For the Sake of Our
by Léandre Bergeron
translated by Pamela Levac
Excerpts from a father’s journal describing a life led respecting and
trusting children, from the naturalness of home birth and breastfeeding on
demand, through learning by living and through working together on a small
farm and in a rural natural food store.
When she emerges from between her mother’s legs, with her Chinese
Emperor’s topknot, covered in a greenish lotion that makes her look like a
clear jade statue, immobile, with me on my knees, holding out my hands to
catch her, how not to be blown away? Complete wonder. She takes her first
breath so naturally, opens her eye and gives me a look that is from another
world. I set her on her mother’s belly. A holy silence reigns in the room,
in the entire house. She looks at her mother as she had looked at me and
then closes her eyes as if to say that everything is proceeding as it
I think it was at that moment that I felt and understood the respect that
we owe our children.
Where did we get this twisted mentality that tells obstetricians to grab
the newborn by one leg, lift her up like a ham and slap her on the bottom to
make her cry out, to help her take her first breath? Even the most barbaric
barbarians never did that to their newborns.
The peaceful silence of this newborn tells us that we have made the right
choices so far. So why can’t this excellent beginning remain with us during
the rest of the time that we have together?
Why is there often a break in the relationship with our children? At
birth, we gaze at her in awe and we are centered on our child. We find her
to be beautiful, amazing and everything else but, one day, sooner rather
than later, this initial wonder is extinguished. Our daily routine doesn’t
encourage feelings of respect for our child but, instead, becomes the chore
of “raising” her. She’s demanding. We have to change her diapers, dress her
fifteen – even twenty times – a day, feed her ten or twelve times that same
day, soothe her for hours. The crack in the initial relationship has formed.
We lose our patience. Our child is no longer the miracle that she once was,
but an obligation that we have to wash, wipe, feed, drag around and raise.
I suspected when Déirdre was born that if parents knew how to meet the
needs of their children, those children would never become chores but would
remain, instead, a daily source of inexhaustible joy. Eighteen years later,
I can say that my intuition was right.
If she didn’t cry when she was born, it’s because she wasn’t tortured –
before, during or after the birth. This means that she was comfortable in
her mother’s womb thanks to a calm pregnancy, thanks to a healthy diet. This
means that she came out when her little body felt that it was time and not
according to some doctor’s busy schedule. This means that she was welcomed
into this netherworld with waiting hands, open arms, an open heart and,
especially, an open mind. She was received without prejudice, without
anguish, without the fear that makes our panicked minds cause precisely
those problems we were hoping to avoid. This means that nothing, nor anyone,
can halt her full development as long as I am there to watch over her.
She is welcomed like a distinguished guest. How should we treat
distinguished guests who honor us with their presence? I’m not talking about
someone from a so-called higher social class that we invite in order to make
ourselves look better or from whom to beg a favor. I’m talking about a
person that we respect, that we admire for who they are and who graces us
with their presence, by sharing their human warmth and compassion.
Naturally, we are going to treat this person with respect. We will seek her
company, make sure that she is well taken care of and that her needs are
met. Generally, a distinguished guest is with us for a limited amount of
time. But if she decides to stay for good, then things might turn sour.
Everyone must adapt to the new situation. Her presence disrupts our habits.
Her halo begins to tarnish. She might get in the way. Sometimes there is
tension. Respect and admiration give way to power struggles. “She’s taking
up too much of my time.” “She’s there when I want to be alone.” “She is too
And when this guest is a newborn baby – a marvelous being, but at the
same time, someone who depends on us for even her most intimate needs – what
then? Fortunately, there is instinct...if it hasn’t been buried under piles
of absurd traditions.
Last night, Déirdre was quite depressed by the thought of social chaos,
ecological disaster, the devastation caused by wars in Africa, governmental
inertia and the stronghold that corporations have over every aspect of our lives. What can I tell her except that it’s true, but
if we each do our part in our daily lives....? The important thing is
perhaps not to arrive at the goal that we set for ourselves, but just to
engage in the process.
