Learning to Walk

Yesterday my son learned to walk.

That is to say that he walked across the room to me without falling to his knees and crawling the rest of the way. It is a skill he has been working on for the past few weeks. He took his first “step” about a month ago and has been averaging 3 or 4 here and there until yesterday when he walked several times to his destination. A milestone for certain in his development.

Last night he woke around midnight and cried for half an hour straight. Waking in sobs, refusing to nurse, nothing I did would console him. Eventually I lit a candle which seemed to calm him down and gave him a carrot to chew on this seemed to help ground him and he eventually settled back into a fitful sleep in which he cried all night long. My son is 13 months old and has always been an avid nurser. In fact before last night I can’t think of a single time he refused to nurse when he was in distress.

As I was racking my brain trying to figure out what was wrong with my poor little boy I remembered something I had read in You Are Your Child’s First Teacher:

“People working out of Steiner’s indications have observed that when the child achieves uprightness and walks, it is freeing itself and asserting its individuality; they have felt that achieving similar freedom in the area of nutrition is appropriate for the same time as well…One of the tasks of the first seven years is for the child to assert his individuality by overcoming or remolding the forces of heredity; because these forces are particularly strong in the milk, prolonged nursing of toddlers is viewed with alarm.”

I remember reading that paragraph with alarm. What of the extended breastfeeding movement? I have read elsewhere that Anthroposophists are known to recommend beginning weaning as early as 4 months! Truly this ought to be seen as a flaw in the logic of these purists who seem to have misinterpreted Dr. Steiner’s works.

The virtue for the child of the mother’s milk, for example, lies in the fact that there lives in it what was called in the archaic language of an earlier way of thought the “good mummy” in contrast to the “bad mummy” that lives in other products of excretion. The whole mother lives in the mother’s milk. Mother’s milk is permeated with forces that have, as it were, only changed their field of action within the organization.

Curative Education – Lecture 12

Where perhaps these early weaning advocates have gone wrong is in their interpretation of what he says about the nature of human milk. Steiner discussed that the properties of mother’s milk cannot be measured by nutritional content alone. He believe that the mother’s milk served to awaken the child and lead them forward in their development just as from within the physical womb into the protective arms of the mother and her chest. The forces of growth that were anchored in the metabolic system (limbs) when the child was in the womb have now moved into the rhythmic system (heart) giving them a spiritual content that nourishes much more than the physical body.

For up to the time of birth, these forces are active in the region that belongs in the main to the system of metabolism and limbs, while after birth they are chiefly active in the region of the rhythmic system. Thus they migrate within the human organization, moving up a stage higher. In doing so, the forces lose their I content, which was specifically active during the embryonic time, but still retain their astral content. If the same forces that work in the mother’s milk were to rise a stage higher still — moving, that is, to the head — they would lose also their astral content and have active within them only the physical and etheric organization. Hence the harmful effect upon the mother, if these forces do rise a stage higher and we have all the abnormal phenomena that can then show themselves in a nursing mother.

In mother’s milk we still have therefore astral formative forces that work spiritually; and we must realize what a responsibility rests upon us when the time comes to let the little child make the transition to receiving his nourishment directly for himself. The responsibility is particularly great for us today…

Image from Adventures in BreastfeedingWhat Steiner tells us here falls in line with the teachings of Anastasia the Russian recluse from The Ringing Cedars Series of books. In The Space of Love Anastasia discusses the importance of mothers only holding in their hearts and minds “the purest of thoughts” while nursing their young children. If we are to draw a parallel to what Steiner discusses in his lecture we can begin to understand that what is offered by mother to child through nursing penetrates deeper than merely nutritional content (as any nursing mother will tell you). That truly nursing is a unique experience between mother and child one that only she and the child can say when they are ready for it to end.

For some mothers it makes perfect sense and is best for both mother and baby for weaning to take place around the time of walking (or sooner!) as nursing longer can actually become harmful to her well-being and thus her relationship with her child. She may innately sense the forces in her body and limbs changing and then begin a transition of weaning. While for other mothers nursing beyond the years of infancy throughout the whole early childhood is what feels comfortable and nurturing to her. To say that one way is right and another is wrong without looking carefully at the individual and her situation is to completely miss the point. It is nursing beyond when a mother feels comfortable that is what ought to trigger alarm, not a set timeline or schedule.

For us as educators, childcare workers and guardians it is important to extend the responsibility of the mother to ourselves so that we may assist and support her and her child in their journey. Particularly in those first three to seven years when the child is undergoing such intense transformation. We must learn to ask the questions surrounding breastfeeding and hear the answers without judgement of any kind and listen to gain a better understanding of what that child and mother might need.

If we are going to hold our children it is important that we acknowledge and allow space for these huge transitions of growth. Human beings are the only animals who walk erect against the forces of nature. “No instinct will ever bring it erect” – in the first three years the amount of growth that a child will undergo will never again be repeated in their lifetime. As I held my infant son in my arms last night and he refused his normal source of comfort (breastfeeding) we underwent a transition in our relationship. This transition is likely what anthroposophists and Rudolf Steiner were referring to. Another layer of the protective sheath of infancy which held him as he grounded into Earth was unveiled. In those wee hours of the night it was palpable.

This morning my son is happy and like his normal self if not a little more “detached” from me than he was yesterday. That is the process of parenting and the true purpose served by attachment parenting to form strong attachments with our children so that they may detach with confidence and move forward into the world as healthy confident capable human beings.

If you are seeking further information and perspective on Steiner’s views I strongly recommend going directly to the source and reading his lectures themselves rather than listening to the “hype”. For a nicely grounded take on some of the common myths of anthroposophy Waldorf without Walls is a wonderful resource.