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A 21st Century Manifesto For Parenting

By John Breeding, PhD

Is Western civilization harming our children?

Let’s look at the evidence. If health indicates the quality of an individual’s relationship with his environment, then increases in chronic illnesses among children reflect our society’s failure. If literacy and psychological well-being indicate the quality of child development, then the growing numbers of illiterate, “learning-disabled” and otherwise psychiatrically afflicted children signal failure, as well. If drug addiction, violence and incarcerations reveal failed character development, then the way we raise young people is a disaster.

Parenting is always a difficult challenge, but these days it is especially hard, considering the lack of support in our society and the sense of alienation and separation within our communities.

Such is often the effect of a society that values militarism, industrialism and capitalism. It’s not that parents are doing a bad job; most are doing heroically well under the circumstances. Nevertheless, the decline of civilization as we know it may be seen in the tremendous stress and neglect from which so many of our children suffer. Denying this effect only supports its perpetuation, whereas facing it allows for the possibility of real help for our children, in the form of everyday actions by parents. In his latest book, It’s a Meaningful Life, Bo Lozoff, director of the Human Kindness Foundation, makes a statement that puts into perspective the apparent negative orientation of so many religious precepts. Here is what he has to say:

In fact, most of the great spiritual commandments, precepts, and teachings throughout history have been merely guidelines for what we should stop. Most of the ten commandments start with “Thou shalt not”; the Buddhist precepts and Hindu Yamas and Niyamas start with “non-,” as in non-killing, non-stealing, non-lying. Contemporary people have often complained that the ancient teachings are too negative, but the reason they are phrased negatively is that there really isn’t anything to do in order to realize the Divine Presence, the natural Holiness life offers. We merely have to stop thinking and acting in ways that are harmful or selfish or off the mark. The great teachings unanimously emphasize that all the peace, wisdom, and joy in the universe are already within us; we don’t have to gain, develop, or attain them. Like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight, there’s no need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds, and sky; we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, who we already are—as soon as we stop pretending we’re small or unholy.

I could characterize nearly any spiritual practice as simply being: identify and stop, identify and stop, identify and stop. Identify the myriad forms of limitation and delusion we place on ourselves, and muster the courage to stop each one. Little by little deep inside us, the diamond shines, the eyes open, the dawn rises, we become what we already are.

In that spirit, I offer the following manifesto. Its intention is to protect our children and uncover the truth that it is good to be alive. It may be seen as a spiritual practice, supporting us to identify and stop that which obscures the glory of our children’s, and our own, true natures. The words are strong, but they’re what I believe.

I recognize that as a parent, it is my responsibility to protect the well-being of my family from the dangerous and detrimental practices of our Western society. Therefore, I have vowed to keep my eyes open, to educate myself and to provide protection for my children to the best of my ability against the most grievous harms, including the following:

Unnecessary prenatal trauma. We have now verified scientifically what aware mothers have always known—that babies are enormously affected by their prenatal experience. It is the responsibility of parents to see that mothers are wellnourished and protected from stress overload. It is encouraging to remember that some cultures actually use the prenatal time to connect with the baby’s soul, to get a sense of its purpose for this life. Taken literally or metaphorically, this is a wonderful reminder of the perennial spiritual wisdom reflected in the words of Kahlil Gibran, “Your children are not your children.” We parents are the protectors and guardians of an awesome being during its years of physical and psychological development. What a glorious task!

Unnecessary birth trauma. We also know that the birth experience can be a most powerful determinant of well-being. While much has been done to reclaim this natural process from the mid-20th-century extremes of medical technological control, it remains true that unnecessary drugs, the use of force and other harmful birthing practices unduly hurt many mothers and babies, both as individuals and in their relationship to one another. It is the responsibility of parents to ensure as natural and gentle a birthing experience as possible. This includes protecting against the routine separation immediately afterward, which can disrupt the bonding of mother and infant.

The trauma of circumcision. This harmful, painful and unnecessary relic, justified by cultural, religious and pseudoscientific superstition, should be avoided.

The trauma of in-arms deprivation. In-arms deprivation is a term coined by Jean Liedloff to characterize the effects of a very specific unmet need—the need to be carried in arms, and to be held virtually all the time in the first six months of life. Many older children and adults are believed to suffer from anxiety and irrational dependency because of this unmet need from infancy. Additionally, many are somewhat detached and shut down, and don’t even think they need physical touch and affection. What a gift for parents and children to delight in close touch and affection all the years of their lives!

The trauma of vaccinations. Vaccine manufacturers are making new vaccines every year, and today’s children receive dozens more than any generation in history. Regardless of vaccine efficacy, which in itself is worth examining, this can create a heavy toxic overload with effects that can linger through a lifetime. The fact that our children are sicker than ever before should cause us to deeply investigate all chemicals, drugs and medical intervention to which our children are routinely exposed. While governments push for more coercion in this area, it is we who remain responsible for our children’s health. Much is known about the dangers of various vaccines, and because children aren’t in a position to offer their informed consent on what is injected into their healthy bodies, parents should be fully educated on this subject before taking any kind of action.

The trauma of toxic and unhealthy foods. America’s food industry is a callous and mercenary exploiter of children; the horrible effects of massive intake of processed foods, sugar and toxic substances on our children are enormous. Parents must resist this damaging influence and do everything they can to see that our children are well-nourished. At the least, this means restriction of sugar (in all its disguises), chemical additives and preservatives, fast foods and processed foods. For many this also means restriction of dairy and, for some, of other common allergy foods such as wheat and corn. Plenty of pure, adequately filtered water is essential, and should be available in homes and schools.

The trauma of separation from nature. What a great tragedy it is to deprive a child the experience of hours in the natural world of earth and sky, grasses, flowers, bushes, trees, water, bugs, birds and animals of all kinds. It is so much more important that children play with dirt than with video games. More free-play time should be reinstated at schools, instead of limited.