The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart
by Jan Hunt
Review by Jake Aryeh Marcus
Lower Gwynedd PA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 39 No. 4, August-September 2003, p. 86.
Jan Hunt is a counseling psychologist and founder of The Natural
Child Project (www.naturalchild.org)
whose column on issues relating to children appeared in the
Canadian magazine Natural Life from 1992 to 1999. This book is a
collection of those columns, edited and divided into sections
titled: "Parenting with Empathy and Trust," "Living
with a Baby," "Living with Children," "Guiding
Children," "Helping Children Learn," and
"Advocating for Children."
Because Hunt is an insightful author and parent who can skillfully
put fears and doubts into words, there is much in this book for
parents seeking help finding their own way and for Leaders looking
for new ways to discuss old topics. Hunt's straightforward maxims
are reassuring and consistent with a loving parent's intuition.
The overriding idea in each chapter: if it feels wrong, it
probably is. If you think you are hurting your child, stop and
deeply explore your parenting choices. If your child is physically
safe and is having a good time, let him or her be. To quote the
great home schooling advocate John Holt (and Hunt frequently does)
Perhaps because the chapters in The Natural Child were
originally magazine columns, the book is sometimes repetitious and
is at times written a bit too simply. However, this is the only
criticism of the book in which the author gathers together the
most important issues relating to the lives of children in our
culture and addresses them fearlessly.
One method Hunt uses to great effect is to turn the tables and
force us to explore how we treat children by viewing adults
treated in the same manner. All too frequently the cruelty,
unfairness, and absurdity of common child rearing practices are
instantly revealed. One startling example:
The wife accidentally spills coffee on her husband's new jacket.
He hits her. Will the wife be more careful with his belongings in
the future? Or might she have him arrested for spousal abuse?
Another of Hunt's examples:
The wife reminds her husband, who is reading the newspaper after
dinner, that it's his turn to do the dishes. He murmurs, "Mmhmm,"
and keeps on reading. The wife says, firmly, "You have to do
the dishes now! Ten, nine, eight, seven…."
Will the husband feel like cooperating with his wife? Or will he
conclude that he's married to a lunatic? And would he feel the
least bit loved?
Hunt's moral is simple: treat children as you would wish to be
treated. Sounds easy but extending this rule into everyday action
can be very difficult, as all parents know. Her view, certainly
consistent with LLL philosophy, is "The less authoritarian we
can be, while not relinquishing our role as our child's wise yet
gentle guide, the more significant and lasting will be the
learning that takes place."
The first four sections of The Natural Child contain many
lists of things to do to ensure happiness in one's child and to
guide one in simple loving parenting. On these lists are many
concepts familiar to LLL Leaders and about which Leaders and
members generally agree: extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping,
minimal parent/child separation, non-violent
"discipline," and responding immediately to an infant's
cry. When Hunt writes, "Clearly it is the parents'
responsibility to meet their baby's need for nurturing, security,
and love; it is not the baby's responsibility to meet his parents'
need for peace and solitude," one wants to cheer.
Hunt's lists also contain items about which Leaders and members
may not agree. For example, Hunt is opposed to the use of
"time-out" and believes that sibling spacing of less
than three years can emotionally damage children.
Regardless of whether one agrees with Hunt in all respects, her
arguments are always compelling and worthy of examination. The
sixth section, "Helping Children Learn," is entirely
devoted to unschooling and contains excellent research and
observation. The final section, "Advocating for
Children," is also thought-provoking and addresses a
difficult subject—what to do when we see emotionally and/or
physically damaging parenting behavior around us.
In The Natural Child, Jan Hunt explores parenting and adult
relationships with all children intelligently and without
blinking. The book can be used to reinforce, reassure, educate, or
reevaluate our many choices.
Editor's Note: "Unschooling" refers to interest-led
learning through experience, instead of a structured curriculum.
Unschooling parents trust their children to learn everything they
will "need" to know at the time they need it. It is
above all a trusting relationship with the child.
Jake Aryeh Marcus is a writer, editor, lawyer, and unschooling
mother to three boys. She is the Contributing Editor for Leaven
book reviews and has been a Leader since 1997.