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramidal social order, even though such a premise is a fundamental betrayal of the American Revolution. From Colonial days through the period of the Republic we had no schools to speak of–he refers readers to Ben Franklin’s autobiography for an example of a man who had no time to waste in school.

Gatto claims that mass education cannot support democracy, cannot support a fair society, because its daily practice is rooted in competition, suppression, and intimidation. The schools can’t teach the nonmaterial values that give meaning to life, because the structure of schooling is held together by rewards and threats, carrots and sticks–“the paraphernalia of servitude, not freedom.”

Gatto looks at how compulsory schooling, as we know it, came about as an invention of the State of Massachusetts about 1850. It was resisted–sometimes with guns–by an estimated 80% of the Massachusetts population. The last outpost was seized by militia and children marched to school under guard in the 1880s. Prior to compulsory education, it was noted that the state literacy rate was 98%. Since this time, it has never exceeded 90%.

For 150 years institutional education has offered as its main purpose, economic success. Good education=good job, good money, good things.

800x800_Art of the Well-Rested WomanThe absurdity… is clear if we ask ourselves what is gained by perceiving education as a way to enhance even further the runaway consumption that threatens the earth, air, and water of our planet. Should we continue to teach people that they can buy happiness in face of tidal wave of evidence that they cannot?

Gatto see schools dividing and classifying people, demanding that they compulsively compete with each other and publicly labeling losers by literally degrading them, identifying them as “low-class” material. “The bottom line for the winners is that they can buy more stuff.”

Gatto believes that the crisis we are facing–young people indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence, children unable to concentrate on anything for very long, children mistrusting of intimacy, hating solitude, children who tend to be cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction–is to be expected, given the lessons our schools are teaching. And that it is time we face the fact that institutional schoolteaching is destructive to children, even to the instructors.

In one of the great ironies of human affairs, the massive rethinking the schools require would cost so much less than we are spending now that powerful interests cannot afford to let it happen.

After an adult lifetime teaching school, Gatto has concluded that the method of mass-schooling is its only real content. Good curricula, equipment, or teachers are not the critical determinants of a child’s education.

All the pathologies we’ve considered come about in large measure because the lessons of school prevent children from keeping important appointments with themselves and with their families to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity, love–and lessons in service to others, too…

Gatto is convinced that the schools are draining the vitality from communities and families, bleeding away time we need with our children and our children need with us. He sees the current school crisis as linked to an even greater social crisis: Our nation ranks at the very bottom of nineteen industrial nations in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Our teen suicide rate is the highest in the world. In Manhattan, seventy percent of all new marriages last less than 5 years. We live in “networks,” not communities, and everyone is lonely because of that. We are creating a class system, complete with “untouchables” who beg and sleep in the streets.

The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in the schools… but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions… it is psychopathic–it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.

But Gatto does not stop with the schools. He sees television as rivaling, even surpassing, the schools in controlling our children’s lives. He builds his case on the fact that in the past childhood and adolescence were filled with real work, real charity, real adventures, community pursuits, and the search for mentors to teach them what they wanted to learn. Given the hours most children spend in school and before the TV, they are left with about eleven hours a week out of which to “create a unique consciousness.” If rich kids watch less TV, their time tends to be as controlled by commercial entertainments and private lessons.

What can be done? He does not see us getting rid of the schools in the near future, but the priority must be to get rid of the monopoly: pumping more money and people into a sick institution will only make it sicker. He sees some form of free-market system in public schooling as the likeliest place to look for answers, a free market where family schools and small entrepreneurial and religious and crafts and farm schools compete with government education. This is something like the country had before the Civil war.

Getting rid of the monopoly means turning our backs on national solutions, looking for local solutions and toward communities of families as successful laboratories, encouraging experimentation, trusting children and families to know what is best for themselves, stopping the segregation of children and the aged in walled compounds, involving everyone in the community in the education of the young.

He sees home-schooling as showing great promise. Today one and a half million young people are being educated entirely by their own parents; in 1990 it was reported than children schooled at home seemed to be five or even ten years ahead of their formally trained peers in their ability to think.

Gatto believes that none of this is inevitable; that we have choices in how we bring up young people; that there is no one right way. This, he believes, is what we would see if we broke through the power of the present illusion.

… if we regained a hold on a philosophy that locates meaning where meaning is genuinely to be found–in families, friends, the passage of the seasons… in generosity, compassion… in all the free and inexpensive things out of which real families, friends, and communities are built–then we would be so self-sufficient we would not need the material “sufficiency” our global “experts” are so insistent we be concerned about.

He urges us to reinvolve children with the real world–real world adventures and experiences, apprenticeships of a day or longer–so that time can be spent in something other than abstraction. Community service gives them experience in acting unselfishly, and a real responsibility in the mainstream of life. Gatto offers mind-opening and heart-warming stories of his experience in running a program where every kid gave 320 hours a year of hard community service. Dozens of young adults came to him years later and told him the experience had changed their lives.

An educational philosophy favored by Gatto is that used by the ruling classes of Europe for thousands of years. At the core is the belief that self-knowledge is the only basis of true knowledge, and independent time is the key to self-knowledge. Gatto sees that right now our children have no independent time. We need give it to them, and trust them from a very early age with independent study, perhaps arranged in school, but which takes place away from the school setting. We need curricula where children have a chance to develop their own private uniqueness and self-reliance. He gives some great examples of how he has used this method in his own teaching, “as much, that is, as I can get away with given the present institution of schooling.”

While Gatto sees all of these things as powerful, cheap, and effective ways to start a real reform of schooling, he believes that no large scale reform will work until we force open the idea of school to include family at its heart. He believes that the “Curriculum of Family” is at the heart of any good life. He calls on the schools to promote, during schooltime, confluences of parent and child that will strengthen family bonds. He challenges us to rethink the fundamental premises of schooling and decide what it is we want our children to learn and why.

Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values that will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live… and to die.

While many may dismiss Gatto as extremist and radical, it behooves us to appreciate the meaning of the latter word–from the roots. Gatto touches me as a man who has experienced and thought deeply and courageously, with heart, about the impact of our schools on the wellbeing of our children–and our future.

He continues practicing his unique guerilla curriculum with the Albany Free School, while travelling around the country to promote a radical transformation of state schooling.

Featured Photo Shutterstock/Ollyy’s

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The Continuum Concept, A Book Review Thu, 01 Oct 2015 16:44:29 +0000 JOIN MERYN CALLANDER ON A PARENTING AS A HERO’S JOURNEY VIRTUAL RETREAT!     The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost A Book Review By Meryn Callander   Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept, spent several years with the people of the Yequana and Sanema tribes of South America. They were the happiest […]

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The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost

A Book Review By Meryn Callander



Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept, spent several years with the people of the Yequana and Sanema tribes of South America. They were the happiest people she had ever seen. The children never fought, were never punished, and obeyed happily and instantly. Her western perceptions of human nature totally demolished, she emerged with a radical understanding of our deepest needs and potentialities for wellbeing–and of the means through which we may begin to heal ourselves and save our children.

Most crucial is the cognition that the way we treat our very young is a primary cause of the alienation, neuroses, and unhappiness that is normative in the civilized worlds. The infant’s early experiences influence all that he becomes. The growth of independence and emotional maturity spring largely from the in-arms phase of life outside of the womb, i.e., the phase prior to the commencement of crawling.

In “continuum-correct” cultures, the infant’s experiences correspond to his and his mother’s ancient expectations. Mother and child remain in close contact from the moment he emerges from the womb. The umbilical cord is not cut until it ceases to pulsate. The infant is given the breast. This is the moment of “imprinting.” Geared into “the sequence of hormonally triggered events at birth,” it must take place right away. The urge is immediate, and, Liedloff asserts, its satisfaction an essential prerequisite to the smooth succession of stimuli and responses that follow as mother and baby begin their life together. The infant seldom has any need to signal by crying, or do anything but suckle when the impulse arises. At night, mother sleeps beside him. The infant is taken everywhere, always in-arms, and is there in the midst of an active person’s life. He enjoys occasional direct attention, but his main business is to absorb all the actions, interactions, and surroundings of his caretaker. This information prepares him to take his place among his people.

What this infant experiences is congruent with his continuum sense–his deepest expectations. These species-specific expectations have evolved through millennia as being most appropriate to fulfill his needs and contribute correctly to his development. Having received, in full measure, the shelter and stimulus of his experience in-arms, he feels right, good, and welcome. He can look forward, outward to the world beyond mother, sure of himself and accustomed to a condition of wellbeing that his nature tends to maintain.

For millions of years newborn babies have been held close to their mothers from the moment of birth. Some babies of the last few hundred generations may have been deprived of this experience but that has not lessened each new baby’s expectation that he will be held in his rightful place.

The expectations of the newborn in our “civilized” world are identical with those in continuum cultures. He has come prepared for the massive leap from womb to arms, but not for what follows. The following two paragraphs are a precis of Liedloff’s vivid–and, unfortunately, all too accurate–description of the experience of the typical newborn in our culture:


Skin crying out for the touch of living flesh, he is wrapped in a dry lifeless cloth. Every nerve ending under his newly exposed skin craves the expected embrace. He is put in a box where he is left, no matter how he weeps, in a limbo that is utterly motionless, utterly lifeless. He cries and cries; his lungs are strained with the desperation in his heart. No one comes. All he can do is to cry on. He falls asleep, exhausted. He wakes in terror of the silence and motionless. He screams. He is afire from head to foot with want, with desire. He gasps for breath and screams until his chest aches. His throat is sore, the sobs weaken, nothing helps. He stops, able to suffer, unable to think, unable to hope. His continuum has no solution for this extremity. The situation is beyond its vast experience. He has already reached a point of disorientation from his nature beyond the saving powers of the continuum.

