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Monday, June 04, 2007

Why are crunchy parents so annoying?

Above, Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby

I'm asking this as a crunchy parent myself. I was reading this article by a fellow parent on intensive parenting. I thought she was talking about those parents who hover over their toddlers on the playground preventing even the tiniest bump, or those parents who obsess over getting their child into the right, intellectually rigorous preschool program.

So I'm nodding my head as I read about dependence on experts, risk-adversiveness, overthinking children's nutrition, and then she hits me with this:

Perhaps the most intriguing discussion of the conference and the most confounding aspect of intensive parenting is that so many people appear to choose to do it. At its most extreme, families adopt parenting lifestyles such as so-called ‘attachment parenting’ that rely on close physical contact between mother and child for an extended period. And though physically and emotionally demanding, parents derive a sense of moral superiority from choosing what they believe is a more natural, yet scientifically enlightened way to raise their children. In fact, such practices are neither natural nor scientific but the logical conclusion of the view that individuals, good or bad, are simply extensions of how well they were ‘parented’.

Hey wait a mintute! I started from my late-night reading trance at that phrase, "Attachment parenting" because, you guessed it, I've gone full hog with the attachment parenting myself. I have my Dr. Sears on the shelf, (right next to Dr. Laissez Faire*, for balance). I nursed for an absurdly long time, did the baby wearing, did the co-sleeping. We've never been separated from Jasper for longer than an evening, though this is more because our family lives too far away for extended babysitting.

What can I say? It worked for us -- all three of us. Jasper is an emotionally demanding kid and we enjoy lavishing attention on him. (Lane, however, was eager to boot him our of our bed after about 10 months.) It was the best approach for us, and hey, even I have my limits. I'm only having one child. I'm only doing this intensive parenting thing once, and there will be no homeschooling. Plus I've read my Mother Nature. I know the science behind attachment parenting is anything but conclusive.

You hear a lot of defensiveness from parents who have not chosen attachment parenting as their path. Apparently its practitioners are self righteous and make everyone else feel guilty for their Ferberizing, daycare-dropping ways. Unfortunately, I have heard parents gripe about women who choose not to breastfeed or who wouldn't dream of delivering without an epidural.

There does seem to be an evangelical zeal to certain parenting practices brought about, I'm sure, by the convictions and passion for the rewards of this parenting approach. And we definitely need to fight to preserve to the right to make certain parenting choices; for example, how is an hourly-paid employee in the service industry supposed to express breastmilk when the only private space is the restroom? But this missionary zeal is clearly alienating our allies in parenting. After all, we all need each other's support -- I definitely do.

I'd like to go on record as saying that while attachment parenting worked for my family I don't for a minute believe it's the singular, best approach for everyone. It can't be -- we're all too different! You've got to do what works best for you (unless, of course, that involves beating or starving your children). I guess what I'm saying is I'd like to be the neutral ambassador of attachment parenting, the person who will support you if you're an APe, too, but welcomes parenting styles of all kinds.

Now, can we all hold hands and stop fighting? Has everyone had their snack? I think we see some more cranky, hungry frownie faces out there...

*Actually, The New Basics is my favorite baby book. And this combination of attachment parenting and laissez faire parenting makes me the childless onlooker's worst nightmare. Er, sorry about that.

**Full disclosure: I let Jasper fall asleep half-dressed and teeth unbrushed in front of cartoons so I could finish this post and get to bed by 11:00.


janeannechovy said...

I'm thrilled to be able to tell you that, as part of a banner session (which included passing anti-gay-discrimination and domestic partnership bills), the Oregon Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill requiring employers to give breastfeeding employees a private, clean place to either nurse or pump. Yay!

As for parenting styles, I've been mulling a post on this topic myself, which maybe I'll have time to finally spit out in the next week or three. We adopted some AP principles as far as they worked for us (co-sleeping for the first few months, breastfeeding longer than a year but not a full two, babywearing unless the kid would rather not be carried, etc.), but we're much stricter about behavioral rules than most crunchy parents of our acquaintance.

Luisa Perkins said...

Excellent, articulate post, AV! I almost don't miss my daily recipe fix. ;)

My parenting style is such a hodge-podge that I manage to offend just about everyone. But my kids are healthy, happy, and seem to like me a lot so far.

I agree with you on the judgment and holier-than-thou backbiting and snootiness. Let it go, people! Trust that every parent is different, and that most are doing their level best on the hardest job in the whole world.

Co said...

Amen! Very well said.

Just last night, I read a blog post that irritated me -- not because I had issues with the choices that the mother who wrote the post had made, but because of the fact that she clearly wrote about it so others would chime in and comment about how admirable, superior, and self-sacrificing her parenting choices are. Blech!

I suspect parenting will be a little bit like teaching was for me. In teaching, there are many different philosophies and many experts telling you what you *should be* doing and that their approach is THE ONE. But, my reality was... I came to teaching as ME. I have certain strengths and certain weaknesses, and I needed an approach that played to my strengths. And I needed an approach that met the needs of my students as well, because they weren't blank slates when I got them. They came to me with all their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and baggage. And like many teachers, I became a cafeteria pedagogue and took from each philosophy whatever worked for me and my students, and left the orthodoxy behind.

I can't wait to get know my little "Flipper." I hope I make mostly good parenting choices. I'm sure I'll make bad ones, too. But whatever choices I make, I will make them because they are what I think will work best for my family, not because I want to be able to feel morally superior to other parents.

Adriana Velez said...

Amen to that, Co! You'll be great.

Yeah, I think everyone takes a bit of this and a little bit of that for their parenting philosophies. I just wish parents were less critical of each other and more supportive.

MWR said...

Part of the reason some are annoying has to be that they can't simply do their thing, keeping it in proper perspective and minding their own business. I'm sure a totalizing experience like parenthood (first-time parenthood especially, in my experience) makes it easy to forget that the world does not and should not revolve around the child and his/her needs. However, I've heard a few too many stories like the one about a mother who requested that an entire Thanksgiving dinner (hosted by a relative) be rescheduled for 9 a.m. so it would fit better with her young child's nap schedule. Viewed from an external, objective perspective, the request is laughable—absurd—but to that mother it seemed reasonable enough to float most earnestly.

For me, other sometime sources of annoyance include:

- Some parents' adherence to doctrinaire-yet-unprovable parenting "philosophies", coupled with their complete lack of self-awareness about the possible non-child-related reasons they have for doing so

- Parents who behave as though they have been entrusted with the first human baby to be born on Earth in more than a thousand years

- The naivete and borderline arrogance of imagining you can protect your child from the world and bad things in it. Do these parents imagine that their parents could have protected them from much of the pain, hardship, sadness and loss they've experienced in their own lives?