breastfeeding,  motherhood,  Parenting,  pregnancy

Why I Don’t Believe in Parenting Styles

Once upon a time I was newly married and freshly pregnant with our first little bundle of joy, and I had all kinds of plans and ideas for how we were going to raise him. For starters, I would be delivering him naturally because birth is exactly like a marathon and you just need to train for it, everybody knows that.

My little sister who’d flown across the country with her her 6-week old son to stand up in our wedding should have known that, but since she ended up getting an epidural, she obviously hadn’t put in the work to train for it. (Somehow, she refrained from punching me in the face. Bless her.)

But I was going to do it differently. I was going to birth my baby naturally, with my husband-coach standing supportively at my side, and then I was going to exclusively breast feed because of course it was best for his little brain and it would handily assist me in losing all 55 lbs. of baby weight within 6 weeks of giving birth.

I remember vividly the first time we gave him a pacifier. He was about 3 weeks old, neither of us had slept in as many days, and one evening during an hours-long scream fest I furtively pleaded for my husband to run down to the car and dig around in the backseat where I thought I’d remembered throwing the free sample pacifier from the hospital.

“Nobody has to know, we’ll just give it to him this once. He’ll still nurse, right? Right?!” 

Sobbing, second-guessing, and then, wonder of wonders…a calmed and soothed baby. Who went on to breastfeed for 13 grueling and occasionally rewarding months. I remember being so proud that his first beverage other than breast milk was plain old dairy milk. No nasty formula for my little prince, I was mommy, hear me roar.

About a year and a half later I was standing in an Italian farmacia on a Roman street corner, anxiously scanning the shelves of baby supplies, trying to select a formula that might be good enough for my colicky 10 month old who’d never slept through the night and who had injured me so severely with his budding teeth that I had to supplement for a couple days. Let’s just say I chose unwisely.

Boom.

By our third trip down L&D lane, I swung merrily into the nurses’ station after 3 days of prodromal labor and announced that I’d like my epidural placed now-ish, and that I didn’t want to feel anything other than joy for the next 12 hours.

The unifying theme to all of the above? Well, aside from the obvious you don’t know parenting until you’ve done it with each particular child, the common thread is this: never say never.

Unless, of course, it’s truly an issue of good versus evil.

I’ve learned to pick my battles in the ongoing drama that is the mommy wars, and there are only a handful of hills I’m willing to die on. They all have something in common though: they deal in objective moral reality.

Have a different style of discipline than we do? Great! We can still totally be friends. Super into co-sleeping and attachment style parenting? Okay, well that’s cool if it works for your family. Feeding your children conventional dairy products and processed chicken nuggets? Hey, if the grocery budget balances, who am I to judge?

But seriously, none of those issues deal in moral objectives. There is no black and white when it comes to pacifiers vs. nursing on demand, sleeping at mommy’s bedside vs. a room with a view down the hall, and appropriate spanking vs. love and logic.

The issues I will do battle over? Exposing our kids to evil via inappropriate television or movies. Vulgar or sexual language in front of them. Violence – true violence, not playground scuffles – against them or by them. Those are moral issues. Those are the times when parents must stand up and fight.

But for the love of all the loves, let’s back the flip down when it comes to co-sleeping. Let’s stop spamming up threads all over social media about immunization. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back so hard we fall flat on our faces if we’ve been blessed with an unusually compliant toddler who doesn’t need to be leashed near traffic, because we all know it’s our immaculate parenting practices that are responsible for his angelic nature.

The truth of it is, kids are a crazy combination of genetics and gentrification, nature and nurture. And for the most part, every parent is doing their best with what they’ve been given. And please, please let this filter down deep inside your mommy brain: nobody is parenting at you.

If your sister posts a Dr. Sears article on her Facebook page, you don’t need to feel affronted. If your best friend chooses not to vaccinate with morally-questionable (NOT illicit, mind you, but questionable, i.e. up for determination by the individual conscience) formulations, she is not trying to kill your newborn. And if your mother in law chides you for not giving that squalling 4 month old a hearty bottle of cow’s milk, smile kindly and thank her for her suggestion. No need to whip out The Womanly Art and start quoting scripture to her.

You are not a hero for birthing a baby without drugs. You are not a criminal for putting your child in day care. You are not a negligent mother for working outside the home. And you are not a thoughtless breeder for having your children 15 months apart. You are an unique, unrepeatable individual and a highly-specialized expert in your field: your kids.

Nobody else has the right to raise them. God knows, because He’s the one who gave them to you. 