The tearing apart of the mother-child continuum results in agony for the infant, and depression for the mother, deprived of what “nature had her exquisitely primed for… one of the deepest and most influential emotional events of her life.” And, one which would have encouraged her to continue to behave as is most rewarding for herself and her baby.

We are disengaged from our continuum at birth. Left in cribs and baby carriages, away from the stream of life, and starving for contact and in-arms experience, we go on, in an orderly but unconscious way, seeking fulfillment of those expectations. Deprived of the essential condition of wellbeing that should have grown out of this time, searches and substitutions for it, as the years pass, take on a great many forms.

Liedloff contrasts the ways of the western world with those attitudes and practices of the Yequana which serve to maintain the state of wellbeing that is evident among their people. For example, the attitude of caretaker to the young in continuum cultures is relaxed, usually attentive to some other occupation, but receptive at all time to his approach. It is the baby who seeks her out and indicates what he wants. She complies, but adds no more. He neither demands nor receives her full attention, for “he has no store of longings, no ancient hungers.” The need for constant contact tapers off quickly when its quota has been filled.

With the commencement of crawling, the child is naturally protective of his own wellbeing, expected to be so by his people, and enabled to be so by his inborn abilities, stage of development, and experience. There are many potentially dangerous situations among the Yequana–from the machetes left lying about, to the hazards of the jungle: injuring one’s bare feet, snakes and scorpions, and rivers the children bathe in. Yet there are virtually no injuries. The operative factor, Liedloff has determined, seems to be the placement of responsibility. In most western children, the machinery for looking after themselves is in only partial use, the burden being largely assumed by caretakers.

The keystone upon which the tribal child’s development depends is the assumption that he is innately social in his motives; his persona is respected as good. There is no concept of a “bad” child. This assumption is “at direct odds with the nearly universal civilized belief that a child’s impulses need to be curbed in order to make him social.”

Furthermore, in these societies, respect is accorded each individual as his own proprietor. Liedloff found that no orders are given a child that run counter to his own inclinations as to how to play, what to eat, when to sleep etc.; but when his help is required he is expected to comply immediately. Social animal that he is, he does as he is expected without hesitation and to the best of his ability. Praise, virtually absent in these cultures, wreaks havoc in ours. “Oh what a good girl!” implies sociability is unexpected, uncharacteristic, and unusual–and a child does what he perceives is expected of him, rather than what he is told to do.

Liedloff asserts that while it is unrealistic to describe a culture to which ours could be changed, there is value in tracking down some of the qualities a culture would need to suit the continua of its people. To list but a few: we would see families in close contact with other families, generations living under the same roof, and babies carried everywhere. Children would accompany adults on their daily rounds: “It is only a matter of changing one’s baby-centered thought patterns to those more suitable for a capable, intelligent being whose nature it is to enjoy work and the companionship of adults.” The relationship of educators to children would be based on being available, and children using their own efficient, natural way of educating themselves. We would recognize the human need for contact, break through our cultural taboo on touch, and change the view that we own our children and consequently treat them as we like. Leadership would emerge naturally and confine itself to taking initiative only when individual initiatives are impractical.

Without waiting to change society at all, we can behave differently toward our infants, and give them a sound personal base from which to deal with whatever situations they meet.

Liedloff urges constant physical contact until children begin crawling, sleeping with them until they leave the family bed of their own accord, meeting their innate expectations, not overprotecting them, and trusting and respecting their developing personalities.

Liedloff acknowledges that at this moment in our history, with customs as they are, continuum principles seem wildly radical things to advocate. “But in the light of the continuum and its millions of years, it is only our tiny history which appears radical in its departures from the long-established norms of human and prehuman experience.”

And, we have nature on our side.

…[O]nce a mother begins to serve her baby’s continuum (and thus her own as a mother), the culturally confused instinct in her will reassert itself and reconnect her natural motives. She will not want to put her baby down… the ancient instinct will soon take over; for the continuum is a powerful force and never ceases to try to reinstate itself. The sense of rightness felt by the mother when she is behaving in accordance with nature will do far more to reestablish the continuum in her than anything this book may have conveyed to her as theory.

I can only close with a resounding “yes!” This has proven to be unqualifiedly true for me. I have shared a little of my experience with this book in my cover letter. It will come as no surprise then, that I consider it an absolute must read.

We sponsored Liedloff to lead a day-long workshop in Mendocino County, where we were living when Siena was very young. Apart from affording us the privilege of coming face-to-face with Liedloff, who is a colorful character–forthright, provocative, entertaining–this provided us with the opportunity to hear her responses to a host of questions on the day-to-day implementation of continuum principles, and keyed us into a circle of parents who shared our interests in implementing this material.

The Liedloff Continuum Network is a worldwide network of people interested in making the Continuum Concept a part of their lives.


Featured Photo Shutterstock/Alina Reynbakh

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Mindful Parenting: The Spiritual Essence of Attachment, An Interview With API Founders Thu, 01 Oct 2015 00:17:22 +0000 Join Kindred in celebrating Attachment Parenting Month in October 2015 with our exclusive interview with API founders, Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson, also authors of the book, Attached At The Heart.  Nicholson and Parker talk with Kindred’s editor, Lisa Reagan, about mindful parenting as the spiritual essence of attachment science. Enjoy the audio download below as […]

The post Mindful Parenting: The Spiritual Essence of Attachment, An Interview With API Founders appeared first on Kindred Media.

AP MonthJoin Kindred in celebrating Attachment Parenting Month in October 2015 with our exclusive interview with API founders, Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson, also authors of the book, Attached At The Heart.  Nicholson and Parker talk with Kindred’s editor, Lisa Reagan, about mindful parenting as the spiritual essence of attachment science. Enjoy the audio download below as well as the edited transcript of this interview. The podcast was recorded as part of Lysa and Barbara’s LIVE Parenting As A Hero’s Journey virtual retreat this summer.  You can join Lysa and Barbara for this now ON-DEMAND virtual retreat that explores the practical tools for the day to day spiritual practice of mindful parenting – a practice that builds a lifetime of connection and healthy attachment with partners and children.

Listen and Download the Mindful Parenting: The Spiritual Essence of Attachment Discussion With API Founders, Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson

Mindful Parenting: The Spiritual Essence Of Attachment

A Thoughtful Discussion With API Founders, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker

LISA REAGAN: I am very happy to have the opportunity to talk to you both about this connection that you’re making between mindfulness and attachment.  Mindfulness, the idea of it, is becoming more popular in the United States, but not as understood as we would like for it to be yet. I saw a statistic the other day, about 28% of the population knows what it means – and I hope they’re not all in California. Mindfulness benefits are showing up in neuroscience research, but the connection between mindfulness, parenting, attachment science, and then you have put spiritual essence in your virtual retreat title. How are these concepts and practices interrelated? How is this understanding the frontier of conscious parenting?


barbara-photo-final-web-11-07BARBARA NICHOLSON: Well, I just think of so many beautiful mentors that Lysa and I have had in our own parenting journey and the lesson that we learn and the reason that we call our book Attached at the Heart is that this wisdom of the heart is really what’s driving our intellect. It is what is driving our attunement with our babies, so learning about that innate wisdom that we have as parents was just a real life changing, empowering part of our parenting journey that became really important when we wrote our book and when we were developing our API support groups – to just tell parents our message is very simple: It’s about this attunement with our children and trusting our hearts.

So mindfulness, meditation, consciousness raising, all of these terms are really talking about the same thing and it is just thrilling for us to be able to talk so openly about this joy that we have discovered through parenting our children, that it also helped us reparent ourselves and heal a lot of wounds from our own childhood stories and gave us a deeper understanding of our parent’s journeys and their parents. So it’s a beautiful spiritual connection to our elders that is really an enriching part of this whole journey. (Barbara is referring to their Parenting As A Hero’s Journey virtual retreat.)

LISA REAGAN: I have read your book and I can see in the Principle of Preparing, as you just now are talking about, what is one of the biggest pieces of preparation is this becoming aware of healing our own wounds and anyone, even people who aren’t on the path to parenthood just yet, there is a lot of information out there now about mindfulness as a way that we can discover self-awareness, self-regulation, especially when we are addressing trauma and trying to reprogram ourselves and our neurobiology to come into a place ofn- what were you saying- attunement, with our own being, with our own hearts.

BARBARA NICHOLSON: Being mindful, in the now, in that present moment is what our children are so brilliant at teaching us. They demand, especially our infants, demand that we be present and not distracted and really try to get inside what they’re needs are. So it is totally a spiritual practice.

Lysa Parker 3LYSA PARKER: As I watch my 2-year-old granddaughter, I see how “in the moment” she is at every moment and to be able to really get into that world with her is such a joy and I know that it probably wasn’t that way a lot of the times with my own two sons, just because when you’re a young parent, you’re just trying to get through the day. But I just remember that the more I learned about attachment parenting, as Barbara was saying, it demanded that I be present.

Now because you’re following your heart’s intuition, the wisdom of your heart, then you have to be present; and knowing the children are in that constant state up until the age of about 6, that they are in this theta brain frequency, which is for adults, the state of hypnosis. So their brains are just absorbing everything that they experience, everything that they hear and feel gets kind of downloaded into their conscious minds. So knowing all of that now, knowing the neuroscience, it behooves us to start paying attention.

It is not as people say airy-fairy or just this fad or trend that’s going on or some New Age trend. It is actually based in neuroscience. I think Dr. Dan Siegel is probably in the forefront of leading the charge in making people aware of mindfulness and being a neuroscientist himself at UCLA. He garners a lot of credibility and respect as an academic, but now he is doing sessions and trainings on mindfulness.

