DWYNTD Parenting (or Yes, I Just Learned about Natural Parenting)
Some people believe I’m a great parent. They even leave comments telling me such, usually after I write a post where I’ve described a parenting moment where they thought I did a good job navigating the twins’ batshit insane questions or heart-stopping commentary, such as this recent post on the ChickieNob’s desire for a Baby Alive doll and our subsequent conversation about pregnancy and infant loss. I mostly agree with them; I think parenting is a place I excel, especially explaining the world in age-appropriate ways. I have relatively easy charges, but I still think I put in a good days’ work to warrant my usage of the World’s Best Mother mug in the cabinet.
I am also pretty much as far as you can get from being a natural parent.*
We never considered a midwife or doula or homebirth, even though we knew those options existed. I delivered the twins in an operating room with an emergency epidural in my back, and it not only didn’t bother me, but I thought the hospital’s protocol made perfect sense. We formula fed the twins with bottles. We used disposable diapers. They spent about two nights in our room in a pack-n-play, but their heart monitors were so loud that we quickly moved them into their room so no group bed. I used a baby carrier from time to time, but not mindfully. It was for me; not for them. (I also didn’t use a stroller from the second they could walk and beyond. I was not going to throw out my back lugging a double stroller in and out of the car when the Lord gave them four perfectly acceptable toddler legs. Two each, I mean.) We don’t homeschool, we don’t unschool, we don’t free range parent. We have a penchant for plastic toys. We vaccinate. And — this might be the icing on the non-natural cake — I gave into their request for Capri Sun this summer. I’m sure if I kept writing this paragraph, I could think of more things to add.**
On the other hand, I also made all of their baby food. And practice sustainable living. And let them make all of their own decisions unless it comes down to safety or sanity. And they keep kosher, which is a mindful, cruelty-reducing way of eating. And they do volunteer work and recycle, not because we tell them but because it’s self-led and what they want to do. And I think we’ve established that I am overly respectful of their autonomy down to not posting their picture online and clearing subject matter with them.
We can look at one person — for instance, me — and see that I embody some things that people admire and other things that the very same people would never want to emulate. I do a fine job explaining terrorism to small children, but now you also know that even though my friends were all into cloth diapering, I purchased disposable ones. I knew and had support for all the options out there, and these were the ones I chose. I can be both a “great” mum and a “terrible” mum in the same breath because human beings are complex, and with few exceptions, we don’t fall neatly into categories such as completely fantastic or completely awful. Most of us exist in this middle ground of admirable and despicable qualities, by which I mean that they are admirable or despicable to the outsider. (I obviously think all of my choices were good-enough to good choices.)
Outsiders judge, but insiders know that sometimes our decisions aren’t even really decisions at all. I mean, I didn’t decide not to buy a Mercedes; I didn’t buy a Mercedes because we don’t have the money for that particular car. And I didn’t decide to deliver in an operating room; that was the option given to me by the hospital where I was brought to deliver because we had an emergency situation. But in the end, I’m happy with the car we got because we own a car; and I’m happy with the delivery we had because it brought me to these two little people (who I happen to think are amazing and wonderful) who eat at my breakfast table every morning. Knowing the otherwise that so many of my friends in the blogosphere live every day, I don’t think I have a right to complain even if I wanted to. But the point is that our choices sometimes have limits and those limits are our circumstances. And sometimes those circumstances are the children we get — they don’t neatly fold themselves into the parenting philosophies we wish to follow — or the people we are — as much as we’d like to be the type who engages in babywearing, our back or work schedule precludes it.
And when that occurs, we can either feel guilty or we can laugh.
One of my yoga teachers calls me the Laugher. (The unfortunate consequence is that no one in class knows my name, and I guess they feel awkward calling me Laugher outside of class because when they see me, they throw out a completely random woman’s name as if I’m Rumpelstiltskin and they’re trying to guess my secret name so I don’t run off with their children.) When she calls out a position in class that I know I can’t do or don’t feel like trying, I sit down on my mat and laugh. I’m not laughing at her, nor am I even laughing at myself. It’s just a reaction instead of calling out, “oh well.” I sit on my mat and take it as an opportunity to have a drink of water and watch everyone else fold themselves into these amazing binds and inversions.
