There are some seriously messed-up expectations in motherhood – you know, tummy time, extra-curricular activities, the Wiggles – but by far the most twisted, torturous and baffling (in my opinion) is the idea that I’m supposed to adopt some sort of “parenting philosophy,” — like there should be some voice inside my soul guiding my every move as a mother, allowing me to feel all confident and right in my decisions, so I can hop on parenting forums and websites to proudly announce (as we all bow our heads in reverence): My Approach.
“I practice attachment parenting!”
“I’m a cry-it-out supporter!”
“I exclusively breastfeed!”
“I think breastfeeding is the end of female independence!”
“I’m a VBAC, no Vax, CD, EBF, CS, SAHM mom!”
“I have 2 nannies and wear Chanel and see my kids on Fridays!”
(Ok I realize some of those are ridiculous, but have you read Twitter bios?)
And I’m supposed to stand behind this approach, totally and completely, because I believe in it and shit, and I get all smug when people don’t agree, and I hang out with “like-minded” mothers because they support me in my well-researched, educated, enlightened methodology.
With my first two kids, I guess I practiced “attachment parenting.” They exclusively breastfed, on demand, co-slept from birth til 3 or 4 years old, and I picked them up whenever they cried, carrying them in slings and carriers and such.
However, I didn’t do it because I thought it was “the best way.”
I didn’t do it because Mothering magazine told me so, and I sure as hell didn’t do it because all my friends were doing it (um, I was 22 – all my friends were playing pool and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon).
I didn’t do it because I was pressured by family members or the community (I had a Play Boy bunny diaper bag to piss off the yuppie moms in my SUPER YUPPIE town), and I didn’t do it because my husband told me I should (see above re: Pabst Blue Ribbon).
You know why I did it?
Because it felt right. It worked for me.
No, really. That’s it. That’s as deep as it goes.
I’m selfish. I’m not going to suffer through some mothering hell because the ubiquitous “they” tell me I’m supposed to. Ya feel me?
I breastfed because it seemed WAY EASIER than making bottles all the time, and I did it on demand because I couldn’t handle listening to a baby wail. Of course, it helped that my mom was a La Leche League educator who taught me Dr. Spock is an asshole. I co-slept because it was the only way I could get any sleep, and I liked having my babies near me, and felt more comfortable knowing they were right there. I wore them in slings because I found out right away that I could get way more done if I stuck them in there – they were happier for longer, my hands were free, and by breastfeeding and baby-wearing I could leave the house with very little gear, which was less to remember, and I liked that.
Why didn’t I wean my kids? Because I never wanted to. I wrote about that here.
You know why I used cloth diapers? Because I thought they were cute.
I warned you: not deep.
And so I’m going happily on my way, parenting the way I feel like it, when I come across Mothering magazine and I’m all “Wait a hot minute! There’s a name for this? ‘Attachment Parenting?’”
Golly gee I thought it was just called “parenting.”
And though I always felt a little attachment-parent-deficient because we couldn’t afford Waldorf schools or Amish toys, I’ll admit I got a little carried away, a little confident in my “approach.” I subscribed to the right blogs and magazines and read it religiously and felt a bit smug and true and right in my philosophy.
Ah, but then I had Georgia.
I should have known, given the nature of her birth, that she would always have her own plans, but alas, I’m a bit of a dumbass, and clearly (as evidenced by my 3 kids), I don’t learn very quickly.
Anyway, after using two cribs as stuffed-animal holders, we didn’t even buy a crib or co-sleeper or anything for the third. Obviously she would sleep with us. OBVIOUSLY.
Not gonna lie, I felt like some sort of attachment-parenting ninja having not even purchased a crib.
I should have known then I’d get my smug ass handed to me on a pretty little platter by a ten-pound bundle of crazy.
You see, this kid hardly slept at all next to me. She would like shift her body and twist and turn all night, as if she were irritated, bothered. She didn’t settle against my breast all happy; she nursed and flung herself away from me, as if to say “Thanks woman, now leave me the hell alone.” She woke up frequently and none of us got any sleep.
After about 3 months of this I finally admitted to myself and my husband: “Um, I don’t think she likes being touched while she sleeps.” We bought a $60 crib from Ikea, stuck it in our room and put her in it. She snuggled in and crashed, with a look on her face that said “Aw, FINALLY.”
And to this day, she sleeps in her crib, only coming into our bed occasionally when she’s sick or going through some phase.
As if that weren’t enough to shatter my delusions of grandeur, after about 3 months of pumping two or three times a day at work, to ensure my baby was exclusively breastfed, I found that I just couldn’t take it anymore, and, I guess because I’m selfish once again, I (you might want to shield your eyes) started giving my baby formula as well as breast milk.
Oh, the guilt! The irreversible pain!
I’m joking. It was totally fine.
Pumping every 3 hours and dealing with milk transportation and refrigeration and ALL THE SUPPLIES every day with three kids and grad school and work and babysitters was ruining my life. The formula supplement thing worked way better. Done.
And I used one of those baby carrier stroller things (a mini-version, but still) in addition to slings, because it worked better in some situations with my older kids.
And I let her watch TV occasionally.
And she quit breastfeeding around two years old, but she still takes a bottle. HORRORS!
So I guess all this makes me, what, a practitioner of “detachment parenting?”
Check it out. I have an idea. I vote that we all stop analyzing our parenting decisions in terms of whether or not they adhere to some over-arching philosophy we’ve read or heard is The Best.
I vote that we stop comparing our approaches to some magazine or blog or whatever the fuck, and trust that we know how to parent the child that exited our own vaginas, and we are smart enough and strong enough and aware enough (Stuart Smalley, anyone?) to respond to the ever-changing realities of our lives in a way that will meet our own needs and the needs of our kids.
I know, radical shit up in here.
But I mean it. We can be doctors and lawyers and brilliant homemakers and farmers but somehow we need complete strangers to tell us how to raise the kids we know better than anybody else?
It’s crazy when you think about it, right?
So here’s what I think we should do. When we’re faced with some big ass parenting decision (or even the small ones, really) and hear those voices start chattering (“this is wrong, this is right, this violates ____ belief! They say this behavior causes this one horrible thing”)…we just ask ourselves:
IS THIS WORKING?
And if the answer is “no,” we change something – even if it means we practice some whacked-0ut version of “Detached Attachment Parenting.”
Or, as I like to call it, parenting.