So strap on that Ergo. Or don’t! Toss that chubby baby in an exersaucer and hit the treadmill next to them. Hell, switch on that iPad and take a shower by yourself. And be confident enough in your decision that you don’t waste precious time and energy defending your choices to strangers on the internet or your comrades in arms at play group.

Because whatever else you’re choosing to do for your child, in your home, in your family…you surely don’t have the time for that.

32 Comments

  • Anne Y

    Yes! Wonderful post. And I laughed so hard when I read your account of the italian “formula” that my 7.5 month old I’m nursing to sleep stopped nursing, looked up at me, and laughed too.

  • Cammie Wollner

    I was thinking Amen repeatedly as I finished each paragraph of your post! I’ve found myself wanting to shout “these aren’t moral issues” about everything from attachment parenting to baby feeding in the last couple of weeks (at my computer of course…).

    Parenting can be so humbling! Whenever I think I have something figured out I have a kid who flips the notions that I had on it’s head!

  • amy

    Omg…that Italian formula is seriously frightening. I didn’t buy ANY dairy in Italy because it was just so confusing, I can’t even imagine trying to get formula!!

    And yes, it took me 3 natural births to realize it is just NOT for me. And I even tried to get one at the last birth. Damn doula. She wouldn’t let me ask the nurse or my husband for one.

  • Kate

    I completely agree! Though I think there’s a good argument that choosing not to vaccinate, apart from the very few morally-questionable vaccines for which an alternative isn’t available, may really be a moral issue at least on par with exposing other people’s children to harmful media. After all, that choice IS one you make for the most vulnerable members of your community–people who legitimately can’t vaccinate and rely on the collective disease-resistance of the community around them.

  • Janie De Lara

    Well said and thank you for being a sane, reasonable person! My husband and I are wanting a baby, but I have been reading so many things online, I am almost intimidated by how all these mommies are now. I had my first (and so far only) 13 years ago (WITH an epidural after 14 hours of back labor) when I was just a teen myself, and I did what I had to in order for us to survive, so I didn’t really know or care about anybody else. Having a baby as an actual adult has almost seemed scarier.

    • Jacqueline Novak

      ! Yes! I sit here with a little baby I was miserable and waiting for a diagnosis of measles. It is a selfish choice and unless your child is allergic or has a compromised immune system you are endangering everyone. We should all be doing our part to protect those who don’t have the option.

    • Jenny

      I think you guys may have both missed the main thesis of the piece…

      I’m very sorry you had the experience of worry over your child’s health. It’s always an awful burden as a mother. I do challenge the logic that parents who choose not to vaccinate either partially or entirely are doing so out of selfishness or malice towards your child. Obviously we are all, as parents, trying to do what is in the best interest of the child: first our own and then everyone else’s.

    • Abby Petefish

      I definitely got the big picture point and totally agree with all the ‘mommy war’ hot topics as none of my business what you. But whether you give a newborn a pacifier or not isn’t in the same category as vaccinating your kid. I guess I just couldn’t let that one slide and just mingle in with the rest of these benign topics especially as I’m sitting in the middle of a Arizona measles outbreak with a 4mon who has no defense against it.

  • [email protected]

    My doc is making me write a birth plan. I am fairly certain I will just copy down, “I’d like my epidural placed now-ish, and that I didn’t want to feel anything other than joy for the next 12 hours.”

  • Tacy

    Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. The main struggle I have right now regards the sort of mental stimulation I want for my kids. I know my Mom would be happy in seventh heaven if we played cheesy Christian Bible kid songs 24/7 and probably judges me for not teaching more of those songs to my kids, but since we became Catholic I don’t feel as much pressure to do that as I used to. Props to you for letting go of others’ judgment and rolling with your instincts. I think you’re right on, and no, we shouldn’t compete or judge each other.

  • diana

    YES! I was always on guard when feeding my son a bottle in public, especially if I was mixing up formula. I was just waiting on some evil look so I could scream “He’s adopted! I don’t have any other option!”. Parenting needs a lot less competition and staying out of other people’s business these days. As long as your kid and is healthy (relatively speaking), safe, happy (relatively speaking), you must be doing it right.

  • Heather

    Love this. If there’s one thing I know about parenting, it’s: never pat yourself on the back. Ever. Not even 30 years later (yes, I know people who’ve been burned decades later…).

    But then, what do you do when you’re at the playground and some mommy takes a serious disliking to your completely normal 4 year old, just because he exists, and then starts screaming in your face about what a horrible and negligent mommy you are and how every other mommy on the playground also hates you and your kid? That made the online mommy wars I’ve seen look absolutely tame.

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