So it is just where East is meeting West. While it seems to be the worst of times, it is also the best of times, because these are all, in my opinion, indicators of this paradigm shift that we’re going through. We’re witnessing it and we’re in the throes of it and some of us are suffering and that suffering, whether it is suffering through being a parent or being a single parent, or an alone parent because you have a partner that is gone a lot. You know, it is forcing us to look at our internal resources and also reach out to people and build a network of support because we are finally waking up to discover that we aren’t supposed to do this alone. We are supposed to have a web of relationships to help us suffer the stormy seas of life. So that’s kind of a long response to your question, but those are the thoughts that come to mind. It is just a huge revolution and I am just excited and thrilled to be a part of it.


Connecting Mindfulness, Parenthood And Neuroscience

LISA REAGAN: I am too and at Kindred we talk about the weariness of parenting in this Space Between Stories. There was an Old Story, with its belief system of separation, and there is an emerging New Story and the New Story is about this connection and need for connection with ourselves and community and our children. This idea that we’re moving in between two stories together collectively, engineers some compassion for myself. I feel like I do not know what’s going and things are shifting so quickly, as you were saying. A lot of this change from a certain perspective can be considered positive. But on the other hand, shifing certainly does make for uneven ground for everyone.

LYSA PARKER: It sure does.

API Support Ad (1)LISA REAGAN: I want to go deeper into the mindfulness piece. The reason I wanted to explore this a little more is because I was meditating before I had my child and then I did meditation classes during my pregnancy and it was really cool and I had some experiences of freaking myself out because I would really focus on the baby and try to talk to the baby. I would get a little kick and I would think, “Wow, was that just a coincidence?” But really, I think this prenatal practice helped to set me up for a deeper bond with my child before he got here. And he’s my only one, so I got to experiment on him the whole way.

But what I found because I was practicing and I was trying to be involved in a lot of these meditation and mindfulness groups was that it was hard to find people who wanted to make that connection between parenting and mindfulness or children or families. I was sharing with Barbara before you came on the call, Lysa, I used to fly out to California to retreats and I would ask questions about children and families, this was after I had my son, and I would get responses that were almost looks of embarrassment or “this is not sophisticated enough” or “we’re not going to talk about this. We’re not going to talk about children and mothering and we’re here to be… SPIRITUAL!” (laughs)

You can see why I am excited that you all have included the words mindfulness, attachment, and spiritual essence in the same title for your Parenting As A Hero’s Journey Virtual Retreat because I really have felt that they were connected but you are articulating this connection. There seemed to be a disconnection between the head and the heart in a lot of these mindfulness and meditation communities. Maybe that is not true right now, but it certainly was back when I was actively searching and certainly between mindfulness and parenting and families.


LYSA PARKER: Yeah, I think we have seen that over the years, too. As Barbara was saying earlier, before we started recording this call, was about how people do not see the connection between motherhood and feminism and how it’s all interrelated and you can’t have one without the other, in essence. But, we have to include our children in this. Barbara was meditating before she had children. I mean, you have been doing it a long time.


LYSA PARKER: But for a lot of us, me included, it become a byproduct of this mindful way of parenting that we call attachment parenting.

BARBARA NICHOLSON: I think learning to meditate before I became pregnant was a huge help to me, going to Lamaze classes and later husband-coached childbirth, because I felt like, “Oh I understand this so well. I need to go within. I need to be in attunement with my own body and work with my body and you know, just learning simple breathing exercises were things that I had been doing for years meditating. So, I just highly recommend that people find a practice like that before they become parents. It will help them so much, in birthing, in just staying calm when you’ve got an emergency with your toddler. I mean, just countless ways where a mindful practice, a meditation practice will keep you a little more centered when things get chaotic, which they do with children. That’s just part of the package.

LYSA PARKER: Oh yeah, what Barbara is saying is so true and I took Bradley and it was a form of meditation and I did not even realize it. This slowing down your breath and focusing on your breath all helping to keep the body calm and the mind calm and reduce pain.


Healing Cultural Disconnection One Parent At A Time

API Eight Principles GraphicLISA REAGAN: So, I do want to talk about attachment science as it relates to mindfulness because what this is going to do is move us into the practical and guiding insights of the Eight Principles of AP (see graphic).

(If you’re listening to this now, you can go to your pass code protected retreat page and you can see the Eight Principles are presented there as the Wisdom Nuggets and you can also go to Lysa and Barbara’s book and find whole chapters on these Wisdom Nuggets to expand your knowledge and understanding of them.)

So, we’re talking about mindfulness as a state of self awareness and self regulation and I’m wondering now if we can just turn that corner into attachment science and connect those dots, which you kind of already are. Barbara?

BARBARA NICHOLSON:  One of our eight AP principles is Responsiveness, responding with sensitivity to your baby, learning the language of love. This is the principle that runs through every one of our principles, because we’re really trying to develop that attunement and when you’re talking about regulation through meditation practices, we’re trying to help regulate our own emotional state. An infant needs the parent to regulate their emotions. They don’t have that capacity yet. They’re born so immaturely.

This is a huge disconnect in our culture – that we have a culture of young parents that are told in countless circles from their pediatrician to their neighbor, to their friend, to their mother-in-law that your baby is manipulating you, as if they are a little adult that can regulate themselves and others. It’s just a horrific myth. We’re people are selling books about sleep training and letting your baby cry it out and disconnecting from their needs. This is probably the biggest disconnect and problem that we have in the United States, this mythology and inappropriateness of projecting adult consciousness onto infants.

When we can shift into the brain science and the attachment science, we understand how immature the human baby is, their brain is like 25% developed at birth. So they all have this premature brain and they’re really kind of little marsupials. They need to be in contact with their mother, their father, their primary care givers to help them regulate their big feelings, their big emotions, their needs. That is a huge gift to the world of psychology now that attachment research is just exploding in so many different disciplines.

It is really thrilling, the science, but unfortunately it really doesn’t trickle down to parents, you know, maybe for a generation or two, and we are losing these babies that are being ignored and left to cry to train them to sleep. It’s just, it’s a real tragedy in our opinion and one that I think any parent when they’re told about this, they are relieved to know that, “Oh, well, that’s why I can’t stand to hear my baby cry. That’s why I break out into a cold sweat, because I know it’s wrong.”

We’ve even seen sitcom episodes of parents that are pacing the floor and pulling their hair out because their baby is crying, but they are told, you know, ignore them and they will finally give up, which they do. So to turn that around into a more positive, “What we are promoting by encouraging mothers to breastfeed, by encouraging mothers and fathers to learn infant massage, to sleep safely with their baby in close proximity at night – if they can be within arm’s reach – and settle them and be responsive to them at night, really only helps the parent be relaxed and confident in their parenting because they’re relaxing more into their role and trusting their instincts are right.


Adults Teach Children By Example, But What Guides The Parent?

LISA REAGAN: I want to read this quote from your book. It’s by Albert Schweitzer and he says, “Adults teach children in three important ways. The first is by example. The second is by example and the third is by example.” So, Lysa, can you kind of expand on that? I think that’s just the direction we’re going in right now.

LYSA PARKER: Oh yes, and if I may just dovetail on what Barbara was saying. You had asked about the attachment research and how it’s related and Barbara mentioned Responding with Sensitivity. Some of the attachment research that we have in our book shows it is the more sensitive and reliable mothers who have securely attached infants and parents who are warm and positive with their children. There was a strong correlation with children’s development of infancy and social functioning, especially in older children. So there is a plethora of research on sensitivity as it correlates with the development of secure attachment, which is our goal.

So how do we get there? How do we develop that secure attachment? You just mentioned Albert Schweitzer’s quote, be an example basically, by example, so that puts it back on the parents. “Oh no, I’ve got to be an example to my child. I’ve got to walk the walk, not just talk it.”

So that goes back to Preparation. That goes back to mindfulness, you know, where we’ve got to address some of our own issues that we thought were kind of covered up or coped with. What neuroscience is telling us now is that we have fantastic coping mechanisms and we can go through life thinking, “No I am not going back in the past. I am not going to delve into those areas.”

We’re not talking about getting into real deep psychological issues. We’re just talking about reflecting on your childhood experiences and I remember the fact that my mother was raised in the South and she was a big spanker. That was the only tool she had, but she did much better than her parents who were very abusive, particularly her father. I remember one time she was being, I felt particularly mean to me and I said, “Mommy, when you were a little girl, did you say when you had children, you would be nice to your children?” and she just kind of looked at me.

I think that might have been a turning point for her, because I don’t think she spanked me after that. I was pointing out to her that she was not being a good example of what I needed as a little girl, and so we can’t just raise our children in the way that we’ve done for decades and for generations: “You do as I say, not as I do.”

And I think, again, going back to mindfulness, we have to have a goal. We need a goal in order to know where we’re going. I think too often we’re just flailing at this whole parenting business. If I hadn’t had La Leche League and Barbara as my support system, who knows where I would be today, but I had my support system, so it helped me focus on, “Okay, this is what I want for my children.”

When we talk about this in our book and in our curriculum, where parents reflect on what is it that you want for your child? What kind of characteristics do you want your child or your children to have? Okay, now that you’ve done that, how are you going to get there? Do you think, we don’t say this, but it’s not going to just magically appear because you want it to. We have to be active participants and going back to the principles, we think these are guideposts for all parents. We don’t call them the eight principles of attachment parenting. We say the Eight Principles of Parenting, because we believe these principles are the core of what children need for optimal physical, emotional, and cognitive growth.

