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Continuum Concept Philosophy and Modern Parenthood

Monika CatanzaroPhoto: Monika Catanzaro

 

I read The Continuum Concept when my oldest daughter Cassandra was two, after reading dozens if not hundreds of books before it. And I never read another parenting book after. This one was it. It so resonated with every part on my being that I knew that I just had to somehow find a way to apply it in my Western life. So, I made it my mission to do just that. And it was not easy. It took a few years, a wholehearted and unwavering commitment to it, and many tears on my part and on the part of my poor first child and guinea pig, Cassandra. But what I can gratefully say is that once it really clicked, once I really connected to this place in me which was awakened when reading the book and instinctually knew how to take care of my little ones, parenting became so easy.

 

I feel I owe Jean Liedloff (the author of the book) the incredible joy and ease I experienced in raising my 3 now grown daughters, as well the (mostly) intact spirits they get to walk through life with, which is so completely different from what my experience of life is.

Here are a few examples of things I got to experience in my family, which I completely credit to my embodying the teachings from the book:

  • I truly felt like I was done parenting with each of them somewhere between the age of twelve and fourteen.
  • They excelled academically, once they chose to leave unschooling and attend school of their own choice, without any manipulation or imposition of any rules from my part.
  • I experienced no teenage rebellion or ‘acting out.’
  • There was very little conflict in my home.
  • My daughters, though loud and rambunctious, were incredibly well behaved.
  • I didn’t worry about them once they left their home state to go away to college.
  • I fully achieved my parenting goal.

What I most wanted for my daughters was for them to have an unshakable sense of self, be self-confident, inner-motivated, self-sufficient, and have the ability to find their own happiness in the world. I can say with a resounding ‘yes’ that I’ve achieved it, in spades, with all three of them. The word that comes to me, watching the way they move about in the world, is ‘unencumbered.’ Something I myself long for and have worked pretty much full time on, for seventeen years, to achieve in my own life. So what are the core things I took from the book and applied to my family, to my parenting?

SIX CORE PRINCIPLES

There are six core principles which guided me to those results, and which I now help parents integrate in their families, through my Clean Parenting™ program. This work leads them to the same ease and harmony in their families as I had in mine, while also ensuring that their children’s spirits remain intact.

1. Believing Children Are Innately Good and Cooperative

If you’re reading this article, my guess is that you already know that your children are intrinsically good, that they don’t need to be ‘made’ good, that they’re not inherently flawed, bad, or needing to be fixed. But what most parents don’t know is that children are also innately social. They really want to do the right thing. They want harmony, want to cooperate, want to make us happy. This is something that’s rarely understood by parents and that very few of us actually know how to apply to our benefit.

Humans are social mammals. It’s built into our DNA to want to belong, want to fit into a tribe, learn from our elders. It’s built into us for survival of our species. We don’t want to be rebellious. It’s our conditioning that turned us to that. When we’re deeply connected to the knowing that children are innately good and cooperative, it infuses every word we use, it guides how we approach any situation. It gives us access to responses and strategies that we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. It allows us to tap into our children’s innately loving and cooperative nature. If you’re coming from this place and your child acts out, you’ll ask yourself why he’s doing what he’s doing, and address the cause of it instead of imposing a consequence or punishment which will only serve to temporarily control the behavior, won’t address the real issue, and will damage your connection with your child, and your real ability to influence them, from a place of trust.

For example: If your child hits his younger sister when she knocks over his block tower, you’ll ask yourself what’s going on for him that he’s resorting to hitting. It’s likely that he’s frustrated that he can’t freely play his game anymore. He may still be trying to adapt to having a younger sibling and miss having all the attention to himself. He likely doesn’t know how to positively channel his anger feelings. He likely doesn’t know how to protect what matters to him in a way that’s respectful of others. By asking yourself why your child behaved in the way he did instead of controlling his behavior, you have an opportunity to understand him, help him process what he’s struggling with, and to teach him positive and respectful ways of going after what he wants. As all this happens, he becomes an increasingly happy, cooperative, and easy to be with.

Humans are social mammals. It’s built into our DNA to want to belong, want to fit into a tribe, learn from our elders.

2. Being on the Same Team

Arguably the most important thing you can focus on in your parenting is being on the same team as your children. When you’re treating them as though they’re on your team, you’re nurturing their sense of inner rightness. You talk with them and not at them. You engage their cooperation. When your children feel that you’re on their team, they want to please you. They’re open to your input. They trust what you tell them.

So many of our relationships and interactions have an adversarial undertone to them that we don’t even notice it. There’s often a sense that one person is trying to get something from the other, is trying to convince the other of something, is trying to get their needs and preferences met over the other.

