In light of the recent TIME magazine cover stirring up so much talk about parenting styles I have found myself feeling inclined to defend my parenting choices. But I have remained quiet. Once you start to defend yourself everything goes to shit. How I choose to feed my kids, or where they sleep or how I discipline isn’t really up to the woman behind me in line at the grocery store that tries to strike up a conversation. And while it is not really up to my friends and family either I am fortunate enough to have trusting and understanding people around me that respect our decisions to parent our children in the best way we see fit.
I have tried to avoid the comments online. I don’t really need to know that strangers think nursing your toddler is disgusting and that bed-sharing is appalling. I am confident in my beliefs. I read. I researched. And then I listened to my heart. So far, so good. Em is almost seven. She loves me. She remembers nursing and speaks fondly of those stolen moments at night before she fell asleep as a nursing toddler. And she sleeps in her own bed now. Lucy will do all of those things, too.
I try very hard not to judge other mothers. “Mommy guilt,” the “mommy wars,” pretty much any descriptor that begins with “mommy” makes my skin crawl. They all seem to set up a divide. You’re in or you’re out. While I have dear friends that parent very differently than I do I know they love their kids. And that’s enough for me. And the Mommies that I don’t know personally? I try not to judge them, too. I try to assume (and yes, I know what happens when you assume) that they love their kids, too.
But don’t get me wrong. I do judge. Silently. On the inside. I try not to. I examine my instincts to question someone’s choices all while remaining indignant over the questioning of my own. Perhaps judge is the wrong word. There is not always a value associated with my thought process. Sometimes I just wonder why. Why wouldn’t you want to XYZ (insert a parenting technique that works for me.) While I do believe that many of the eight principles of attachment parenting truly do lay the groundwork for growing exceptional, kind and compassionate children I also believe that attachment parenting studies provide the research to support what I’d want to do anyway. Hold on. Tight. To that little creature that is gonna grow up so damn fast. Don’t miss a minute. And above all show and teach them loving kindness. While they eat, while they sleep, while they are disciplined. And as I said yesterday loving my people, that’s my jam. It rings my bell.
I saw a woman at the airport sitting next to her infant. She was reading a magazine. Baby had a bottle propped on a blanket in their carrier. “Bottle propping” is dangerous due to the risk of asphyxiation. There’s that. But the baby was eating. Alone. And Mom? She was reading a news magazine. There is nothing that makes you smile in a news magazine. It made me sad. Not the bottle, feed your kid what you want and how you want (unless, of course, you ask me what I think.) But the disconnect. The lack of joy.
There is so little opportunity to communicate with an infant successfully, so many moments when you wish you knew what they wanted or needed, when their crying little eyes stare in to yours and you hope against hope that they know you are trying so hard to understand and that you love them enough to walk through fire.
But the simple moment when a nursing baby (and I would assume it is true of a bottle fed baby, as well) looks up at you while they munch away with big, wide eyes and you say “You were hungry, baby?” I wouldn’t give that up. Not for a Newsweek. Because in that moment I know without a shred of doubt I am doing exactly what I need to be doing. I need those moments. You were hungry. I am feeding you. Win win. To push back to the back of my head all the moments where I thought “what the shit do you want?? You are fed and dry and rested!! Please!! I don’t speak baby!!!!” followed up with the over tired leap to “I am a FAILURE as a mother!!!!”
So, the bottle-propping mother gets a raised eyebrow. But alongside the judgement is a question. Don’t you know you’re missing it? A moment where you would be rewarded with a gold star on your Mommy Chart.
And then yesterday afternoon I was sitting with Lucy. I thought of that mother at the airport. It had been a long day. Lucy was eating. I chuckled. It’s not bottle propping if she can hold it herself, right? She is four months old and so capable and strong. Almost feeding herself, all fifteen independent little pounds of her. Too bad I couldn’t sneak away and pee all alone.
Normally I try not to get into the parenting method discussions, partly bc I think every parent ends up doing whatever they prefer to do (and not necessarily what they think is best for the children, unless the two happen to coincide) and partly bc I think we take “parenting” way too seriously these days – the “mommy” culture drives me batty. Children aren’t miracles. Pretty much anyone can make one. However, I must reply because I HATE Sears. I totally understand why plenty of people like him and his philosophy – but I think it is bc it validates what you wanted to do anyway. Some women prefer to have their children hang on them (literally) for several years and some would rather get back to doing non-mommy things asap. Neither approach is necessarily better or worse for the kid. The Sears book was the only baby book I owned when I brought my first kid home from the hospital. He was colicky, cried every time he ate, my milk wasn’t coming in and the only book I had was telling me to carry him around as much as possible and for God’s sake don’t give him formula. I ended up throwing the book out of my 15th floor window. (I realize now that Sears would have been totally acceptable and I might have become an “attachment” parent if my 2nd kid had been my first.) Anyway, my point is, the only method anyone needs is their own. I bottle prop and read magazines any chance I get. Feeding has always felt like a chore to me. I actually don’t really like being around babies all that much – I’m just getting through until they’re 3+. Hopefully that doesn’t make me a bad parent. Most dads I know don’t care for infants too much either! But some mommies can’t get enough of babies, even if it means they don’t sleep for 3 years. But if I co-slept and wore a sling and breastfed for years, I can guarantee I would be insanely unhappy. I don’t know anyone who does those things just bc they feel like they have to or their kid will be worse off – I think everyone who does it enjoys it.