I guess I choose to meet the concept of the Mommy Wars with laughter. The only place I encounter the anger is here online, but that could be because I surround myself in the face-to-face world with people who support my decisions even if they wouldn’t choose them for themselves. So I am being upfront by telling you that I not only won’t engage in arguing in my comment section, but I choose to read posts or comments denouncing certain parenting options with laughter. Not a mean-spirited snort, but a reaction instead of calling out a happy-with-myself-and-sure-in-my-decision “oh well.” There were choices I chose not to explore; birthing options, intactivism, cloth diapering. And there were parenting choices that were removed as an option due to circumstances — they were Mercedes, as it were, and we didn’t have the cash. For those, I feel sadness about the loss of experience, but no sadness over the choices we made. I have well-mannered, happy, healthy seven-year-old twins. I would be insane to ignore that fact in order to reach backwards.
So in the proverbial Mommy Wars, I’m meeting angry comments or self-satisfied sanctimony with kind laughter.
I don’t have a name for my brand of parenting. And I’m going to be honest since this is simply my truth (as it should be since this is my blog). I don’t believe in parenting philosophies with names. At all. Period. I don’t believe that parenting ideas should be akin to religion and that we should worship at the altar of parenting deities. I don’t believe that parenting books are Bibles. That is what works for me, though maybe this eschewing of parenting movements doesn’t work for you. And that is fine; I fully support other people buying into full, prix fixe ideas rather than approaching parenting a la carte. Neither way is better than the other, though my heart can only feel comfortable on one of those two paths.
When people attempt to convince me otherwise, I meet them with kind laughter since the only person whose opinion about my parenting matters in my life is my own (the twins and Josh are a close second and third); I am the only person who knows whether she feels like she can hold her head high and drink from the World’s Best Mother mug.
And yeah, most days I think I can drink from the World’s Best Mother mug without the ground opening up to swallow me for my hubris.
If you made me summarize my method of a la carte parenting, I would probably label it: Do What You Need to Do parenting (DWYNTD). And I would describe what I do as such:
- It’s an a la carte approach where you look at the multitude of options before you; weigh them against your emotional capital, financial reality, support system, physical landscape, time allotment, and actual child in hand; and then make a decision that works for you and your family.
- You remove all labels, all external pressure, all judgment, and simply parent.
- You look to parenting books for advice and then shut them the moment you find something that resonates with you.
- You do things because they work for you and not because they work for someone else.
- You think before you act, and you turn inward instead of outward to check your parenting compass.
- And you do all of this without guilt knowing full well that the majority of life is outside your control and that so much of prix fixe parenting philosophies is simply about trying to believe there is a way to control a chaotic world. That there is anything we can do to guarantee that our child will not only grow up to do something amazing and be healthy and bright, but they will still want to hang out with us when they’re adults. DWYNTD parents make the best decisions they can make and try not to fuck-up enormously, and trust that if they build a happy home, their kids will probably want to return to it. But nothing in life is a guarantee.
- Worrying about the future is totally acceptable in DWYNTD parenting, but regrets about the past should be kept to a minimum. We make the best decisions we can make in the moment and move on.
- And absolutely, without a doubt, DWYNTD parenting is not the best for all children, though it’s definitely the best for mine and it could be the best for yours too. But I wouldn’t know about your kid because the only kids I know are the ones that live in my house.
Why don’t I believe in parenting philosophies with names? Because they create as many problems as they solve.
I know that some people need to label things in order to bond together, to find their niche or support. And while I think that is well and good on one hand (and it can certainly be beneficial), it can be dangerous on the other when people stop asking themselves what parts of a certain parenting philosophy work for the family and the children they have, and change it to be what more can they do to fit a certain parenting philosophy. I think this is especially dangerous when you have a child who doesn’t fit with the average child who could benefit from that parenting idea. Children — like the adults they become — are not one size fits all.
I spend a lot of time reading blog posts where people are stressed beyond belief over an aspect or two of a parenting philosophy, and I don’t understand why they continue on a path that isn’t working for them or their child except the constant refrain comes back to the idea that this is something they have to follow if they want to be part of X movement. I also don’t really understand how people can choose how they want to parent before they have children. It makes no sense to commit to a certain type of parenting before you see if the type of child you have would benefit from those parenting ideas. It would be like committing to a college as a five-year-old without any idea of what you want to study or what school would fit your learning needs best when you’re eighteen. Every single baby is different simply because every single person is different. Not every baby likes to be held and not every baby can handle the gel used in disposable diapers.
