In Verbindung bleiben: Nicola Schmidt vom Artgerecht Projekt

Stay connected: Nicola Schmidt from the Artgerecht project

What moves you? That’s the question we take with us when we visit people who get things moving and do their little bit to improve the world. Who promote ideas, dare to do new things and follow different paths.

Our little interview team is waiting on the hill in the south of Alfter, a small town near Bonn. There’s an old water tank here, the voluntary fire brigade are waiting for their next assignment and you can see all the way across the valley to the hills of the Siebengebirge.

Nicola cycles up the hill, curly hair bouncing up and down, and from far off she calls out a warm greeting.

Nicola is an author whose works include “artgerecht - das andere Babybuch” [Species Appropriate – A different kind of baby book] and who also runs family camps in the wilderness.

Each Advent Sunday we want to present one of our values on the blog. “Creating fair and long-term relationships” is a Wildling value, and it’s one we share with Nicola. For her it’s primarily about strengthening relationships between parents and children.

Anna: How did you get to where you are today?

Nicola: I’ve always been interested in the question of how people live together. I studied political science and actually wanted to become a diplomat – because I wanted to change the world in that way – but for that you need patience, which is something I don't have. So I became a journalist. As a student I then worked in a computer shop and so – at the end of the 1990s – one of my focus areas was the digital world. And of course now I've gone back to it with social media.

In 2008 my eldest child was born three weeks before his due date, and I was totally unprepared. I didn’t have anything for the baby to wear, no dummy, no nappies – but then I thought: We can do this. I just did what somehow came up and felt right: I carried him a lot, breastfed him when I thought he was hungry, let him sleep with me... Until I got the first comments from outside: “You have to let him cry sometimes; you mustn't carry him so much.” And then I was confused.

But I thought to myself, “What are you trained in? What are you really good at? Research!” So I started reading studies. And I found out that all the scientists agreed with my baby and me.

So I started looking at what science had to say. And it says that carrying, breastfeeding etc. are cool. But apparently nobody “out there” knew that. All I heard was “let him cry, pushchair, sleep training”.

So I started blogging about it. I started with the “no nappy” topic and soon noticed that there were lots of people who were interested in it, but hardly anyone who knew anything about it. Through the blog I got the first requests for presentations and then came the interest in courses on the topic.

So I was suddenly in my living room with three women, explaining babies’ excretory communication.

Anna: So it was through personal experience that you came to the blog and to your first courses?

Nicola: Yes, it took some time of course. I’ve been doing the whole thing for 10 years now. When my daughter was born seven years ago, I noticed that there are different newborn temperaments. Only a few people know that. That we have 40% easy newborns, 10% difficult, 30% slow to adjust... that when you have one child you think, “Drama, difficult child”, and with the second you think “Hmm, it can't be me; the second child is much easier.” So I started getting into the topic and wrote the baby book.

Anna: Where do you feel that you're adding value?

Nicola: The loveliest feedback that I've had recently was when someone said: “Nicola, you're the Greta Thunberg of love!"

And otherwise, I’ve got certain things I intend to do. Connecting with nature, connecting people, strengthening parents. At the wilderness camps, for example, I wanted it to be a life-changing experience for the participants. And, interestingly, that’s also the feedback that we get. Simply that feeling of being looked after. We ask the participants, “What do you need? What can we do for you?”

And lots of people say that they don't have that at all in their everyday life.

That's the kind of thing we put across in the camps. We teach that children don’t have evil intentions, that we're all good and even toddlers want to cooperate. And for many people it's so liberating not to be told that “Your child is a tyrant and you just have to prevail.” Especially for many fathers, that's a new experience. At the beginning they always sit here at the camps with a lot of scepticism. They've received the camp stay as a gift from their partner and first need to just have a look. And then they reflect on their experiences and say: “That’s true, that hurt me as a child too; that harmed me too. But I never realised that it wasn't my fault, but the fault of the others.”

Giving people that strength back, that they’re allowed to trust their children, build on their own strength, that they’re allowed to love themselves, that they can do it! ...That’s a beautiful thing.

Anna: When are you really you?

Nicola: When I’m sitting by the campfire with my children. Fire holds a magical attraction for me. That's why I have a job where it looks like I'm working for the whole summer, but actually I spend four weeks sitting round the fire with cool people. I especially like building the fire, a challenge in wet weather. We make fires with natural materials and only one match. And with weather like today’s it's a challenge. But also very meditative. My children can now do it themselves.

Anna: What motivates you? What gives you strength? What are you passionate about?

Nicola: What really motivates me is change. Because every day I go through this forest and think, we have to keep this planet a place worth living in. The Earth doesn't need us, but if we want to keep living on it, we need to do something. My husband works in an international leadership programme in development aid – he's also working on connections to nature. But if I look at the leaders of this world and read the books of Erich Fromm, then I simply know that the people who are currently not respecting the Earth mostly had a really difficult childhood. Otherwise they wouldn't be that way. That means that it's my goal to improve people's childhoods, so that we have more leaders who are in touch with nature and able to create strong relationships. And in the end that's exactly what “artgerecht” stands for: I want us to create good childhoods, to help parents raise stable, crisis-resistant, stress-resistant children who are able to manage conflict and create strong relationships. So we get leaders, so we get people who can fight for this planet. And that’s what we work for each day. So it's mainly “only” about babies, but actually it's about raising a generation that says, “This tree is not going to be felled, and I'm not letting my garden be paved over”. And in the end it’s all these little decisions that make a difference. That’s also why we do the camps. We do a lot of close-to-nature work with the children, in order to give them a connection with our planet. Your shoes are also great for that, so that you have contact with the ground and can also feel whether it’s soft, firm, whether it sinks down... a nice way of expressing that we’ve got that connection back: with the planet on which we live. That's what it is when you walk through the forest in Wildlings: Staying in contact with the ground and the planet.

Anna: What moves you and what do you want to make happen?

Nicola: I think the problem with our society is that it doesn't have a vision. We’re somehow aware that it can't go on like this. But we can't imagine an alternative future. With my books I try to give people a vision, to say, “Look, here's how it could be.” Because I know that if I can reach their hearts, then they’ll move forward. If I reach their heads, then they’ll have forgotten it tomorrow when they’re stressed. You have to show people how it can be.

Anna: What's your vision? What comes next?

Nicola: We want to help keep the Earth healthy – that’s the most important thing. That includes healthy childhoods and strong parents. I’ve got several projects and visions to do with that.

In the long term we’re planning “species-appropriate living”. I know so many parents who say, “With small children we’re going stir crazy; we’re looking for connection. We’re looking for community.” And wish I could then say, “No problem, come and join our housing project. You can stay there for ten years until the kids are bigger.” That would be so nice, especially for single parents who often feel so abandoned.

But very specifically, the next thing we want to do is provide online courses, and with the new book “Erziehen ohne Schimpfen” [Raising Kids without Scolding] I'd like to train supermarket staff. Because studies tell us that children are most frequently and most severely scolded in supermarkets.

And now imagine if we had supermarket staff who reacted to kids with empathy. And to the parents. Who then say something like, “Yes, it's 5:30 p.m.; it's hard at this time and you’d really like a chocolate bar and it’s nearly time for dinner... I understand.”

When I’ve managed all that and we’ve planted enough trees to reach the two-degree goal – then I'm going to retire.

Dear Nicola, we're sure that even then you’ll still have plenty of ideas! Thank you for the great interview!

You can find the full interview here.

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