To Sum it Up: Politics of Parenting

When writing my post, “The Politics of Parenting” I found myself without a conclusion. I ended with a “what do you think” cop-out. I started writing it because I thought it was a concept worth exploring (that not only can most of us identify the current valued set of “good” in parenting, but that it is not practiced by the majority.) After mulling it over for a couple of days and reading the great comments that the post garnered I think I am ready to conclude.

Yes, the Politics of Parenting, or more specifically what is seen in society as the “good” way to parent, is influenced by many things, but I believe the over-arching one is by what is “trendy.” There is good news in this for all of us: that means it is not so much about “right” or “wrong” as it is about taste. You can ignore that claim that you are harming your child if you don’t abide by all things ‘crunchy.’ You are not a bad parent. Just not in style. And as all of us Mom’s know- staying up with the latest fashions is always more challenging once you have a kid. (Hello my favorite sweat pants- I don’t look good- but I am comfortable.) But if you want to be ‘crunchy’- go for it, its got some good stuff. Just do what you feel comfortable with and works for you.

Wait— before you get the wrong impression!! I believe that most of us could name at least one thing on that list that we do not believe should be just a trend. It should be “the way” and we are willing to get on our soap box to defend it. While I am sure we could find someone who would wholeheartedly defend each of the things on the list as not optional, most of us could probably agree that some have higher stakes then others. Julia believes not vaccinating your kid is not a good ‘trend,’ it is dangerous. While I don’t feel you are a bad parent if you give your kids the occasional treat, don’t make anything from scratch or don’t buy all organic food– I don’t think that ‘healthy eating’ should just be a trend. Please feed your kids healthy food. It is not quite as simple as everything being potato/patato. Do your best to evaluate what those high stakes ones are.

Breastfeeding is an other I think is not going to fall off the trendy bandwagon anytime soon- even (most if not all) formula feeding Mom’s agree it is the best option. But what I hope does go the way of the dodo bird is the tactics of ‘promoting’ breastfeeding (or any other parenting option) by the use of fear and/or guilt and/or restriction of others rights. (See this post by the Fearless Formula feeder… scary.) You get more bees with honey people. Yes, get on that soap box for what you believe– but try to stick to telling us why your way is so great and refrain from telling everyone who doesn’t agree that they are “damaging” their child. Unless you have some pretty darn good science behind you, like bulletproof.

The truth is that all parents hear that something they are doing is “wrong” at some point from some one. As I said, I doubt very much that many parents do every single thing on the current “good” list. And if they do, someone they know is probably telling them they are doing something wrong too. We all feel guilty sometimes and we all question what we are doing. Parenting is an art not a science. But for just about anything you are going to get called out on, there are lots of parents that would agree with you. Trust yourself and don’t let what is ‘trendy’ rule what you do as a parent. You know your kid better then anyone else.

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5 responses to “To Sum it Up: Politics of Parenting

  1. Briana February 14, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Many of today’s popular parenting positions are not just “trendy” – they are based on the best conclusions of science today. That doesn’t mean that some of them may not evolve over time and perhaps even prove to be wrong, but I think it’s a mistake to label them “trendy” and be done with it.

    The science is that breastmilk is better than formula. Period. The list of reasons changes a bit as scientists discover more of the benefits, and as formula makers adjust their products to try to catch up, but there is consensus that it is better. That doesn’t make you a bad parent for formula feeding. It’s not poison, and your child will thrive. But it will never be the same as breastfeeding. I would liken it to birth by C-section vs. natural birth. The result of both may be a healthy baby, but natural birth does benefit babies and mothers in many subtle ways. Like formula feeding, there are times when a C-section is necessary and we should be grateful that it is. One can be better, but it doesn’t mean you’re less of a mother if circumstances require that you choose door #2.

    Vaccination is another one with a clear ‘good.’ The science is very clear: it is effective, and it is safe. The few studies that have been talked up to scare parents off vaccination have been disproven or are inconclusive – study after study shows the risk of vaccination is far less than not vaccinating. If not vaccinating only put your own child at risk I would be less forceful about my opinion on this, but when people don’t vaccinate, they put the immunity of others at risk: babies who are too young to vaccinate, children who have had only partial coverage, adults whose term of immunity is up, and so on. So I don’t see it as a “personal” choice. Vaccination is for the public good, and it is selfish for parents to choose not to do their part to keep diseases like polio and rubella in check through public vaccination programs. For those ills that are not all that serious (chicken pox, for instance) I don’t mind if parents choose not to vaccinate, but the basic course of vaccinations should be mandatory. The ironic thing is that so many in the anti-vaccine camp are also strongly for preventative medicine! Just not preventative medicine that is scientifically proven, I guess.