Working on creating an attitude of being on the same team means that we’re never trying to meet one person’s needs or preferences at the exclusion of another’s. We deeply value the other person’s experience as well as our own, and look for win-win situations.

Here’s what it looks like in a family that operates on the ‘everyone is on the same team’ principle:

  • Everyone’s needs and preferences matter equally
  • Everyone feels that their needs matter
  • Parents and children look for win-win situations
  • There are no double standards
  • There are no punishments, rewards or any other attempt to manipulate
  • Disagreements are handled with discussions, respect, and a focus on connection, meeting needs (as opposed to desires) and tapping into each other’s desire to cooperate
  • Parents listen to children’s feedback and take action on it

When your children feel that you’re on their team, they want to please you. They’re open to your input. They trust what you tell them.

3. Being a Clear and Benevolent Leader

What I’ve come to call clear benevolent leadership is one of the concepts most unique to The Continuum Concept, and is the hardest to embody, because most of us have had no examples of it in our lives. Being a leader as a parent is tapping into the natural order of things, from an evolutionary perspective, in which children look to their elders to learn about the world and for guidance on how to conduct themselves.

The thing is that young children don’t have the experience nor the big picture in mind to make decisions, in many situations. Therefore it is normal and healthy for us to make those decisions for them, for our family. This organically and quickly shifts as they get older and grow in their ability to make decisions. At the same time it’s critically important that we guide them in a way that is totally respectful, nurtures their sense of self, and doesn’t in any way damage our relationship with them.

Here’s what it looks like:

  • It’s really a way of being, a stance where we are clear, loving, and grounded in ourselves.
  • We deeply understand that our children are eager to contribute and cooperative.
  • We know that they’re are innately caring, compassionate, responsible, loving, etc., so that we don’t have to coerce them in any way to get them to act the way we’re directing them.
  • We know that they want and need to learn from us how to function in our society.
  • We completely respect and trust them.
  • We always take their needs into account.
  • From this place, we offer information matter-of-factly, knowing that they’ll welcome it and act on it.
  • We don’t pussyfoot around setting limits or telling them not to do something, because we don’t fear that it’s going to negatively impact them.
  • Nowhere in our words or attitude is there a hint that they’re bad or wrong.
  • It’s understood in the relationship that it’s our place to teach our child that they automatically look for our feedback when not sure how to do something.
  • If they are doing something that’s not appropriate, one look will be enough to understand and shift their behavior because of the level of trust that’s present.
  • Often, all that’s needed is a look, (This is isn’t in any way done in a judgmental or shaming perspective, but from a very deep mutual understanding that it’s the parent’s job to show the child the way.)

It does take work to integrate, but I promise that once your leadership is established, your life will be so much easier! It might be even straight up easy, as mine was, so it’s well worth the time and focus to achieve it. And it is well worth doing any inner work you need to do around this to clear what’s in your way of embodying it.

If children don’t feel your clear leadership, they will act out as a way to express their inner discomfort. Their acting out is not a call for more freedom but a call for clearer guidance, for the leadership that will make their world feel right and will make them feel secure.

Being a leader as a parent is tapping into the natural order of things, from an evolutionary perspective, in which children look to their elders to learn about the world and for guidance on how to conduct themselves.

4. Not Being Child-Centered

Another point that is unique to The Continuum Concept is that of not being child-centered.

As parents, we need to create lives that feel good to us, in which we focus on our own tasks and interests, while our children are on the periphery. What we do should be compatible with our children, but our lives are not about them and their activities.

Having our children be our entertainment causes a shift from their intrinsic motivation and their own connection to their activities, to an extrinsic motivation where they aim to please us and get validation from us. It cuts off their self-connection. It also gets in their way of having their own space to be, do, learn, and explore without any interference. It leads to children who want a lot of attention, feedback, and approval on whatever they do, who can’t just appreciate what they enjoy doing for its own sake but are dependent on the validation of another to enjoy it. This is often the cause of children who feel very “demanding.” I’m not saying that you should never play with children or engage in children’s activities. However, contrary to popular opinion, it is definitely not necessary to play with your children to meet their needs and build a strong connection with them. But because of the artificial set-up of most of our families, our children are more reliant on us for their social needs than if we lived in tribal situations. It’s perfectly appropriate for us to do things with them, as long as we genuinely enjoy them, but those things need to comprise just one part of our overall enjoyable lives that include a lot of our own interests.

I played countless games of Skip-bo, Rummikub, cards, as well as read books and did puzzles with my girls. As long as I enjoyed it and didn’t make it my job. What I saw as my job was to ensure that their social needs were met. Continuum Concept parents often feel caught between a rock and hard place trying to meet their children’s needs and not be child-centered.

What I propose is what I call family-centeredness. Most of us do not live in tribes (unless you’ve managed to find and make work the utopic intentional community most of us dream of) and need to make the best of our family and community configurations.

