It seems we have lost many of our instincts through lack of use or by overriding them for modern purposes.
When I was pregnant for the first time, I began to feel an intense drive to protect and provide for my baby, and that continued fiercely after he was born. At night, I could wake up whenever he stirred, let him nurse whenever his body language told me he needed to, and he slept peacefully and safely on my chest or snuggled beside me like a kitten with its mother cat.
When he cried, it tore at my heart, and I felt very strongly compelled to comfort him. It was a strong physical drive, a compulsion, a intense need of my own, to respond to my baby’s needs. This was hard when going somewhere as modern cars require babies to be buckled into carseats not mother’s arms, so we cocooned at home a lot.
And it was hard, at first, when relatives who felt entitled to hold the new baby swooped him out of my arms, and they ignored his cries when he wanted to come back to me. After only a few family visits, my innate shyness and lifetime eagerness to please my elders was superhumanly overridden by the primal drive to listen to my baby, and keep him calm and comfortable in my arms. I channelled my inner fierce mother cat, and was able to firmly and confidently say no, when others thought it was fine to let my baby to cry for me while loving elders held him for their own pleasure. My instincts told me the meanings behind the sounds of his cries, and my instincts drove me to listen and respond.
Society told me I was too attached, spoiling him, overprotective, possessive. Society told me I was too emotional, needed to get out more without the baby, should go back to work. Society told me women with graduate degrees shouldn’t waste their education. Society told me bottles, babysitters, pacifiers, cribs and electric monitors, were just as good—no—were *better* for the baby than having just mama. Society posted a billboard on the freeway near my town with a giant photo of a newborn lying on her back in a crib wearing a onesie with the words, “I (heart) my crib”, stating this was the only safe option for loving parents. I literally gagged. Society told me that holding my baby while he slept was ridiculous and dangerous, even though that’s the only way he would sleep for the first year. I learned to hold him in a carrier during the day, and I got very strong, and I cherished the moments which I instinctively knew would pass all too soon.
To the emotional mother of an infant at the end of her six-week maternity leave, dropping her tiny baby off at daycare, society says, “I know it’s hard, but you’ll get use to it. We all had to do it too. It’s harder on us than it is the baby. Daycare is better for him. He’ll be fine.”
To the emotional mother of a tightly clinging, crying three year old, trying to drop off to near strangers at preschool, society says, “Let go, pry him off, don’t look back. He’s too attached. Getting away from you will be good for him. Drink wine. He’ll be fine.”
To the emotional mother of an eight year old school-refuser, with stomach aches, nightmares and depression due to fears of bullies, anxiety from academic pressure, and stress from being away from home and mama and happiness too many hours, days, weeks, months, years, society says, “Homeschooling would be a cop out. Make her face her fears. She needs to grow up. Don’t baby her. She’ll be fine. Maybe meds will help. She has to learn.”
She has to learn that society demands we ignore our instincts that tell us to get ourselves the hell out of dangerous, oppressive situations. She has to learn that society demands we ignore our strong desires to be with our mothers and fathers when we are babies and children. Eight year olds should be completely adjusted by now to being on their own at school every day.
She has to learn to ignore her instinct to seek out interesting things and leave the boring ones. She has to learn she can’t have everything she wants, she isn’t special, she doesn’t deserve anything unless she earns it with good behavior. She has to stop being so attached to her parents. She has to learn to do what is expected regardless of her feelings, regardless of how boring, monotonous, frustrating, limiting, difficult, stressful, hurtful, overwhelming, draining or scary. No one cares about her feelings. She has to follow the same rules as everyone else. She has to learn to get along with all kinds of people. She has to get up when the alarm rings, not sleep when she’s tired; Learn to wait till eating time, not eat when she’s hungry; Train herself to go only at bathroom time, not when she feels the urge; Sit still when she needs to move; Participate even when she has a bad cold and would rather be snuggled on the couch with her mom, but can’t because rules say you can’t miss school without a written excuse from the doctor; Study all the subjects required for her age, not just the ones she’s interested in; Go to the same class for seven hours every weekday for nine months, even though her teacher clearly dislikes her and treats her meanly and therefore several of her classmates do too; Ride the bus twice a day with older kids who’ve been doing all the above for many years and who attempt to ease some of their own frustrations by behaving as wildly inappropriately and rudely on the bus as they possibly can.
She has to learn to tolerate, fit in, don’t tattle, be a big girl, don’t be a baby, don’t complain, we all have to do things we don’t want to do. She has to get good grades by learning how to please the teacher and get correct answers on the tests. She has to do great in school so when she grows up she can be successful, Be Somebody, live up to her potential and contribute to society in a meaningful way by having a good career, making good money, paying taxes, buying a big house, cool car, stylish clothes, exciting vacations, sexy hairdos.
She has to learn to ignore her useless instincts so that when she becomes a mother she will know it’s best not to cave to her little child’s desires to be with her, even when she feels an inexplicable twinge of pain deep in her heart at the sound of his cries. She will know, despite her silly primitive instincts, in the modern world, babies’ and children’s needs are not nearly as important as Society’s.
written for the Always Learning discussion on Yahoogroups
May 17, 2017
I grew up being told in school that humans have no instincts. That animals live by instinct and inate knowledge, but that humans only know what they learn from books and other humans. Teachers and books. Otherwise, nothing—no ability to build a shelter, or to prepare food, or anything.
Friends of mine who were born ten or fifteen years after I was who were taught the same thing in school and even at university.
Unschoolers have sometimes found that their children know whether they're hungry, and what they're hungry for, in the absence of scheduled, pre-prepared meals that they're pressed to eat. Unschoolers have discovered that in the absence of an enforced bedtime, kids can feel when they're tired, and will lie down
One interesting side benefit of unschooling can be that the parents can begin, themselves, to feel those natural feelings. It can help if they are biological parents and experienced the change that can naturally happen when seeing (touching, smelling, hearing) one's own newborn. Not every parent changes, but most do. Some adoptive parents can get a wave of instinct (whatever that biochemically-triggered parenting effect is) that can change them, too.
I want to share (and collect links to, or examples of) what instincts are like—how we can read natural signals our bodies give us.
Here very anonymously (I hope—if you recognize it keep it forever secret) is a collection of responses to a question about why...
Why does anxiety make it so hard to eat?
Every bite feels like eating a tire.
Tense muscles are my guess?
Omg I totally feel you in that
Yep. And that's only if you actually make the effort to eat, because there's nothing you'd rather do less when you're anxious. And when I say 'You" I mean "me".
I know the feeling. My stomach gets so tight that the food looks and taste horrible and one bite makes me full.
Sandra Dodd (Respondent 5):
Fight or flight.
Your body wants to be ready to GO.
The next fear level is to eliminate what's in the digestive tract, one way or another (or both).
You body is telling you not to eat. Instinct.
I don't know. Feels like your stomach is in your throat and nothing has any taste. Mouth is too dry to even chew properly
Summary note from Sandra: If food tastes like you should not eat it, don't eat it. If one bites mkes you full, don't eat two. If one of your children balks at certain food, don't press him to eat it. Listen to your body's clear signals. If you get hungry, you'll FEEL hungry, and you might even know exactly what you would like to / should / can best eat, if you relax and pay attention.
The Full Plate Club