    The science on CIO vs attachment parenting is unclear, to my mind. I have heard that studies find no lasting problems with babies who have followed a CIO program, so long as they have an otherwise loving and stimulating environment. But there is also proof that babies need loving touch to thrive. I think this is an area that has a few guidelines (show love, be consistent) but how it’s put into practice has more to do with the temperament of both parents and baby. My oldest could not be left to cry at all, or he would get so worked up he was impossible to settle. My second is far more mellow. She sometimes needs to cry for a few minutes before she can settle. I don’t feel right letting a baby cry for long, but I will let her go for 5-10 minutes or until her cries become more intense.

    And finally, there are a few things where science tells me there’s some risk to my child, but I choose to ignore it because I think the benefits are worth it. Co-sleeping is frowned upon now, for instance, but I have found it a wonderful experience in infancy and have chosen to co-sleep at least some of the time with both kids. Jolly Jumpers, bumbos & exersaucers are discouraged too, because they encourage babies to sit & stand before they are able to do it on their own (putting too much pressure on developing muscles and joints). I found the Jolly Jumper in particular so useful and fun when Wes was small that I chose to keep using it even after learning this. I do think they should be used in moderation, but I’m not going to quit.

    There’s also an “approved schedule” for baby feeding that I more or less followed with Wesley, but I am planning to defy with Nora. I think we worry too much about teaching kids to eat, and this time, I plan to just offer her little mashed bits of whatever we are eating, and she can eat it or spit it out as she sees fit. No purees for me this time. I’m nursing her, so I am happy that she will have the essential nutrients she needs, and the rest she can get as she likes. This is in alignment with some of the other “best practices” for feeding (offer food, but don’t push and trust that baby will self-regulate).

    • amoment2think February 14, 2010 at 11:40 am

      Briana,

      I think you have made some good points here. As I said in this post, I think there are some things that have higher stakes then others. The three you mentioned: breastfeeding, natural birth and vaccinations would also make my list of things which ‘should’ be more then a ‘trend’. (Although I think it is valid for parents to question the chemicals used in making vaccines. Vaccinations are important, but I would feel a lot better about them if they put some real effort into ‘greening’ them.)

      Perhaps I was a bit to flippant about chalking it all up to ‘trendiness’– I mean it’s your kid, not a pair of shoes, so obviously the stakes are always higher. But as you said in regards to breast milk and natural birth- ending up against your preference going through ‘door #2’ doesn’t make you a bad parent. That is the essence of the point of this post.

      I would go one step further- I don’t think choosing to formula feed or have an elective c-section makes you a bad parent either, even if science tells us it is not the ‘best’ option. Does this mean we should stop promoting natural birth or breastfeeding? Of course not. Does this mean we should stop saying/implying that going for door number #2 can never yield a happy, healthy, thriving child? Yes. Furthermore, I think the ‘how’ you do what you do is sometimes more important then “what” you do. You discussion of CIO and co-sleeping are good examples of this– the current science supports a particular position, but ‘how’ you do it can make all the difference. You can do co-sleeping in a safe way and CIO without hurting the parent-baby bonding. Context matters.

      I have to say that I think we are essentially saying the same thing. Just in different ways.

  2. Kate February 15, 2010 at 11:07 am

    “Trust yourself and don’t let what is ‘trendy’ rule what you do as a parent. You know your kid better then anyone else.”

    Exactly. At the end of the day you are the one bringing up this little life and you ultimately know whats working and what doesn’t.

  3. amoment2think February 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Thanks Kate. I think you really highlighted the point I was hoping to make.

    • Megan February 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm

      Yay! I’m glad I found your blog, too. I love your attitude about these issues. And you make a really good point about trendy issues vs. important issues. And, I totally agree that there is nothing wrong with questioning the ingredients in vaccines. It’s irresponsible to inject our children with something without knowing what’s in it, just as it is irresponsible to NOT vaccinate them at all.

      Great post!

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