And Phèdre, the most reserved of my three daughters, wrapped her arms
around my neck and told me she loves me. Isn’t this spontaneous
demonstration of affection the proof that we are always in symbiosis? Then
she asked: “Where are barons and dukes situated in the noble hierarchy?” She
wrote down the order that I dictated to her: king, queen; prince, princess;
duke, duchess; marquis, marquess; count, countess; viscount, viscountess;
baron, baroness; knight and his lady. This led to a discussion about
academic equivalents: elementary school, high school, college, university.
This easy, confident manner in which the girls approach me with all the
questions that are running through their heads goes back a long way. I have
always treated each of their questions with great respect and given them my
full attention. If I did not know the answer right away, I made sure I
answered to their liking later on. But I never dragged out the answer. This
is a deadly sin committed by teachers and well-intentioned parents who are
the products of a formal education. It is essential to stop when the child
loses interest. It’s easy enough to tell when a child’s eyes start to glaze
over. Learn to shut up.
Learn to not teach. Don’t get obsessed by how much your child knows or
treat her like she’s going to take some kind of test in the next hour.
Eliminate all testing, all exams and all assessments. I never, ever asked my
daughters questions in order to test their knowledge. I never assessed them.
I never interrogated them.
At school, kids are constantly assessed. The school child must draw on
every scrap of knowledge she possesses to prove what she knows at regular
intervals, like a detainee who undergoes regular searches. There is no
trust. Everyone is suspect. And parents who have been formally educated
start the same routine as soon as the poor child walks in the door. These
unwitting parents unconsciously become inspectors for the school board and
the Ministry of Education. “Did you do your homework?” If symbiosis ever
existed in these families, it takes a big hit when the child heads into the
Would I ever interrogate a distinguished guest? Never. I trust her. I
give her the benefit of the doubt. How dare I ask my child if she knows this
Testing, assessments, interrogation at home and at school are the fastest
ways to destroy the trust that must reign between children and adults. Trust
(or confidence, which, etymologically, means faith in the other) is what
symbiosis is built on. When a child believes that a parent is on her side no
matter what, when there is complete trust and closeness, the child can
develop in a healthy manner.
If, however, the child feels constantly assessed, if parents doubt her
and act as if they don’t trust her, then the fine fabric of symbiosis is
torn apart and the child is thrown into a state of anxiety. How can this
young and dependent child possibly reestablish symbiosis? She can certainly
demonstrate her anxiety by crying. And how will the adult respond? Will the
parent comfort the child? Or simply tell the child to stop crying? If the
child is comforted, symbiosis is reestablished, anxiety dissipates, peace
returns and life is bearable once again. But if the adult tells the child to
choke back her tears, not only does the anxiety persist, the child has lost
all ability to express herself.
And when the child swallows her tears, what can we see in her eyes? That
she no longer has the right to exist as she is. If she wants to survive –
and this is the fundamental drive of all beings – she is going to go crazy,
off center, lose her way, submit herself, subordinate herself to adults,
lose her integrity and lose herself in lies, hypocrisy and duplicity, simply
in order to survive. Perhaps not right away, of course. She will try, who
knows how many more times, with her tears, to reestablish symbiosis. Then
one day, tired of the struggle, she will give up. She will acquire a
tolerance towards the aggression of adults (parents and teachers) as she
developed a tolerance towards the tasteless mush she was forced to swallow
as her first solid food.
I have noticed that it is not necessary to teach a child to be polite if
you are polite to your children. If we respect them, they naturally respect
us. Genuine politeness is nothing more than respect for other people that is
learned through symbiosis.
Léandre Bergeron is an author and activist who was born in
Manitoba. He studied in France and taught literature at Concordia University
in Montreal before moving to the Quebec countryside in the early 1970s with
his wife Francine to live a life of voluntary simplicity. His many works
range from a guide to home birth to the Dictionnaire de la langue québécoise
and the best-seller, Petit Manuel d’histoire du Québec. He is a tireless
champion for the underdog and has long advocated for educational, political
and social reform. His book For the Sake of Our Children, from which these
journal entries are taken, is published by Natural Life magazine’s publisher
Life Media, under its Alternate Press imprint.
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