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Issue 01

Conventional Parenting May Increase Unhappiness: Happiness Declining for People in the West

Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost [NY: Da Capo Press, 1986], began to suspect conventional Western parenting practices after spending time in the Venezuelan jungle with a group of Stone Age indigenous people called the Yequana, or Ye’Kuana. What Liedloff found remarkable about these people was their happiness.

In 2006, an opinion poll conducted by GfK NOP for The Happiness Formula series on BBC Two, provided evidence that Westerners are less happy than in the 1950s, despite being significantly wealthier.

Instinctual Attachment Parenting

Although not originally intended as such, Liedloff’s “continuum concept” has since become an approach to child-rearing that is practiced by parents who desire to meet the instinctive needs of their children. The continuum concept is rumored to have been Dr. William Sears’ inspiration for the “attachment parenting” approach to child rearing.

The “continuum” refers to the long chain of evolution of which humans are a part. When people are born, they have expectations built into their biology, in other words, expectations inherited from ancestors, by nature of being human.

The Instinctive Needs of Babies and Children

  • Babies expect to be breastfed when they signal the need, whenever and however often hunger arises.
  • Babies expect to be responded to when they express needs in both subtle and more overt ways.
  • Babies expect to be in constant contact with a caregiver until they can move on their own.
  • When babies learn to crawl and walk, they expect to explore freely and socialize and interact with people of a variety of ages.
  • Children expect to observe their elders doing useful, meaningful work, in which they may participate and thus become contributing members of society.

According to Liedloff’s concept, babies expect caregivers to assist them in meeting needs. They don’t feel right when those expectations are not met, so they cry out or otherwise signal their needs in various ways. In this way, they learn to communicate and form the basis for how they regard themselves and others.

 

Conventional Parenting Disregards the Needs of Babies

Babies who are consistently ignored by caregivers, may learn to disregard their own needs and sense of worth. Toddler tantrums, considered normal in civilized cultures, result from confusion and frustration from not experiencing natural human expectations for love and freedom.

Harmful Conventional Western Parenting Practices

  • Feeding babies on a schedule, disregarding hunger signals.
  • Separating babies from their mothers or other primary attachment figure.
  • Leaving babies in restraining cribs, pens, and chairs for the majority of the time.
  • Giving children toys that do not resemble useful tools and preventing children from assisting in useful work.
  • Leaving children in day care or school classrooms where nearly everyone is the same age and every activity is controlled by an adult who is not personally invested in the children’s well-being.

Many Westerners can’t imagine a different way to live, so they assume that people all over the world regard and rear children in a similar way. However, Jean Liedloff and others in the pediatric anthropology field have brought attention to a variety of child-rearing approaches that appear to provide a foundation for happier people.

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