Vitalism in the Family
At its core, chiropractic—which emphasizes the body’s innate ability to heal itself without the use of drugs or surgery—is steeped in vitalism. But although spinal adjustments make up part of the wellness equation, a vitalistic approach to healthcare means that individuals must make conscious choices to support their body’s ability to function at its best. This includes avoiding physical, emotional and chemical stressors that affect nerve system function and impede optimal health.
Although adults can understand and follow a vitalistic lifestyle with ease, things get much more complicated once they give birth to their first child. Life as a vitalistic family presents its own challenges, from how to explain the philosophy to a pint-size person to how to respond to a teenager’s rebellion to the lifestyle.
Teaching the Basics
When talking to young children about living vitalistically, it’s important to keep it simple. “Talk to them about the fact that they heal, and the body heals itself,” explains Dr. David Koch, professor of philosophy at Life University and father of one.
For example, when they get a cut, does the bandage heal the wound, or would the body heal itself even if Mom or Dad doesn’t cover the scrape? Once they understand that they themselves are doing the healing and not an outside source, you can take it to the next level. Ask them: When you eat an apple, do you just have an apple inside of you, or does it become a part of you?
“You have to make real the body’s own conscious power,” Koch says. “A person talking to a child vitalistically is describing the sickness in terms of how the body is striving to heal itself rather than a mechanist, who is describing the sickness as something that is attacking the child’s body. Then children can start to understand that they have the power within them to build themselves out of apples and peanut butter, and heal themselves when they are hurt or cut.”
Another principle of vitalism is recognizing that common childhood ailments, such as vomiting or fever, are signs of proper function, not illness. Instead of telling the child that he or she is sick, the vitalistic parent explains that the body is doing exactly what it needs to do in order to make itself well: the vomiting helps the body clean something out of the digestive tract that doesn’t belong, and a fever brings the body’s temperature up high enough to kill off a virus or bacteria.
“If our kids had a ‘sick day’ and missed school because of it, we would write their note to the school saying our child was absent ‘because of health reasons,’ not because they were sick,” says Dr. Jeanne Ohm, mother of six. “If the school questioned, it gave us the opportunity to explain this vitalistic perspective.”
“There were days we would allow our children to stay home because we could sense high stress in their lives,” Ohm continues. “Recognizing that emotional stress directly affects physical well-being, we would encourage some R&R time, something our Western society does not always support.” A day off from the hectic school-year routine may give their mind, body and spirit the opportunity to strengthen and prevent a symptomatic response from the immune system.
Vitalism isn’t just a philosophy; it’s a way of life. Living vitalistically means that you must consciously consider everything that you ingest, whether it’s a food or a thought. Everything you put into your mind and body, from the negative messages that inundate television shows and video games to the pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables, affects the body.
“The information that we put in creates a physiological response in the body,” says Dr. Lisa Rubin, director of the Student Success Center at Life University and mother of one. “When you see a negative image, the body will release chemicals based upon a negative viewpoint, and the body then has to figure out how to adapt to that.”
In order to fight back against the constant bombardment of negative images from society, many vitalists limit their family’s exposure to media, especially when their children are too young to fully understand and talk about what they’re viewing. For instance, children’s books and toys are carefully selected to ensure that they contain positive messages and images. Kids in vitalistic families often don’t watch television or play video games until they’ve reached middle-school age, and even then the content is scrutinized to make sure that it is age-appropriate.
For Rubin’s son, Palmer, video games started becoming a sticking point in their house when he turned 9. “Video games have become such a huge part of kids’ everydayness, and it was emotionally upsetting [for him] that he couldn’t dialogue with other kids and didn’t know who the characters were,” Rubin notes. “That is the biggest challenge: How do you allow your child to be a kid, enjoy themselves and just have fun, and also try to do the best of what you believe is in your philosophy.” Because Rubin believed that keeping the games out of the house was causing her son greater emotional harm than letting him play them, she allows Palmer, now 12, to play them for an hour each on Saturday and Sunday, unless he has friends over and they choose to spend their time together playing video games. Since Rubin monitors the content and ratings and keeps some games out of the house, Palmer has found creative ways to educate himself about edgier games, such as by reading video game guides.
To give the body the nutrients it needs to do the healing, vitalists eat whole, natural foods, opting for whole grains over refined white flour; organic instead of conventionally grown produce; and natural sugars, like oranges and honey, in lieu of a candy bar. While some vitalists prefer to adopt a vegan lifestyle, others choose to remain omnivores. Those who do consume meats and dairy products take a vitalist approach, opting for growth hormone- and antibiotic-free products from grass-fed animals whenever possible.
In order for children to use their innate sense to get all of the nutrients that they need to continually heal and grow their bodies, it’s important to expose them to a wide variety of natural foods as soon as they’re old enough to begin eating them, including ones that their parents don’t particularly like. “There is no right diet for my daughter that I can determine by a prior formula,” says Koch, who notes that yogurt didn’t taste like “food” to him until he turned 30. “There is only the diet that works for her, and only her body knows that diet.”
Dealing with Teenage Rebellion
Whether they’re raised in a vitalistic home or not, one thing is certain: Children will question their family’s values when they reach the teen years, if not before.
During the grammar school years, parents need only send their kids to school with a healthy lunch to ensure that they eat right. By the time children reach middle-school age, it’s more complicated. Kids are exposed to new-to-them foods in other homes and in school, and they will taste-test the boundaries. Sometimes, teens are just curious about what the “forbidden” foods taste like. But often, children give in to temptation because of peer pressure—if they don’t eat what everyone else is eating, it can affect their social status.
“We keep our food selections at home healthy,” Ohm says. “Most of our kids choose to select the best foods they can when not on the home front, but one of our sons had a voracious sweet/carb tooth. Eventually he discovered he preferred good foods, but it wasn’t until he was old enough to really grasp the need for healthy nourishment and was able to recognize he felt better when eating the better foods. I believe if we give kids the room to discover on their own and we stay consistent, they will eventually come around to what is best for their individual selves.”
One interesting perspective is that rebellion in a vitalistic home isn’t viewed as a rebellion against either the rules established by the parents or the parents themselves. Rather, it’s the children rebelling against their own responsibility to listen to their innate, vital intelligence and do what is healthy for their body, whether it’s wanting to experiment with alcohol or binge on candy bars.
“We were ready to give our daughter that power as soon as she was ready to take it,” Koch says. “When you have raised someone with an attitude that says, ‘Your body knows what it is doing,’ then it is easy to help them learn the lesson the first time they try all those things that they think that they want to try, even though they may be bad for them.” Whether it’s harmful or healthful, he says, “your body is going to tell you.”
A Lifelong Lesson
For vitalists, raising their children doesn’t end when they leave the nest. Rather, they continue to provide each child with the support and resources necessary in order for his or her true self to emerge, which will happen naturally if given the opportunity.
“I am a teacher, and I have lots of children in that sense,” Koch says. “Students come to me and say, ‘Help me become who I can become.’ I say, ‘I will do that, but I will do that vitalistically, because I can’t tell you who you are becoming, and I can’t give you that becoming; you can only create that for yourself.’ With a lot of other child-rearing, people believe that children will fail to raise themselves properly if you don’t do something about them; they need to be directed and molded and shaped. I don’t believe that at all. I believe that they need to be provided resources, but that children have the perfect capacity to direct and mold and shape themselves.”
About the Author:
Jennifer Maciejewski is a writer and the mother of two (mostly) well-fed girls, Katie, 8, and Liz, 5. She can be reached via her website at JenniferMaciejewski.com.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #26.
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