And, you know, that reminds me of the argument of “good enough parents.” There is an argument, especially among academics, that if you’re just a good enough parent your kids are going to be fine. You know, that’s true, but to be a “good enough” parent takes a lot of work and I’m now saying that even though I am cofounder of API and we wrote this book and we’ve developed this curriculum. I feel like I was only a good enough parent because I have so much work to do and I’m still doing it with myself, but also learning along the way because there is so much to know, but at least I have guiding principles to help me along the way. So in anything, in any business, in any venture, you have to have a plan. I mean, we’re not saying you have to sit down and write your goals and your strategic plan necessarily, but just have a general idea of where you want to go and then surround yourself with a web of support of people who share those same values and that will help you in your growth. That will help you be an example to your children. So, does that answer your question?

LISA REAGAN: It does. Carl Jung says, “The ideal isn’t the destination, it’s the rudder.” Our ideal is our rudder. It helps us to get where we want to go. I think of the principles as exactly this rudder, as guidance. At least you have an idea what direction you want to go and this takes me back to, when I said that Albert Schweitzer quote, it occurred to me later, you know, I think I’d like to clarify that in the paradigms that we’re talking about here, if you’re in the old paradigm and you hear a quote like that, it can feel like a crushing pressure coming down on you as a parent to “figure this out.” You have to “figure out” how to dominate and control your child and there is this head game that is going to happen.

This is what I love about Attachment Parenting International, your life’s work, because when you’re moving into the principles the idea in the new story and according to science now is that we understand, this connection is already there. Joseph Chilton Pearce says he hates to talk about “bonding” because the bond is already there. We don’t really have to do it, we just have to bring a presence and awareness and mindfulness to this bond that exists and support it.

So when you are talking about the principles, it occurred to me that there is this feedback loop that’s happening here. That parents could potentially understand that the principles are guiding them in a way to relax into this bond and into this relationship with their child so that they actually get nurtured. So their stress levels are going down. So this idea of being “an example to your child” in the Old Story is being this dominator, authoritarian parent, you have to enter your head to “figure it out” on your own. How stressful is that? In the New Story, with the guidance of the principles, we’re relaxing into the present moment and into a relationship and we’re nurtured in return. So the example you provide as a parent is now a relaxed, connected, calmer, nourished parent.


How Community Nurtures The Parent

BARBARA NICHOLSON: The other component here is that the parent needs an example. So if we didn’t have an example, which most of us did not have perfect parents, that’s where the support groups come in.


BARBARA NICHOLSON: That model is what API is based on is that parent to parent support, doing our best to be a mentor and an example to the best of our ability to young parents because they’re desperately needing to be nurtured themselves. That to me is the incredibly important component that you can’t get by sitting in front of your computer and reading about parenting. It is very important and helpful of course, but there is nothing like being around older, wiser parents and watching them interact with their children.

LYSA PARKER: Dr. Bruce Perry, he is a neuroscience researcher, started The Child Trauma Academy and he is the person that is called in for any kind of trauma that involves children, even Sandy Hook and Columbine. He goes around the country speaking about how important it is for us to nurture the human brain. He says as a culture, “We are neglecting our greatest biological gift” and that the brain is relational.

So you were talking about Joseph Chilton Pearce and the bond is already there. Well, yeah, it is there. And the brain seeks other brains and other human beings. So we are losing that from technology from the intrusion of technology. It’s a blessing and a curse, but definitely because it’s so new, we’re so infatuated with it, it is intruding into our lives and taking away those windows of opportunity for us to build those mirror neurons. We have mirror neurons that reflect off of each other and we pick up from each other our moods and our energy levels and sometimes we can even pick up thoughts of other people because we’re so in sync with our mirror neurons.

What Barbara touched on is really, really a concern for us. That parents, when they’re holding their babies, they’re checking their email. They’re checking their Facebook. Or they’re with their babies. You know, sure, they’re spending time with their babies, but they’re not being present. So that’s part of mindfulness is being aware when you’re overusing your technology and you’re spending too much time on your phone or on your computer or watching TV. So again, it goes back to our behavior and how we have to rein that in sometimes.

LISA REAGAN: I remember being a new mom and not having the internet and not having the information 17 years ago. So I am with you, but I did have a Families for Conscious Living group. I remember we carried our own FCL library books in the back of our car trunks and that’s how we got our information we desperately needed. So I’m very conflicted about this internet thing as well when it comes to parenting because the information that I was looking for back then was so hard to find.

Joseph Chilton Pearce’s books, for example, and he lived near us in Virginia! When I finally got online and found that Attachment Parenting International existed, it was just marvelous. It was wonderful. But I do need to share that I was a mother who had a very rough pregnancy and a very rough couple of months indoors in winter and when I first got to finally take my baby out, I think he was six or eight months old, and I went to my first FCL meeting, I remember wheeling up with my stroller, being all nervous, and I sat down in a group of probably 30 moms, on the ground in the park, and – I have told this story many times over the years. But, I turned away, all shy about nursing my baby. When I turned back around and finally kind of arrived in this circle of women, I watched them, marveled at them, being comfortable in their bodies.

Some of them were nursing toddlers and the toddlers would run across the circle and jump on their lap and lift their shirt and the moms didn’t miss a beat and they just kept talking to each other and passing snacks and – I have told everyone that has suffered listening to this story – that instant is when I became a mother. I did not know what it was to be a mother and I didn’t feel like a mother until I sat in that circle with these other mothers and even now, remembering what that felt like, I get kind of choked up. I felt like, oh my gosh, that was just incredible. I can’t get that on the internet. I couldn’t have that experience online.


BARBARA NICHOLSON: Lysa and I will never forget the La Leche League meeting that we went to or where we met. You know, I can picture the meeting. It was just profound. It was my first La Leche League meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. I had just moved here from Texas and it was Lysa’s first meeting. So, it was exciting for both of us to be at our first meeting in Nashville and then for us to meet sitting on this couch. We discovered we had so much in common.

But I will never forget my first La Leche League meeting in Texas, before moving to Nashville, when I was pregnant and even though I did not have my baby yet, I just felt so relieved to be in this room with all of these other mothers and they were nursing and they were talking with their kids and I was just looking around the room kind of in shock as there was a nursing toddler and I had never seen a child nurse that old. And you know, I was not appalled, but just, taken aback. But still, it was just such a relief to be, picking up on the oxytocin levels.

You know, you’re responding to that. You’re responding to that heart energy going on and that attunement. I felt all of a sudden, “I’m a mother. This is what’s going to happen to me in just a few months. I’m going to have a baby in my arms and I can come here and I can learn.” And oh, what a joy that was. I will never forget it. That was 38 years ago.


BARBARA NICHOLSON: Unbelievable that my oldest is that old now.

LISA REAGAN: Wow, 38. I didn’t know.


LISA REAGAN: I think 17 is a long time.

BARBARA NICHOLSON: Yeah. That’s such a profound event in a parent’s life, a mother’s life and a father’s life. You know, you’ll never forget that.

LISA REAGAN: David Bohm, the physicist, talks about this transmission of wisdom and insight when we are together in groups. You can find knowledge on the internet, but the wisdom I think has to be transmitted in person. The modeling is in person.

BARBARA NICHOLSON: I can remember coming to the meetings with my new baby or with a toddler and it made me want to be a better parent because I was being observed, you know. It’s almost like this thing that happens when you’re doing a documentary film. When you’re being filmed in a documentary, all of a sudden everyone’s behavior really becomes a little more aware.  So being in a group does facilitate that. You are on your game. I know going to parenting conferences, like La Leche League, the afterglow would just go on for weeks and I knew I was a better mother because I had been around people that were setting such a good example. So it’s that ripple effect that we talk about so much, when we’re doing our API trainings. That the ripple effect starts in the individual family, and then it ripples out to your friends and your acquaintances and then the whole community benefits from that.

LISA REAGAN: Well, I feel like I need to say to anyone who is listening to this call to go to and you can find a local API group if you want to connect with communities, go there now or after the call.


The Golden Rule Of Parenting: The Spiritual Essence Of Attachment Science

PAHJ Lysa and Barbara QuoteLISA REAGAN: So I wanted to move into this place that is in the back of your book and we want to take a moment and differentiate between religion and spirituality, but you do that in your book by pointing out that there is this core belief and the world’s major religions.

LYSA PARKER: Okay. I’ll be happy to. Well, we started looking at where this deep seeded belief in corporal punishment came from, right? And we talked with Bill and Martha Sears and they have some really beautiful ways of explaining the Biblical proverb “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is not a mandate to physically punish your children. They had a beautiful way of expressing that the rod was used to guide sheep and not to hit them.

This is what we call the Golden Rule of Parenting, it is the same Golden Rule that you find in all major religions that you want to treat your fellow brother and sister as you would want to be treated.  In essence, it is one of the core tenants of the major religions and so we thought, well, it no less is relevant for children even though they’re not specifically addressed in some of these quotes, but it’s really at the core of attachment parenting.

It’s about being respectful. It’s about being empathic and being loving. I mean, whatever your religious persuasion, we probably can agree that God is one and you know, I personally don’t believe that there is a different God for every religion, but that God is love. I think that most of these major religions also speak to this tenant that God is love.

So every child born into this world is a gift from God. It draws out the spiritual and sacredness of the child and that relationship that you have with the child. I think it does begin with, as you were saying, Lisa, about relaxing into the relationship. It reminds me of what we used to say and mention in our book about falling in love with your baby. I just remember that – I’m sure I heard that at La Leche League meetings – that it’s okay to fall in love with your baby. That was really profound, because then you realize how uptight parents are because culture, in very subtle, insidious ways, is telling you not to do that. It’s telling you not to connect too much, don’t get too attached and mothers having to go back to work fast and tell their doctor, “I don’t want to get too attached because I have to go back to work.”