People asked me what I thought about “natural parenting.” I can’t get up in arms because there’s another new parenting philosophy on the block that insists it’s “better for parents, better for babies and better for the earth. It really IS a much better way!,” especially when we all know that parenting philosophies are here and gone in a New York minute when we consider the scope of parenting from 65 million years ago until now. Natural parenting is an eye blink on the continuum of parenting philosophies to be replaced by something else or the exact same thing with a new name come the next generation. The parenting item industry cannot exist if people don’t switch ideas every few years and require a whole new slew of books and gadgets in order to keep up with the Jones’. This isn’t to diminish the validity of natural parenting, but instead to put it in its place. Aspects of all these parenting philosophies can be found all over the world and throughout different moments of time, sometimes even with the exact same elements but a different name, and they’re repackaged over and over again by people saying they want to give you guidance, which they have to state is the best guidance or else you might not follow them.
But I don’t need guidance because I’ve got my own internal compass. And when that fails, I have family and friends to support me — which is what the majority of cultures practice; the passing of parenting information from family member to family member or elders to youngers. And when that fails as it sometimes does with the modern nuclear family, I know where to look for answers to my individual questions. And when all back-up systems fail, I sit down and laugh. Or I cry. Or I do whatever I need to do to get through the moment.
Perhaps I don’t buy into the idea that you need a label in order to get support because the parents I respect the most, the ones I turn to for advice, parent differently from Josh and myself. I gather support and advice from them simply because I think they are smart. They are sensible and have a good head on their shoulders and often point out something I missed. My parenting tribe is made up of breastfeeders and bottle feeders, cloth diaper-ers and disposable diaper-ers, cry-it-outers and never-cry-it-outers, stay-at-homes and work-at-homes and work-out-of-the-homes, parents and non-parents. I’ve had breastfeeders give me advice on weaning the bottle. I’ve had cry-it-outers point me towards Elizabeth Pantley’s books. And I’ve gotten some of my best advice from people who aren’t parents but are simply intuitive about my particular children. The reality is that we all contain knowledge that we can give away to others, some that we used ourselves and some we collected along the way.
People can judge me all they want, but if they can do that, I also have the choice to ignore their judgment, and yes, laugh. At the end of the day, I’m just a fallible parent like all parents. There is nothing I can do except use my intuition and give my best effort. If you’ve ever read Stirrup Queens and thought that I’m a good parent, I hope that you can balance that thought with anything you learned about me from this post. You may not be quite as impressed with my parenting now that you know the choices I made for them from birth until now (including the Capri Sun). But that fact alone is why I choose a la carte parenting over a prix fixe idea. Because people rarely fit into the neat boxes others create for us. And when we try to squeeze ourselves into those boxes, we do so at the expense of our selves — our sanity, our happiness, our confidence.
You are a great parent or parent-to-be who can pick and choose what works for you (and perhaps that choice coincidentally includes every option within a certain parenting philosophy). I am also a great parent who can pick and choose what works for me. And just as we don’t all sit down in the cafeteria with the same meal, and we don’t judge each other for picking the spaghetti option vs. the chicken sandwich option, I’d like to believe that all humans can sit down in the same cafeteria (parents of living children, parents of deceased children, parents of not-yet children, and people never to be parents) and respect each other’s decisions without having to make anyone else feel like crap for their choices when they don’t directly impact us.
It is fine to judge me when my choices affect you; for when my children accost you with their nipples. Don’t judge me for the fact that I put a bottle nipple that never affected you into my child’s mouth. Or, actually, fine, go ahead and judge. But the only thing you’ll hear is me laughing; again, not a mean-spirited snort but a gentle reminder that the world is hard enough without making it harder on each other by trying to diminish each other’s self-esteem or in pushing ourselves to do something that makes us uncomfortable or frustrated.
* I am also non-natural in the sense that I lost five pregnancies prior to creating the twins via completely unnatural means, but I’m going to guess that isn’t part of the definition of natural parenting, nu?
** For the love, I’m going to say this once, loud and clear, which I say all the time on my blog: I respect and sometimes even admire your choices, even if they’re not choices I’ve made for my kids. So yes, I am fully supportive of unmedicated childbirth, breastfeeding, cloth diapers, family beds, babywearing, homeschooling, unschooling, free range parenting, banishing high fructose corn syrup and eschewing plastic toys. My friends and family members, who I personally believe rock as parents, have chosen some of these things and can vouch that from holding their breast in order to help with breastfeeding (you know who you are…) to buying them baby carriers, I fully support all the other roads not taken. The roads I didn’t take weren’t taken not because I negatively judge those choices but because they didn’t fit with the children we got. (Or the parents they got… by which I mean Josh and myself. Damn that was awkwardly worded.)
Photo Credit: Simplyla via Flickr