Above all else one must preserve their sanity. No matter who you are, mom or not. And I hear what you’re saying about Sears. I love him BECAUSE he provides me with research to back up what my gut says I should do. And for the most part I think any parent that reads any kind of parenting book looking for a label is looking to find support for what they are already doing. With the exception of Ezzo’s Babywise I don’t think there is a dangerous philosophy to grab on to.
And as far as not being crazy about babies goes – no one was more shocked than me. I never liked baby dolls and I still have no desire to hold anyone else’s baby. I never imagined I’d want to be stuck like glue to my own. I’m grateful to have read enough Sears to know that my holding on to my kids won’t be what fucks them up. I’ll fuck them up in my own special and unique way. Just like every one else I know. :)
Just my two cents. You seem like a kick ass mama now, and hell, you even seemed like a kick-ass teenager back in Robinson, so confident of what you were doing at all times. But I seriously feel like I was flailing around with no idea what the f I was doing. I was torn in so many different directions. What I want to do is stay home all day with my kids and just be a full time at home mom. Financial reality is if I want to live in this town and own a home, can’t do it. I nursed for a year with Sammie. We had an in office daycare, so she could be with me and I would go down several times a day to feed her and play with her at lunch. Even when I was on deadline and work was puling me one direction and she was my other pole. I felt so torn. I think that’s the worst part. We’re all trying to find our way and what we really need is support. But with everyone with their own opinion (and then the husband steps in and does his thing, which may not jibe with how you parent) it’s all a complete juggling act to me.
I could have been that mom with the magazine thinking, “Ah, a minute to myself. I got the car seat, the suit case, didn’t forget anything, have the camera, the diaper is dry, she’s eating… because soon I’m gonna be on the plane and I will be responsible for making sure she doesn’t bother the whole plane and keep her calm.” (Oh, the glares from those un-childrened people.) Plus, I’m always a bit nervous until I get to the gate. I guess it does sound pretty un-joyful. But, we get our moments. We get take off and landing and playing on the plane and running off to see Grandma/Grandpa.
I think everyone tends to do their best and it’s hard to not get defensive when you really feel you could have (should have?) done better.
But all we can do is our best and forgive ourselves for mistakes and being human.
And some people really, really, need a few minutes to themselves in order to be a better parent. And for them to physically “get off me!” for a moment. (And then later you can come cuddle on my lap.) My kids know that sometimes mommy needs a time out, but I’m there in case they need them and in a few minutes I’ll be able to push them on the swing.
How well you expressed the eighth principle of attachment parenting. I think they left this one to last because it is the most important. “Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life.”
And that is precisely why I try so hard not to judge another mother. Because you don’t know all the details, none of us do, “walk a mile in another’s shoes” and all that.
But just as important as it might be to try not to judge is sometimes to admit when we do.
And I’ll add you to the list of folks I’d tricked in to thinking I was confident, Kim. :) It must have been my sweet perm.
I love this so much: “I need those moments. You were hungry. I am feeding you. Win win.”
They way they’d sigh and start sucking and their eyes would look up at me and then start fluttering closed. It was like a little triumphant victory every time.
Okay maybe not every time. But enough times.
Oh the judging. So hard to bear, so hard to not do it. I still feel judged for not co-sleeping with T. I mean, he was in a bassinet in our room for 3 months, but it was sort of a disaster because he didn’t sleep. He didn’t sleep until we did CIO at 5 months. And then he slept like the proverbial baby. I was so against CIO and I am still super defensive about doing it. But it taught me so much as well. You kid is an individual who might not conform to your ideas of what they need and what proper parenting is. Another thing that taught me to not judge so much is having two so close together. I can remember a lot of what T went through and C is so damn different. Haven’t had to do any CIO. Really, don’t think we will at all. Because he doesn’t need it. As long as you are responding to the needs of your kid I think you are doing a great job.
And the Time cover…Oh man, does it have me riled up. I didn’t read the article because I couldn’t get past the cover. And I’m a mom who is sad that my milk dried up when my son was 18 months because I was pregnant. We would have kept on keeping on for as long as he wanted if that didn’t happen. But toddlers are not nursed standing on a chair. The pose was disingenuous and highly sexualized and it was doing the exact opposite of what attachment parenting is about. It goes against trying to make breast feeding more accepted. And as someone who believes in the importance of breastfeeding I find that unacceptable and damaging to the rights of women to breastfeed where ever they need to. And yes, I’m ending with a preposition.
Great post, Kelly. You are an amazing Mama.
You rule. You managed to criticize the TIME cover without attacking the woman. I “know” her via the internet and no one is more upset with the backlash than she. Naive to think this mainstream media publication would do anything but choose an inflammatory photo and an even more inflammatory title? Perhaps. But her heart was in the right place.
Different kids have different parents. Amazing. I think of you often w2hen I feel the hair stand up on the back of neck re: CIO. I always try to remember that my “philosophies” on parenting work (for me) because of the kids I happen to have.