To have that kind of permission to fall in love with your baby, allows for that spiritual growth and relationship to develop. So, in essence, what we’re talking about, spirituality versus religion we’re really talking about recognizing that the child is love. That we are all representatives of that love of God and God is within us and that we need to be reflecting that in the relationship with our children. Does that make sense?


The Real Life Resources Of Attachment Parenting International

LISA REAGAN: You know, the title of this retreat sounds so high ground. It sounds like I’m going to have to stretch to get there. It sounds metaphysical, even. But I admit this was my ulterior motive all along, to explore the profound simplicity of what you’re saying. The simplicity and the practicality and the real core of it is exactly where you have led us to now, which is: mindfulness, or relaxing into the moment, attuning to yourself, attuning to your baby, is both a spiritual path and a well-developed science that supports human development, both the parent and the child’s.

The classic Baby Book by William and Martha Sears that launched Attachment Parenting.
The classic Baby Book by William and Martha Sears that launched Attachment Parenting.

You both have been compiling the science and practical guides for attachment for over 20 years now.  So parents do not need to flounder about, there is a well-marked trail head of where to start, even though the path of parenthood is always uniquely our own.  These tools of mindfulness, and the book and its principles you have written, are comforting in their simplicity and groundedness.  However, I think it’s important to acknowledge that where we end up on the other side of mindfulness practices and attachment insights can be some very high spiritual ground.

I know James Prescott has responded to your virtual retreat (to Kindred), by the way, by pointing out that the monkeys that he was responsible for as a researcher with the National Institutes of Health in the 70s and 80s showed very clearly that if they did not have the early attachment that they needed with their mothers that they couldn’t socialize later. Their brain development did not allow for that.  Jim told Kindred his concern is that we don’t realize we also do not have access to our higher states of consciousness, such as spirituality, without the proper brain development made possible by proper attachment.  Whereas the calm and peaceful community that he was looking for creating with primates was only possible when the milestones of attachment, responsiveness to the infants’ needs, were met. Prescott’s NIH work then and now shows this is the true for humans. This is the path to our own spiritual development.

This is also the path that we find laid out in the world religions through this core tenant and this is the path that we find in our brains through brain development and neurobiology. It is all amazing to me, but I would like to point out to parents – who have made it this far through your retreat – that what we really hope to do with Parenting As A Hero’s Journey is to help us move out of this Old Story that keeps us stressed out and disempowered and into our own New Stories, through compassion and awareness through mindfulness.

I am so grateful to both of you for taking this time to come here and to lead us through this frontier territory. It is fantastic that we’re at the end of this journey with our Fellowship of the Sling, ha, and we’ve covered an entirely newde paradigm of parenthood in three weeks!

BARBARA NICHOLSON: The science and the spiritual insights are there, but our culture is not. The challenges are that we have a culture that is not quite there yet. You have to find your tribe. You have to find your Fellowship of the Sling and then when you do, you are home. You are home. You are safe. You feel like “I can raise my children in a very difficult culture, now.”

But even if you just have one or two friends that are on this journey with you, that will be enough. Lysa and I and a couple of other really hard core moms that we’ve bonded to over the years, are still on the journey together with our adult children. We talk all of the time about our adult children and it’s fascinating to watch them mature and their relationships with others and they’re on their own journey. We feel great joy in the fact that we have such a close relationship with them. It’s not perfect, you know, and we talk about that all of the time too, but we feel very close and great friendships with our children have developed through the years.

LYSA PARKER: Well, just thinking about what you said, Lisa, and you’re a great interviewer and I appreciate the time that you’ve taken to talk to us tonight and to talk with us, but this whole mindfulness journey really is, it’s not just a blessing to our children, but it’s a blessing to ourselves, because it does empower us. It helps us find within us the voice of truth and I think that’s something that has been buried in most of us because of the way that we’ve been raised and the culture that suppresses us.

I want to also add that this is so much of a women’s rights issue to be empowered, to make decisions about our birth, to have choices for birth, to have choices in how we raise our children and as we talked about earlier, how deeply the rights of women and children are. So mindfulness on the surface and in one aspect is a very benign, nurturing aspect of our consciousness, but it leads to so many other more profound revelations in our life and in our culture.

We’re trying to get this message out about attachment parenting, our long term vision if we may be so bold, as Barbara mentioned earlier, is to see world peace and envision a world peace. If we can raise our children to… if we ourselves can be more compassionate and more empathetic and more sensitive and responsive to our children, which is really all we’re asking or trying to do, then we’re rewiring not only our children’s brains for the future and their genome, but for our grandchildren and beyond.

This vision is supported by a lot of the new science and genetic science and it’s just so exciting. So all of that to say, we need to start with small baby steps. Let’s just start with mindfulness for ourselves and in our relationship with our children and not to forget the other people in our family as well, other adults in our family. So it’s a life long journey. If you want to join us on that, we would welcome you with open arms.

LISA REAGAN: I would like for our listeners who have come this far with this to know how amazing your work is right now. You do have a curriculum and you do travel the road presenting this program. Just to brag on both of you for a moment, I know that you were in San Antonio presenting to professionals not long ago who were interested in translating your work for the Latino community. Both of you have master’s degrees and are amazingly qualified women for what you’re doing. I mean, you’re really out there in the trenches and I’m so very honored to know both of you and to have known you both for my entire parenting journey. Thank you both so much.

BARBARA NICHOLSON: Right, we have known each other for a long time.

LYSA PARKER: Thank you, Lisa, this has been a real joy for us because it’s not often that we can really have this different kind of conversation, using these principles in the realm of spirituality and mindfulness. It has been a real joy for us, thank you.

LISA REAGAN: Well thank you both very, very much. I do want to just mention one more time that everyone can go to and you can find your tribe there. There are community groups all over the world that you can find right away and API has amazing supportive materials as well, which is always really important and of course you have Barbara and Lysa’s book, Attached at the Heart that you can find more information in there on the issues that we have talked about and those awesome principles. Thank you both again for coming along on Parenting as a Heroes Journey. This was an incredible journey. I am going to be listening to this one again.

Featured Image Shutterstock/RHIMAGE

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Researchers Propose “BREASTSLEEPING” As New Term And Concept Mon, 28 Sep 2015 19:34:36 +0000 Stay Tuned for Kindred’s Interview with Dr. McKenna on the term “breastsleeping.” Watch Kindred’s New Story Video Series – featured on University of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Sleep Lab website – with Dr. James McKenna on Co-Sleeping here.  Read Dr. McKenna on Kindred here.  Topics in the video series include:  Defining Our Terms: Co-Sleeping and Bedsharing; […]

The post Researchers Propose “BREASTSLEEPING” As New Term And Concept appeared first on Kindred Media.

Stay Tuned for Kindred’s Interview with Dr. McKenna on the term “breastsleeping.” Watch Kindred’s New Story Video Series – featured on University of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Sleep Lab website – with Dr. James McKenna on Co-Sleeping here.  Read Dr. McKenna on Kindred here.  Topics in the video series include: 

Defining Our Terms: Co-Sleeping and Bedsharing;  

How Science and History Support You Sleeping With Your Baby

Co-sleeping Safety Guidelines

Co-Sleeping: Public Policy and Parents Civil Rights

Dandelion Seeds Sharp

As far as titles in academic journals go, it’s quite the attention-getter. “There is no such thing as infant sleep, there is no such thing as breastfeeding, there is only breastsleeping,” reads the title of a new peer-reviewed commentary piece by University of Notre Dame anthropologists James McKenna and Lee Gettler that appears in the prestigious European journal Acta Paediatrica.

McKenna and Gettler use the term breastsleeping to refer to bedsharing with breastfeeding in the absence of all known hazardous factors. The researchers hope to legitimize it to accommodate and support the millions of American breastfeeding mothers who bedshare as they better manage their milk supply, get more sleep, strengthen their attachments and validate their roles as mothers, especially if working.


Drawing on more than 25 years of research specifically on breastsleeping mother-infant pairs, the data clearly show the need for, and benefits of, immediate and sustained contact, including nighttime contact to establish a foundation for optimal infant breastfeeding, neonatal attachment and brain growth. McKenna and Gettler propose the new breastsleeping concept to highlight the advantages of breastfeeding combined with bed-sharing in the absence of all known risk factors, and why bedsharing when breastfeeding is involved significantly reduces the risks relative to formula- or bottle-feeding/bedsharing.

The researchers propose the term in response to “Safe to Sleep” campaigns initially promoted in the United States and increasingly being imported around the world. The centerpiece of the campaigns is an unqualified recommendation against any and all bedsharing, a form of same-surface co-sleeping. The Notre Dame anthropologists fear, with good reasons, that the campaigns are potentially undermining breastfeeding, and already, at very least, are proving disruptive, causing confusion, and, in many cases, leading mothers to sleep with their babies on more dangerous surfaces such as sofas, rocking chairs and recliners to avoid bedsharing.

As discussed in the proposal, bedsharing in conjunction with breastfeeding has many documented benefits both to infants and mothers alike, which explains why after a decade of intense efforts to eradicate it, the number of families bedsharing has not declined but has at least doubled across almost all sub-groups. “Safe to Sleep” campaigns are proving to be anything but altogether “safe,” insofar as part of its program is to deny new parents leaving hospitals access to safe bedsharing guidelines, should they choose to bedshare. At the same time, these campaigns are putting lactation counselors at odds with their own ethical standards by hospital administrators threatening to fire them should they share with parents ways to reduce bedsharing risks.

