Evolutionary parenting means embracing technology not rejecting it

Asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs

If our ancient foremothers could see Tracy Cassells, PhD, of Evolutionary Parenting (and other parenting “experts” like her) they wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

We as humans have evolved in a particular manner, and the parent-child relationship is no different. Children, especially babies, expect certain behaviours from their caregivers and research is starting to understand both how deviations from these expectations affect child development and the bidirectional nature of the child-parent relationship. Of course, not all people can or want to parent our children based on their biology. In this realm, Evolutionary Parenting focuses on the idea that anytime we deviate from a known biological norm, we should have good reason and try to mimic biological processes as much as possible in order to minimize disruptions to later outcomes and child well-being.

The infant mortality rate in nature was astronomical, possibly as high as 1 in 3; babies died during childbirth, they died of dehydration before breastmilk came in, they died of infectious diseases, they died when minor injuries became infected, they died when they were attacked by predators, they died and their siblings died and if women didn’t give birth to the natural biological allotment of 8 infants of more, there was a chance they wouldn’t ever have an adult child.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Evolution never goes back to the past; that’s the surest way to extinction.[/pullquote]

Many mothers lived permanently bereft and forever in fear of the death of those their surviving children. This is what Cassells and her fellow natural mothering “experts” want to return to.

Why? Because they are remarkably ignorant about evolution and natural selection. Evolution always involves ADAPTATION, not the return to the past that Cassells recommends. Evolution is always about survival and WHATEVER maximizes survival is “evolutionary.”

The paradigmatic example of evolution in action was described by Charles Darwin. He noted the amazing variety of finches in the Galápagos Islands:

A few million years ago, one species of finch migrated to the rocky Galapagos from the mainland of Central or South America. From this one migrant species would come many — at least 13 species of finch evolving from the single ancestor.

… The ecological niches exert the selection pressures that push the populations in various directions. On various islands, finch species have become adapted for different diets: seeds, insects, flowers, the blood of seabirds, and leaves.

The ancestral finch was a ground-dwelling, seed-eating finch. After the burst of speciation in the Galapagos, a total of 14 species would exist: three species of ground-dwelling seed-eaters; three others living on cactuses and eating seeds; one living in trees and eating seeds; and 7 species of tree-dwelling insect-eaters.

Different species of finches evolved to exploit the environments of different islands. It was the CHANGES that ensured their survival, not the insistence on stubborning clinging to behavior that evolved thousands of years before.

Finches can teach us critical lessons about evolution.

1. Fitness is not static.

As conditions changes, fitness changes. And conditions always change, whether it is climate, pressure from other species, local events like volcanic eruptions, etc. There is no such thing as an animal that is “perfectly fit” because there is no such thing as a static environment.

2. Fitness is tied to the environment.

How successful do you think the seed eating finches were on islands that had very few seeds of the type they had been evolved to eat? Not very. That’s why they evolved characteristics like changes in beaks to allow them to eat different seeds and, in some cases, switched from seeds to insects.

3. The most successful animals are those who adapt, not those who remain unchanged.

If we anthropomorphize the finches, we can see just what is wrong with the philosophy of natural parenting, the philosophy of Cassells and her colleagues.

Imagine the finches who arrived in the Galapagos had surveyed the situation on each island and announced:

“We were evolved to live on the ground and eat seeds. Therefore, we will continue living on the ground and eating seeds and pretend we are still on the mainland.”

“Nature has rendered us perfectly evolved and all we have to do is live like we have always lived.”

The result would have been extinction from the islands. The finches destined to be most successful were those who abandoned the way they had evolved and sought out new food sources and new places to live.

It’s not hard to see the parallels with natural parenting.

Lactivists are equivalent to finches who insisted on eating seeds because they always ate seeds. In nature, many babies died due to insufficient breastmilk; those babies can now survive on formula. They are FITTEST for the current environment.

Parents who advocate co-sleeping are equivalent to finches who insisted on living on the ground even though there were new predators on the ground. The parents who will be evolutionarily MOST successful are those who let their offspring sleep in a separate bed, on a firm surface, with no bedding or soft toys because those children are most likely to survive and evolution is ALWAYS about maximizing survival.

Natural parenting advocates are evolutionary dinosaurs. Dinosaurs had been successful for millions of years. Yet when a massive asteroid impacted earth and the environment changed dramatically, they couldn’t adapt fast enough and died out.

Technology is the equivalent of a massive asteroid impact; it has changed everything. Those who can adapt to use it are evolutionarily successful while those who try to return to the past are less fit and their children are less likely to survive. Real evolutionary parenting means embracing the technology of the times, not rejecting.

Evolution NEVER goes back to the past; that’s the surest way to extinction.