The goal of family-centeredness is to find a way of living and activities that meet everyone’s needs as much as possible. Do make sure that you have activities that fulfill you and make you feel like you contribute! They can either be activities you can do while your children are engaged in something else in the same place, or which you do while they have activities away from you where their needs are being met. Or things you can do all together.

Having our children be our entertainment causes a shift from their intrinsic motivation and their own connection to their activities, to an extrinsic motivation where they aim to please us and get validation from us. It cuts off their self-connection. It also gets in their way of having their own space to be, do, learn, and explore without any interference.

5. Trusting Children

Trusting children’s instincts tends to be one of the main things people remember when they think of The Continuum Concept. Who can’t forget the example of the toddler handling a machete, or the baby crawling by the open pit? I’ve had some very clear examples in my family which proved to me that my babies and children had much better survival instincts than I ever would have thought. But what I actually want to talk about here is trusting them to make their own decisions.

A mom told me last year that she wasn’t willing to experience the consequences of letting her daughter make her own decisions. To which I responded with a whole impassioned article on how I was not willing to experience the consequences of not trusting my daughters. Of making their decisions for them. Of having them rely on me to guide their decisions and monitor what they do.

Giving them freedom to make their own decisions is what’s allowed them to remain connected to their inner guidance, instead of them shifting their focus outward, to what others tell them. The only person who will always be with them, whom they can always count on is themselves. Therefore, I’ve seen it as my job as a parent to nurture and strengthen that relationship above any other.

Trusting my daughters to make their own decisions while they still lived with me allowed them to develop their experience while I still had influence on them, and could still give them my opinion and feedback. By the time they moved away from me at 18 (Cassandra has been in Florida for 4 years and Audrey in New York City for almost a year,) they have been making all their decisions by themselves for a long time, therefore are very well equipped to make them. Trusting my daughters to make their own decisions, from toddlerhood on, has made my life as a parent so much easier. And it’s ensured that my daughters knew how to keep themselves safe, rarely got hurt, and are now well equipped to handle life on their own.

Giving them freedom to make their own decisions is what’s allowed them to remain connected to their inner guidance, instead of them shifting their focus outward, to what others tell them. The only person who will always be with them, whom they can always count on is themselves. 

6. Children Do What We Expect Them To

One of the most impactful ideas that I got from Jean Leidloff, is that our children will do what we expect them to do. This is something that was quite hard for me to understand and implement when my daughters were little, but that I got to deeply understand as I got involved in personal growth and spirituality. 

Our children respond to the beliefs and attitudes that are underneath our words, actions, and reactions. It’s by changing those beliefs and attitudes (often times through doing deep inner work) that we can shift to having happy and cooperative children.

A common area where this is obvious to Continuum parents is physical safety. Many families report experiences such as mine, when the only time one of my girls cut herself with a sharp knife is when my very non-Continuum father yelled out ‘Be careful!’ and she turned abruptly in response to his extreme reaction, and nicked her cheek. Think of how differently you’ll respond if a child is climbing high on a structure and you trust that he knows what he’s doing, versus if you think he’s incompetent in taking care of his own safety. And then think of how you’d feel on the receiving end of each of those responses, and how it might impact the way you react in each situation. This may give you a sense of what I’m talking about here.

But an area where this concept is much more pervasive, hidden to many, and damaging, has to do with our beliefs about children, and humans in general. For example, even if you intellectually believe that your child is innately good, your programming, because it’s what you experienced from infancy on with your parents, might be that children are not. You might have been treated as though you were defiant and bad, and in need of correction and molding, through punishments and rewards. Therefore when your child ‘acts out,’ your response to him stems from this deeper place of not believing that he truly wants to do the right thing. He then reacts to the way you responded to him, and this starts an adversarial downward spiral.

Our children respond to the beliefs and attitudes that are underneath our words, actions, and reactions. It’s by changing those beliefs and attitudes (often times through doing deep inner work) that we can shift to having happy and cooperative children.

To put this life-changing concept in practice, when your child is not listening to you, or acting in a way you don’t like, turn your focus to yourself and check what’s happening inside of you, what he might be responding to, what he’s mirroring to you. What I’ve found in my work with parents, is that once the clean parenting foundation has been established and parents make sure their children’s needs are met, the resolution of almost all issues comes from the parents clearing in them what is triggered or mirrored in those situations. Many times, by focusing on the ‘issues’ in this way, parents have been able to resolve them in as little as one session with me. And the crazy thing is that often the child automatically stops reflecting it, the same day, without the parent having even talked to him about it.