McKenna and Gettler point out that over many years, behavioral and physiological studies document how breastsleeping mothers exhibit impressive behavioral sensitivities to their infants’ presence and behavior even while in deeper stages of sleep. Further justification for exempting breastfeeding mothers from the “no bedsharing” mantra is provided by a new, comprehensive British study of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and SUID (sudden unexpected infant death). Unlike other epidemiological studies, this one includes critical, often missing data on breastfeeding, and drug and alcohol use in the context of bedsharing. It shows that in the absence of these and other hazardous factors, bed-sharing is not a significant risk factor for SIDS, and after three months of age, bedsharing may well be protective.

Of course, breastfeeding alone is known to be protective of SIDS, but when combined with bedsharing, a more natural and safer sleep pattern in infants is facilitated that is characterized by lighter sleep with more arousals and more breastfeeds per night. All of this augments the protective effects of breastfeeding as protection is dose-specific—that is, the more the breastmilk, the better. Breastsleeping also potentially adds protection by helping infants to avoid the often dangerous, deeper sleep associated with formula feeding and solitary .

Because research increasingly suggests that and co-sleeping are physiologically and behaviorally interdependent, essentially constituting one integrated system (hence the term breastsleeping), it could serve as a means of resolving what has become a stagnant and unproductive, if not dangerous, stalemate between the American Academy of Pediatrics and lactation consultants worldwide, who support breastsleeping. The problem has been that the AAP has always considered bedsharing to carry one, singular, immodifiable, uniform high risk, regardless of feeding method and the overall circumstances by which it is practiced—an assumption scientifically unsupportable. McKenna and Gettler suggest that the concept “breastsleeping” may be a particularly useful concept to help open up a conversation aimed to distinguish “types” of bedsharing and a way to reduce the insularity of the committees making recommendations, especially by including parents for whom the recommendations are intended, voices neither heard nor heretofore listened to by “top-down” medical and governmental agencies.

More information: “There is no such thing as infant sleep, there is no such thing as breastfeeding, there is only breastsleeping.” DOI: 10.1111/apa.13161

“Bed-Sharing in the Absence of Hazardous Circumstances: Is There a Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? An Analysis from Two Case-Control Studies Conducted in the UK.” PLoS ONE 9(9): e107799. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107799

Provided by: University of Notre Dame

Photo Shutterstock/Vitalinka

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Count the Smiles Remember the Laughter Sat, 26 Sep 2015 01:54:35 +0000 If my worth as a father and parent can be measured, let it be by the smiles and laughter Carly Elizabeth, my wife Z and I share together. I happen to be fond of the Buddhist tradition where one, with conscious intent, negates suffering in ourselves and therefore in others. Joseph Chilton Pearce and I […]

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If my worth as a father and parent can be measured, let it be by the smiles and laughter Carly Elizabeth, my wife Z and I share together. I happen to be fond of the Buddhist tradition where one, with conscious intent, negates suffering in ourselves and therefore in others. Joseph Chilton Pearce and I often shared the irony that most of our suffering is self-inflicted. In the East there are two icons for wisdom, the Contemplative Buddha and the Happy Buddha. In a casual way we can say that negating suffering leads to happiness, that ultimate wisdom is happiness.

We are so deeply conditioned to think of genius and wisdom as content, knowing lots of stuff. Genius or wisdom is not the things we know, rather it is the quality of our knowing. It is how we think and feel, not what we think we think and think we feel. Wisdom and genius are states, not content.


My goal as a father is to be completely open and attentive to how and what Carly is relating to, to see that she is safe and by that encouraged to explore fully the experience. Since the day she was born Carly Elizabeth and I bathe together. Sometimes she melts in my arms as the warm water pours over us. Other times she is tossing various things in the tub or watches the water spiral down the drain. I wrap her in a fluffy towel, plop her in the sink and dry her hair. After, she loves to run naked, crawling on the bed, inviting a chase. Today I grabbed the corner of the comforter and tugged. Over she went laughing. Again I tugged and over she flew. Here you have, in my view, the ultimate wisdom, Carly melting in my arms and the next moment flying head over heels laughing. Wisdom is a state, joyful, happy.

What I learned from Carly today is how early language unfolds. Last week something new began. She reached in the bag and pulled out wipes, one after another. Being slow on the uptake, I began putting them back. Then I realized she had a stinky. Later she knocked on the door. Then she brought over one of my socks. Another time it was her shoes. In all these instances Carly was using nonverbal metaphors to communicate what she intended or needed. A symbol or metaphor is one thing standing for or meaning another. The use of symbols and metaphors is the foundation for language and all, so called, higher (meaning abstract) learning and imagination. (There is also a form of embodied imagination but we will save that for another time.) Knocking on the door and handing my sock is the early foundation that separates human being from all other species; in a word, ‘story.’

Sure, as time goes on we adulterated adults catch on and say, ‘oh, how smart she is.’ But Carly is always ahead of me. She is always unfolding new capacities, testing, exploring, long before I am aware of the deeper meaning. My point is, she wants and needs me to share and experience who and what she really is this moment and the next, and how frustrating it is when I don’t get it.

There is a series of books, What to Expect When You Are Expecting, What to Expect The First Year, and The Second Year, etc. Embarking on her second year the “terrible two’s” was given some currency in my wife’s book (which is really silly because Carly carries billions of years of genetic predispositions which has its own intelligence and consciousness, was in utero for months, birth was a transition and not the beginning of anything). Indeed Carly and every child this age is spreading their wings, widening the gap between their inner and outer development and what we dumb-adults see. Sure they get frustrated. You would too.

It is we terrible adults that cause the “terrible two’s” by not being aware and in sync with the unshakable need to learn that is driving the show. Trust and respect are reciprocal. If we see, relate and connect with the authentic child they will do the same with us. They may not understand the abstract need we have but they certainly know there is a need and will respond appropriately. Not always. Often their needs are acute, most often when we are not paying attention.

It is extremely challenging to keep up with the explosive learning and development of a toddler. Attention spans are short; the appetite for new experiences enormous. My wife grew up in a farming village in the Czech Republic and noted that Carly’s world is boring by comparison – no chickens, no pigs, no planting, no buildings being constructed, no ponds, no frogs, and no bands of free range children of different ages to chase after. Carly gets us, a nanny or two, and an assortment of pretty dull adults. Holding boredom at bay is not easy. No wonder most are handed a glowing techno-babysitter. Most adults are not imaginative enough to keep up with a one year old

“Do you want to read a book?” Carly smiles, nods, grabs a book and crawls on my lap. “It’s time for a walk.” She rushes to the door and knocks. “Would you like to swim (my term for bathing)?” Her arms reach up to be lifted. She is only thirteen months but she knows what these phrases mean. Perhaps not each word as we find meaning, rather the string of sounds together. Carly doesn’t know what ‘time’ is. She has no clue what it means to ‘read’ or ‘take a walk.’ But there is an association of vibrations, sounds with experiences. She connects the dots. And she is using her own symbols and metaphors to communicate her needs, knocking on the door, pulling wipes from the bag. I find that miraculous. Our lives are filled with everyday miracles that we mostly take for granted.

No matter what is going on I’m always looking for ways to touch, connect and to tease out a smile. If I am really good, I will get one of those giggling belly laughs. That’s when I know what being a father is really all about. I wonder – what today will bring?


Photo by Shutterstock/Max Bukovski

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The Birthing Zone: Secret Men’s Business (Part 1) Thu, 24 Sep 2015 15:53:58 +0000 Secret Men’s Business The Birthing Zone came out of a presentation that I gave at the 27th Home-Birth Australia Conference in 2011 in front of 400 midwives, doulas, health workers and home-birthing mothers. Throughout the conference I found myself, yet again, in awe of the fact that women’s knowledge of pregnancy and birth has been […]

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Secret Men’s Business

The Birthing Zone came out of a presentation that I gave at the 27th Home-Birth Australia Conference in 2011 in front of 400 midwives, doulas, health workers and home-birthing mothers. Throughout the conference I found myself, yet again, in awe of the fact that women’s knowledge of pregnancy and birth has been handed down from mother to daughter and from midwife to midwife, through countless generations spanning all cultures across millennia; vital skills that have ensured the continuity of humanity no less. Only in the last century has this same knowledge been eroded, with pregnancy and birth now standardised in our modern medical system run by men who, ironically,  don’t know what a natural birth is, let alone assist in one. The home-birth conference seemed to me to be a place for keeping the traditional knowledge alive. For most of the midwives in attendance, coming from their hospital background, it was a re-awakening to traditional ways that have been forced out of them by the system.

Only a handful of midwives at the conference were skilled with the knowledge, or committed to fully re-skilling themselves in the natural process of pregnancy and birthing. These were the independent midwives, those that provide a continuity of care of the mother throughout her pregnancy and the delivery of the child in the home. It is disconcerting to know that there are no more than a dozen independent midwives in Sydney, Australia’s largest city with 5 million people, and that ‘the system’ is moving closer towards trying to wipe them out of existence; trying to kill off the traditional knowledge. But they will never be successful, for women will still be birthing their babies long after the system and this civilisation have gone. The knowledge will survive as long as the sisters are tapped into their deep inner knowing. I’ve heard them say many times , ‘the body knows how to birth’.

With this positive and empowering feeling within the conference I was also deeply challenged. Counting only three men in the conference audience I felt intimidated by so many women with so much birthing experience and began questioning myself on why I was there. My original urge to present had vanished and I simply felt inadequate. My synopsis in the conference program, which I so cleverly wrote nine months before, I was now very much embarrassed by. It read:

Born in a Bucket!?!!?

“Musings on why and how we birthed our two children at home and my part in it (after copulation) as a man, husband and father.”

