Sunday, June 10, 2012

Getting Past the "One True Way" of Parenting

There are a lot of things that bothered me about the now infamous Time's breastfeeding cover. It wasn't the woman nursing her three year old. It was the sensationalism, the obvious attempt to get a good rise for the sake of money making. It was the stupid caption, “Are you mom enough?” - what does that even mean anyway? It was all the ensuing comments – a lot of judgment on every side, a lot of ignorance, and a general negativity toward mothers of all types. Somehow public controversy really brings out the stupid in people.

I didn't read the actual Times article (you have to pay for it), but there were about 5000 articles, blogs, and random, unrelated people talking about the article (for free), so I read some of those. Some I appreciated and some that made me angry, but today I read a related article that I really, really like.

“Parenting websites, Facebook pages and forums are consistently bogged down with people debating the right and wrong way to parent...sometimes there's even a bit of smugness or nastiness, as AP parents take the moral high ground over bottle feeding cot users, who in turn accuse the AP'ers of being enslaved to their kids.

If we try to cut through all this, what really matters? If we look at what we as parents are actually trying to achieve - healthy, happy adults...what is really absolutely crucial to healthy child development, is not 'Attachment Parenting', but 'Responsive Parenting.'” (click here to read the rest - it's good!)

I consider myself to practice “moderate attachment parenting.” This means that most hardcore Attachment Parenting people wouldn't consider me AP at all, while many people who make more conventional parenting choices think I'm a little “out there.” It's a wonderful place of being too weird and not weird enough.

To give you some examples, I had a natural birth with a midwife in a hospital. I am still nursing Juliana at 21 months, but only twice a day. Juliana slept in our bed part-time for most of the first year, but now we are all happy with her in her own room. We felt strongly about not leaving Juliana alone to “cry it out” even though she woke up 3-39843x a night the entire first year. When we were once again up with her for hours every night at 18 months though, we decided it was time to let her cry (which by that point she did surprisingly little of). We have four different types of slings and baby carriers but in recent months I almost always use a stroller. We didn't put Juliana on a schedule as a baby, but she gradually developed a pretty consistent routine, and we put her to bed whether she thinks it's time or not. We lean toward “gentle discipline” principles and don't plan to spank (which is not the same as no discipline).

While I have made each of those decisions because I think they are important and work best for our family, I don't think everyone should do things the same way as me. Okay, sometimes I do, but I really try not to! There are some parenting decisions that I honestly think are terrible and potentially harmful, but most don't fall into that category.

It's easy to obsess about the specifics and say, “you MUST do things THIS WAY to be a good parent.” Some AP people say you must sleep with your baby, only wear your baby in a sling, breastfeed for years, etc., etc. or you are neglecting your children. Some popular parenting philosophies say you must put your baby on a schedule from birth, they must learn to sleep on their own, they must be spanked, etc., etc., or you will ruin them for life.

These decisions are important, but when it comes down to it, the most important thing is loving responsiveness to your child. Knowing your child's personality and developmental level and individual challenges and abilities. Parenting should be thoughtful – and we should spend a lot more time examining our own parenting instead of others'. There are good parents and bad parents represented in every style of parenting, and most people I know really are good parents and really care about their children.

I want to be less judgmental. I want to remember that each person's situation and children are different, and I don't know the specifics of why they make the choices they do. I want to stick to my convictions about what is best for Juliana and our situation while also being flexible and knowing I might change my mind. I want to be tuned in to Juliana, not expecting her to be like other people's children or like a small adult. I want to be confident in my parenting, not trying to measure myself with others. I also want to be humble and learn from people who have a lot more experience than I do. And mostly, I want to be loving.

'While children need food, sanitation and access to health services to survive and develop optimally, a warm and affectionate relationship with an adult caregiver who is responsive to the child’s needs is equally important' and that responsiveness is 'parenting that is prompt, contingent on the child’s behaviour and appropriate to a child’s needs and developmental state.' - World Health Organization

1 comment:

Nate and Molly said...

This was really well written and expressed. I wholeheartedly agree with you on all of it and find the same things challenging about mothering (being judgmental, being confident in doing what's best for us, etc.) Thanks for the post.