Screw the "natural" way
This article was medically reviewed by Alice Jang, pediatric nurse practitioner.
I am so freaking sick of people telling me to do something as a parent because it’s “more natural.” When I’m making parenting decisions, I don’t think about what’s natural, I think about what’s best for me, my husband, my kids, and the family as a whole. Whether a particular choice is natural (whatever that means) doesn’t factor in.
I used to love doing things in what I thought was the natural way. So much that I worked on an organic farm after college. The main thing I learned there was how grateful I am that society has moved beyond subsistence farming and most people have the option to do something with their lives other than live off the land in the most natural way possible.
After that, I worked at an energy policy think tank, where my policy wonk colleagues eviscerated the idea that we can solve climate change by turning back the clock on modernity and living more naturally. No, they argued, technology and human ingenuity is a good thing—maybe one of the best things about humanity. It’s a perspective that almost anyone serious about tackling climate change now shares.
I wish that the same kind of paradigm shift would happen around parenting norms. No, we don’t all do things exactly the same way as our grandparents did when it comes to parenting. But we don’t live in the same world that our grandparents did. And anyway, we shouldn’t look at the past with rose colored glasses. Lots of things are better now than they were then, much of it thanks to advances in medicine.
I’m glad I gave up trying to be natural all those years ago, because it’s allowed me to make better parenting decisions. A few examples:
- I got an epidural. I was in labor for 48 hours and around 24 hours in, all I wanted was to be dead. I had a doula, I read the Mindful Birthing book, I knew all the natural pain management techniques. But the actual experience of labor taught me that sometimes—often!—nature inflicts meaningless suffering. I am so grateful to modern medicine that I didn’t have to experience natural labor (not to mention that doing things the natural way would have literally killed both me and my baby, but that’s another story!).
- I pumped from day 1. I figured out by accident how wonderful it is to NOT let the baby determine your milk supply in the early days. My baby spent time in the NICU so I ended up pumping a lot in the beginning. This meant that there was never an expectation that I was the only one who could feed the baby, which was a WONDERFUL thing for my mental health. The lactation consultant warned me that this might cause oversupply and trouble with my son’s latch, both of which occurred (and both of which resolved on their own within a few weeks). Either way, totally worth it for the sense of autonomy that pumping gave me. (And yes, formula feeding is also not natural and completely fine.)
- I sleep trained. I love my kids, but I have a deep need to have zero contact with them from 7:30pm to 7am. I will forever be grateful to full on cry-it-out sleep training for making this (mostly) possible. Is it natural? No way—primates don’t sleep train. But it’s made me a better parent and a happier person.
Of course, the decisions I made won’t be right for everyone. Each family needs to decide what its own values and priorities are. But as far as values go, trying to be “natural” doesn’t hold up very well. You probably didn’t expect to see Nietzsche quoted in a parenting article but I can’t think of anything that better explains why:
“According to nature" you want to live? O you noble Stoics, what deceptive words these are! Imagine a being like nature, wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purposes and consideration, without mercy and justice, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time; imagine indifference itself as a power - how could you live according to this indifference? Is that not precisely wanting to be other than this nature? Is not living - estimating, preferring, being unjust, being limited - wanting to be different? And supposing your imperative "live according to nature" meant at bottom as much as "live according to life" how could you not do that? Why make a principle of what you yourselves are and must be?