Men are not famous for being very helpful when it comes to birthing babies, however Gary will tear apart the stereotype and take you out of your medicalised, comatose comfort zone into the organic, dynamic world of home-birthing, as seen from his perspective… and that of a bright orange bucket.

With home-birthing legends, such as Ina May Gaskin, Robbie Davis-Floyd and (Kindred Advisory Board Member) Dr. Sarah J. Buckley in the audience, my stomach turned. No way did I feel up to the Anthony Robins style presentation I had envisaged. What the hell did I know about birthing compared to these people! How the hell did I rev myself up into thinking that I could talk to them on a subject in which they are so expert? I was scheduled to talk late Sunday morning, so I had a whole day and a half at the conference to stew in my thoughts and feelings before I exposed myself as a fraud and they sacrificed me on the alter to the Black Madonna.

When I finally took the stage and nervously set up the presentation, my notes slipped off the lectern and onto the floor. As I stooped to pick them up I suddenly became aware that I didn’t need them. With spot lights glaring in my eyes, I focused, then began telling the audience something that had been on my mind all morning. That, where we live, not two hundred metres from our door is a gully, a wide and wild grassy gully surrounded by bush, where sometimes we walk, pick apples and blackberries, and play in the creek. Part of this gully is a sacred birthing site, once used by the Gundungarra and Darug women for thousands of years. On a recent walk through the gully I spotted markings on two very old gum trees. They each had deep cuttings in the bark in the shape of a vagina. Weeks later I had the opportunity to ask the local Aboriginal elder women about the markings and they exclaimed that they are to warn the men to stay away. This is a secret women’s-business site. “When I walked into the conference yesterday”, I told the 400 women, “I felt like I had passed those boundary markers and wandered into the heart of sacred women’s-business. Part of me felt like a very naughty boy”. However, the reality was that I had been invited into the circle to present my story of how I supported my beloved on her right-of-passage into motherhood, bringing our first-born earth-side. And the nine month process of this support was my own right-of-passage as a man into fatherhood. “In this day and age we are now seeing where sacred women’s-business meets sacred men’s-business”, and that’s really what I wanted to talk about that day at the conference. Giving birth is no longer a secret, yet the knowledge of doing so is still sacred.

I received thunderous applause from the audience in this first minute of my presentation. From then on I spoke confidently and effortlessly. Far from being sacrificed to the goddesses I heard much applause and laughter coming from the audience. I even had the pleasure of seeing Ina May Gaskin, out of the corner of my eye, laughing herself silly in one part. I must say, with all humility, the talk was a triumph. The feedback was fantastic. One women said she was crying through the whole talk, out of joy. Another thanked me, ‘for speaking for the men’. Another told her friends online, ‘Gary was bloody brilliant’. Thrilled by the response I could see that these women, not by their profession, but by being women of today, had been waiting to hear something like this from a man for a long time.

My story explores the place where sacred women’s-business meets and overlaps with sacred men’s-business. And, as this story attests, that place is proving to be most powerful and extraordinary in the birthing zone. With more and more men now being invited into the circle it’s time now to put aside our fears and acknowledge and respect the sacredness of the process which women have been in tune with since we came down from the trees. In doing so we will discover the sacredness of our own inner process of becoming fathers that is intimately interwoven with the woman’s process of becoming a mother and the child’s processes of simply ‘becoming’. We will discover that the man’s right-of-passage is just as equally valid and important as the woman’s and when fused in intimate vulnerability in total love-without-fear it can become an enormous force that can move mountains. Not just in birthing but in every aspect of life and living.


Rights-of-passages in general have pretty much disappeared in our modern society. Though they are beginning to come back into the mainstream (such as with the work of the Pathways Foundation in Australia). The right-of-passage to adulthood for both girls and boys is a process of both physical and psychological change. For the right-of-passage for women to motherhood both the physical and psychological processes are utterly entwined. But the right-of-passage for men into fatherhood is purely psychological (which includes emotional). There is no physical mechanism for men, such as labor or growing pains, to show that we are going through some sort of inner process. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for men to consciously undertake the right-of-passage to fatherhood because it is this psychological shift, and only this shift, that will, at least, help us through the challenging years ahead. If the process of becoming a father is not made conscious then it remains suppressed and unprocessed which then leads to psychological trauma. The same is true for women, however they have a long tradition of physically and emotionally supporting each other, particularly during pregnancy and birth, enabling them to navigate the process much more consciously – simply because the pain of labor forces them to.

Medicalised birth generally doesn’t recognise or support the psychological process of becoming a parent. Instead, it may well be supporting the increasing rates of post natal mental health issues. We are now seeing an increase in post-natal depression in men (up to 10% of new fathers around the Western world and up to 14% in the USA are diagnosed with PND, compared with 20% for women). As well, we are also seeing a high rate of relationship breakdown in the first year after the first child is born (for Male Postpartum Abandonment Syndrome [MPAS] read Meryn Callander’s excellent book Why Dads Leave).

Just as we saw in the 1980’s that boys were, and largely still are, missing their right-of-passage into manhood, in the second decade of the 21st century it is equally important to acknowledge and promote men’s rights-of-passage into fatherhood.

A right-of-passage, for me, is simply being conscious of what is present within myself as deeply as possible as I move through a particularly profound process that leads to psychological and emotional growth, or maturity. I experience the process of becoming a father not as a structured right-of-passage ceremony set up by community elders, as in a boy’s initiation into manhood, nor even by my peers (of which both have their value), but simply as a process of being as aware as I can possibly be of my thoughts and feelings, while letting the process of ‘becoming’ unfold of it’s own accord. ‘Becoming’ means change. And this change is fundamentally about reaching a new level of understanding of relationship; primarily the relationship you have with yourself which effects all other relationships. So, either a traditional or, in this case, a contemporary right-of-passage is not something that you can simply take or leave, it is a vital process of psychological development – the continual evolution of consciousness – simply by letting, and watching, the unknown become known. If it all remains unconscious out of fear of the unknown then there is no change. No becoming. Life then becomes stagnant and stale, reactive and competitive, frustrating and confusing, childish even; until a crisis in, and of, relationship manifests to shake you out of your coma.

Let’s not wait for the crisis. Let’s move deeper.

(In Part 2 we will explore the dynamic psychological interplay of both parents’ and the child’s rights-of-passage… in the birthing zone.)


Featured Image Shutterstock/Annemarie Young

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Exam Nation – A Music Video By Robin Grille Wed, 16 Sep 2015 23:12:03 +0000 The Video Asks… Are you a student, apprentice or learner facing a test, sitting an exam or striving for a goal? This song is for you. We all have gifts and abilities that make us unique and valuable, we all have something special to give to the world. Go for what you believe in, go […]

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The Video Asks…

Robin in Music Video
Robin Grille

Are you a student, apprentice or learner facing a test, sitting an exam or striving for a goal? This song is for you. We all have gifts and abilities that make us unique and valuable, we all have something special to give to the world. Go for what you believe in, go for what you love! And…good luck!!!!

This song was written and performed by Robin Grille, psychologist, parent educator and author of Parenting for a Peaceful World and Heart-to-Heart Parenting Robin is a contributing editor to Kindred.  Read his work here and visit him on his home page here.

10 Questions To Help You Find Your Life’s Purpose Here On Earth:

  1. What do you like doing for fun?
  2. What do you care about?
  3. What makes you angry?
  4. What obsesses you?
  5. What absorbs you until you lose track of time?
  6. What do you love?
  7. What do you love?
  8. What do you love?
  9. What do you love?
  10. What do you love?

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Children, Soul And Self: The Importance Of Symbols And Dreams In Our Children’s Early Years Sun, 06 Sep 2015 02:43:00 +0000 The core of parenting for me is to help my children’s sense of self to remain as intact as possible as their personalities develop – by being as aware as I can possibly be, in each moment, of my own actions and reactions to them. To let any unjustified fears go that get in the […]

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The core of parenting for me is to help my children’s sense of self to remain as intact as possible as their personalities develop – by being as aware as I can possibly be, in each moment, of my own actions and reactions to them. To let any unjustified fears go that get in the way of them being themselves. Letting them be themselves helps them keep (to whatever extent they allow themselves) their sense of self, which, I believe, may lessen the depth that they push their soul and ultimately Self into the unconscious – as we all inevitably do to what ever extent.

The social conditioning methods of Control Parenting through manipulation, threat and punishment is based on fear, where Natural Parenting is based on love and trust. Trust that they will learn all they need to learn of social etiquette in good time. With plenty of love-without-fear (from us and perhaps from themselves) we may be hopeful of lessening the depth to which they bury soul and Self in the unconscious.

The post Jungian stream of Transpersonal Psychology believes that the time from conception to soon after birth, children are in wholeness; immersed in the “higher” elements of Self and soul, as well the “lower” elements of intuition, essence, and life-force. As their personality, or ego, forms, and they begin to become conditioned to the outside world, the world of duality and contradictions, their sense of wholeness shifts to separateness, which then creates the feeling of emptiness: existential emptiness. The pain of wholeness giving way to this very deep emptiness of existence is so great that the child quickly buries it in the unconscious and continues to develop according to their social conditioning, creating personal and cultural shadows – individual and collective baggage. (The child’s development is also influenced by the karma they brought with them and how they were birthed, but that’s another story.)

Social Conditioning

Social conditioning is important to help keep our societies in some sort of working order, but only to an extent. Most of the measures we put on our children (which were put onto us by our own parents and theirs before them) really aren’t necessary and only serve in helping the child bury her Self and soul and create a society that is psychologically repressed and orderly rather than naturally dynamic and free.