TULA  Photo: Tula Baby Carriers

THREE CAVEATS FOR MODERN FAMILIES

As much as The Continuum Concept can open our minds to a total new possibility of being with children and life with them, and provide us with the basis to raise truly whole children and have ease in our families, there are times when the blessing of this beloved book turns into a curse. There are three very common things I want to warn you about, which fans of the book often struggle with, and causes them much unnecessary turmoil:

1. Be realistic

You may dream of providing the perfect tribal and natural environment to your children that Yequana parents do. But the reality of your life is that you can’t. And you have to accept that, if you’re to enjoy being a parent, and in order to be the best parent you can be to your children. Take time to acknowledge and mourn what you dream of, and isn’t, and then move on!

Keeping your mind on what you think should be and isn’t, unless you’re taking concrete action steps to achieve it, will only cause you, and therefore your children, pain. It’s really just about accepting reality. You wanting reality (or yourself!) to be different will not change it and will prevent you from finding the best ways of actually working with what you have.

2. Trust yourself instead of the book

This topic is one of my pet peeves with Continuum Concept parents. If you know me, you’ve likely heard me say that some parents should throw out or burn this book, even though it’s my parenting bible. Why? Though I’m a firm believer in studying to learn better ways and in getting guidance from people more experienced than us and with whom we resonate, this can backfire when we try to copy or emulate something, instead of listening foremost to our instincts, to our inner voice. So use the book as a reference and guidance to connect with what’s true for you and what works for your family. Do not have your eye on an imagined and likely impossible vision of what you think would be ideal, at the exclusion of what feels right to you or works for your family, in your specific situation. This gets you in your head instead of being in your heart, your body, your intuition, connected to life, instead of just being present.

Above any theory, always honor your instincts and your feeling of what’s right in the present. I’ve seen many parents be miserable because their life doesn’t represent their Continuum Concept tribal ideal, whereas they could be very happy if they would only forget they ever read the book. I’ve seen one mom’s life completely change just because I told her that she was right on track, to keep doing what she was doing, and to totally forget about the book. She reported back to me a few weeks after we talked, saying that she was suddenly more confident and was actually enjoying her son much more, just because she started trusting and stopped questioning herself!

Just like you can trust the sense of rightness in your children, the one thing you can always trust is the feeling of rightness in you (below the thoughts and the crap—what’s there when you just are). Trust that, above any book or any expert’s advice, including, of course, mine!

3. You will not automatically have a Yequana toddler because you completed the in-arms phase

And you’re not doing anything wrong if you don’t. Some of the reasons your toddler (or older child) isn’t like Yequana toddlers are:

  • You don’t know in your bones how to be a clear leader for your child. In fact, chances are you’ve never even experienced one. This is something you need to develop.
  • You weren’t parented in this way, so some unlearning and maybe even healing of your own unmet childhood needs needs to happen for you to be a clear grounded parent.
  • You need to orient yourself to being on the same team, to looking for win-win solutions when your child needs something. This can become a whole lot harder when in-arms babes turn into active exploratory toddlers with strong opinions about what they want.
  • Our society is unnatural and generally not supportive of living wholesome lives and therefore puts stress on parents trying to parent according to The Continuum Concept.
  • Your child, unlike Yequana children, is not part of a society that is uniform in terms of its values and ways of living and parenting, and therefore exposed to all kinds of influences.
  • You may be carrying, like I am, a crap-load of baggage that you try to parent through, and your child picks up on it.

The more you integrate the concepts I’ve described here, and heal the pain that’s activated in you through parenting, the more your toddlers and children will turn into the ones you envisioned when reading the book.

Ivette IvensPhoto: Ivette Ivens Photography

CONCLUSION

Though living like the Yequanas is not possible for us, as much as we may long for it, there’s a lot we can learn from them and integrate into our modern lives. Is it easy? Absolutely not. Is it doable? Yes! I did it, even though I was a pretty clueless and very messed up twenty six-year-old when I first read the book, and still mostly managed to implement it. What I did know was that I didn’t want my daughters to grow up with the same pain and feelings of worthlessness and not belonging as I did, and which I still to this day sometimes struggle with. I’m not sure what in me had the drive and clarity to go for this with such determination and unwavering focus, but I am so grateful to the young mom I was for doing so. I now have the joy and incredible honor of supporting countless parents in also experiencing the same results in their families.

 

About the Author
Eliane Sainte-Marie
Author: Eliane Sainte-MarieWebsite: http://www.coachingforwholeness.com
Eliane Sainte-Marie is passionate about sharing her message that peaceful parenting can be easy so more parents may commit themselves to it, and is a living proof that it can be, having experienced it with her three now grown daughters. She’s also supported thousands of parents in it since 1995. She founded Parenting For Wholeness to support parents in having ease and harmony in their families while ensuring that their children grow up whole, and to help parents heal from their childhood baggage so they can parent in alignment with their values and also live from a place of wholeness, peace and happiness.

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