18 years ago, when I was pregnant with my first daughter, I was fortunate to attend a talk on “the hygiene hypothesis”. I’d never heard anything like it at the time (although it confirmed many of the healthy ways my own mother had raised my siblings and myself). On many levels it enhanced my knowledge about health (which was just in the beginning stages), influencing the way I raised my children. Whilst I don’t claim the hygiene hypothesis is absolute truth and have continued to expand my learning from many theories of health (including mentally, spiritually and emotionally), it was the beginning of me exploring a path of raising my children’s health – beyond the status quo.
I was inspired to realise myself as self-responsible for every aspect of rearing my children, which meant I had to educate, educate, educate, spending years researching and learning through trial and error. Making sure my children’s immune system was supported with healthy eating, natural remedies, little-to-no chemicals in their environment (eg household cleaners, laundry liquid, shampoos etc) was at a time when the internet was fairly young, there was no social media and a lot of the now common understandings of health (including toxic chemicals) was still more fringe. There weren’t the plethora of books and articles about health available now and there were definitely very few “organic” options for children in products, from bottom balm to cot sheets.
Over the years, despite having a range of normal and not so common childhood illnesses (including, chicken pox, whooping cough, bacterial pneumonia etc) and still occasionally having colds/flus, I have noticed a huge difference in the general health and well being of my children compared to many other kids. Even if they get sick, they bounce back quickly and/or they don’t get sick as often as other children in their environment. They certainly don’t have associated problems with continually being sick and receiving constant antibiotics/pharmaceutical products eg continual ear infections resulting in needing grommets, continuous infections resulting in removal of adenoids or tonsils, skin rashes/eczema, allergies, asthma etc.
When they were babies, I only bathed them once a week and I still don’t subscribe to giving children a bath every day. When I give them a bath it’s just plain water with essential oils and occasionally some “bubble bath” (organic shampoo). Daily baths with shampoo, soap and bubble bath strip their precious skins of natural oils and leave their skin, the largest organ, more vulnerable and susceptible to pathogens.
I am also cautious of sending a message to them about being “dirty”. There’s so much shame in our culture about our bodies (hello feminine hygiene washes, I’m looking at you) and a desire to sanitise everyone and everything. This is especially true with women’s bodies. Having four daughters I am very aware of all the subtle ways we shame women.
I WANT my children to know the feeling and smell of dirt on their skin after playing outside in the grass and trees all day.
I WANT them to know what healthy sweat smells like, the feeling of your body being sun kissed or that delicious saltiness after a swim in the sea.
I WANT them to feel this connection they have with nature and allow that connection to linger in all their senses, reminding them of the truth of who they are.
I WANT them to have fun mushing blueberries in a bowl (which they were given to eat) and then drawing pictures on themselves with the purple juice. Waking up the next morning to see temporary stained pictures on their skin returns them to happy moments the day before. It also reminds them that life’s fun and mum is relaxed – making up for those moments when I do stop their play to rush them out the door to keep a timetable and make them wear clothes they don’t really want to wear.
So much of parenting is filling their beings up with self-sustaining, positive, joyful moments and the best ones are the ones they discover for themselves – the experiments they unfurl from their own spirited moments. For life also delivers it’s share of disappointment, sadness, hurt and betrayal. Having a full being, centred in their own experience of life, of their own creation, is what will sustain them through the challenges they will also face.
Living in the country gives us all a greater opportunity to play in nature. One of my daughter’s favourite activities is climbing trees. Tree bark and sap under the fingernails gives her fantastic exposure to a bigger variety of plant material and pollen, as does playing in a creek or river (plenty of microbiomes in there!).
Over the years I have been exposed to many many children and families, from vastly different walks of life. More often than not I observe that children who eat a largely plant based diet, who have parents who are emotionally aware, who allow their children a great amount of freedom and who don’t run to the doctor for every sniffle, are the healthiest and happiest children/families.
The HUGE number of people who comment on my YouTube video about parasites and bugs in the creek water arrive at their opinion from an indoctrinated western society, brought up on a steady diet of advertisement for anti-bacterial products and pharmaceutical “solutions” to health problems (this is particularly rampant in the US). Yet Perouze has been my healthiest child to date. So far my method is working.
Finally we are seeing more and more studies, greater information and more books/articles about the benefits of allowing children as much free play in nature as they want, such as this one which proves that schoolchildren who don’t wear shoes “improve their academic standards and behaviour”.