Most, if not all our life dramas and traumas come from this original burial and unconscious denial of the loss of wholeness and the false belief that we are separate. The fear of re-experiencing the immense grief of this existential pain is what most, if not all people fear. From out of the unconscious rises the threads of this existential pain but masked with a deep fear of death if they even try to recognise what lies beneath. Hence, people run from it any way they can. However, any shadow knocking on the door of consciousness that is still ignored will just get more powerful and painful. Most, if not all of the personal as well as cultural and global problems stem from this original denial and it is the beauty of a personal crisis that brings the “dark” energy up to the surface. I say beauty because, in all it’s terror, it is a gift for the opportunity to surrender to it and transform. What does die is not the body, but the ego and all its beliefs, which then serves as a clean conduit for Soul and Spirit to come into consciousness.

Dreams, Flying and Growing Up

PAHJ Will You Answer The Call with site addressI have experienced all this in the Transpersonal work that I have been doing for some years, working with modalities such as holotropic breathwork, sandplay, dream work, voice dialogue and meditation. But what is blowing my mind right now is that I can watch my children’s own personalities grow and thrive. Catching glimpses of their psychological growth solidifies further the theory and practice of the Transpersonal that is so unquantifiable simply because it is so subjective.

There is one incident that happened when my daughter was five and a half that showed me clearly the interface (if I can call it that) between wholeness and separateness – the beginning of forgetting, or burying, soul, and the psyche’s expression of the development of ego; her personality.

For a couple of weeks I observed my daughter telling people that she had, ‘forgotten how to fly’. With my love of symbolism I knew this involved her soul. I didn’t say anything. Just observed. Then one morning she said she had had a dream. This is a bit of a custom in our house – if anyone had had a dream during the night then we share it in bed that morning. Every time my daughter shared a dream you could tell she was making it up just to have a go. Which was cute. But this particular morning she didn’t make it up.

She dreamed that she was wearing a large dark blue necklace around her neck, and when she pressed the bottom bead she could fly!

What an amazing dream! We wrote it down and I have started to help her keep a dream diary. From my experience in dream work and symbol work, my interpretation is that this dream is symbolising the change from wholeness – just ‘being’, where there is nothing to ‘do’, in this instance to fly – to having to ‘do’ something in order to fly again – press the button.

With this dream her psyche is helping her transition out of that infant and even pre-form wholeness, which is in the process of being forgotten, and begin to build layers of symbols that will later serve as an inner path to uncover the source – soul and Spirit, the treasures and the gold – which she will do consciously as an adult, if she does.

Also, the necklace is very interesting. It is round. A circle. A symbol of wholeness. Perhaps the first layer of symbolism her psyche is expressing. That evening she became quite driven that she HAD to learn how to fly. Having unconsciously now rejected the necklace and it’s power she was upset that she didn’t know how and pleaded with me that we look for ways to fly. I tried to explain that “it’s all inside of you,” which she quickly rejected. So I suggested we look on the internet for ways that people fly: in planes, gliders, microlights. But when she saw videos of people hang-gliding she lit up and said, “That’s it! That’s what I want to do. When can we do that dad?”

Soul Expression and Finding “The Truth”

So now another aspect is forming, perhaps a second layer: the passion to fly! We are able to see now where our own passions may come from. Symbolic expressions of the soul crying out to be recognised. I know this is true for myself. Filmmaking, which I always wanted to do since I was ten, was an expression of my search for the truth. Little did I know it was The Truth I was looking for, not just social justice and environmental truth. Also, my passion to explore some of the earth’s great wilderness areas, go mountaineering, do multi week solo hikes, came from the deep desire to explore my inner self, to enter into the unknown terrain within and find the seemingly impossible – the Truth of my Self. It wasn’t till I learned to meditate did I realise that what I was seeking lay within. The wild landscapes served as a symbol or metaphor, or map, for the landscapes of my own psyche.

Knowing this, perhaps our passions help us stay true to our life’s journey, to what Jung called the process of individuation; our circumambulation towards the Self.

When my son was three he asked, “Why are we stuck in this world?” After recovering from shock at these deeply profound words coming out of him I asked him if he felt “stuck” in this world. “Yes,” he confirmed. I was speechless but my wife asked him where he’d rather be. “In Japan,” he said. Perhaps meaning anywhere but here. His question shows that there is something in him that also knows about not being stuck. He knows that being stuck is not how it was before. It will be interesting to see his own passions unfold as he grows.

Learning to Listen Again

Speaking of Japan there is another story which beautifully shows that there is something inside of us that already knows the Truth and it is only lost if we stop listening to it. Though, we can learn to listen again if we become more aware of the meaning of the symbolism that arises in our world – which is a projection of our own psyche onto the world to remind us to turn our attention inwards, even if only for a moment.

In June 2012 (just before my daughter’s necklace dream) my wife, the kids and I spent two weeks in Kyoto, visiting many of the the amazing Zen Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. One temple we discovered turned out to be the highlight of the trip. We took off our shoes at the entrance, gave a 100 yen donation and were directed down a set of stone stairs into the dark basement of the temple. It was pitch black. As we didn’t understand Japanese we figured out that we had to hang onto a swinging hand rail made of giant Buddha beads, like meditation beads but bigger than a fist. So we hung onto them and followed them into the dark. We twisted and turned, moving slowly, feeling our way through. My daughter was in front, then my wife with our eighteen month old boy on her back, then myself. Soon we saw a faint light and found that beneath the light was a large smooth granite stone in the shape of a dome. The idea was to spin the granite dome whilst making your deepest wish. We each spun it and made our wish. Then we continued on and made our way back up another set of stairs into the light.

We were all deeply moved by the experience. My daughter loved it. She called it, “The Gloom.” For days we couldn’t stop talking about “The Gloom,” so we decided to go back and do it again. We did and it was equally profound. This time when we made our exit, a lady, who remembered that we had come a few days earlier and could clearly see we loved this place, gave us a printed English explanation of what this place was. This is what it said:

“Zuigu-Bosatsu is symbolised by a Sanskrit character (hara) which is known as a motherly Buddha, who will grant any wishes you have if they are sincere enough to come true. The basement of Zuigu Hall is regarded as the womb of Zuigu-Bosatsu. That is why it is completely dark inside and there is supposed to be no space for your attachment. You are supposed to walk through the basement following the Buddhist beads.

“When Zuigu-Stone (which has the symbol of the hara inscribed on it) appears in front of you, you will make a wish and turn the stone with your true prayer. After you are out through the womb, you will purify yourself and feel the re-birth with the virtue of Zuigu-Bosatsu. 100 yen would be greatly appreciated as a donation.”

When I read this to my daughter – as she was so curious to know, and after trying to explain the concept of “attachment” which she had asked about – she then asked me if I wanted to know what she wished for. When she told me tears of joy welled up in my eyes. Her deepest wish was, “That God and Mother Earth would get married.”

Now this could be seen as cute, but for me it was deeply symbolic and again shows that she is still connected to her deeper knowing (as if I feared she wasn’t). To understand this we must understand that all myths in all cultures stem from the one mono-myth of the hero’s journey to wholeness, which in the language of symbolism is the marriage of opposites, male and female, Sun and Earth, which is unity: wholeness. The illusion of separateness has finally and consciously been realised and the Truth experienced. It is not the child who does this. It can only be the adult with a mature enough ego and enough consciousness that they trust (have faith) that they will not be annihilated in the process.

The Hero’s Journey

What is it in my daughter that knows that God (male, sun) and Mother Earth need to “get married,” become One? No one told her this. This is beyond intellectual conception, but not beyond her psychological, or symbolic/archetypal perception. Something in her psyche is perceiving separateness and that there is a deep need for them to get back together, to be re-united in wholeness.

As well, the death and rebirth symbolism of the womb can’t be ignored which is part of the mono-myth, the very first myth of the journey the hero has to take across the ocean in a boat or the belly of the whale (both symbols of the womb) a journey to reach the point where the Sun merges with the Earth, where it dies to be re-born the next day to take the journey again, and again, and again. (Refer to Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces). My daughter’s sheer delight in “‘the gloom” showed me that she knew this deeply.

None of us can avoid the “fall from Grace” we experience at or soon after our birth, but as adults we can perhaps help our children to not bury their soul and Self so deeply by getting out of their way, which comes from learning to get out of the way of ourselves, which in turn helps us on our own journey of surrender to the fear of non-being. By “getting out of the way,” I don’t mean abandoning them to their own devices, but by dropping our unconscious games that we play to keep “in control,” which then frees up the energetic space, or the dynamic of the relationship, so that we can hold that space in love – without-fear – enabling all involved to live authentic lives and thrive.

Featured Photo Shutterstock/Melpomene

Parenting As A Hero's Journey Paper Li Ad

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How We’re Priming Some Kids For College — And Others For Prison Sat, 05 Sep 2015 15:32:30 +0000 “On the path that American children travel to adulthood, two institutions oversee the journey.  The first is the one you hear about the most: college… Today I want to talk about the second institution overseeing this journey, and that institution is prison.” – Alice Goffman About the Video In the United States, two institutions guide […]

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“On the path that American children travel to adulthood, two institutions oversee the journey.  The first is the one you hear about the most: college… Today I want to talk about the second institution overseeing this journey, and that institution is prison.” – Alice Goffman

About the Video

In the United States, two institutions guide teenagers on the journey to adulthood: college and prison. Sociologist Alice Goffman spent six years in a troubled Philadelphia neighborhood and saw first-hand how teenagers of African-American and Latino backgrounds are funneled down the path to prison — sometimes starting with relatively minor infractions. In an impassioned talk she asks, “Why are we offering only handcuffs and jail time?”

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and much more.
Find closed captions and translated subtitles in many languages at

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