Saturday, November 3, 2012

On Being a Parenting Mutt

I once ran across a comment by another mom, lamenting the fact that she never felt like she fit in with other mothers. I believe her words were, "I'm too mainstream to be crunchy, and too crunchy to be mainstream."

I kind of wanted to hug her. And then be her friend. And then hang out with her all the time and eat farmers' market beet greens for dinner and Safeway Select ice cream for dessert, and go on walks with our woven baby slings and Target-bought strollers, and wash out our cloth diapers and sterilize our bottle parts. Because I knew exactly what she meant. I can so relate.
This is my beautiful little hippie child, eating homegrown kale by the handful.
Same child, eating a non-organic baseball cap while waiting for food (probably French fries) at a restaurant in Texas.  
Let's set aside the fact that I am not a huge fan of the idea that the entire world of mothers is divided into the two halves of "crunchy" and "mainstream" (actually, I kind of absolutely loathe this idea, but, moving on). There's a lot more to this issue, really. I think it really comes down to this: parenting, at its core, is about a lot more than categories.

When I was probably, I don't know, about 30 weeks pregnant with Peregrine, I opened my weekly email newsletter (you know, the ones that tell you what type of fruit your child most closely resembles that week), and found myself confronted with an article telling me it was time to choose my parenting style. I don't even remember what my options were. The link suggested three or four, explaining their basic principles and the different strategies and choices each employed. I was kind of floored.

On the one hand, I get that it's important to think carefully about parenting. As much as a lot of parenting is flying by the seat of your pants, that doesn't negate the importance of knowledge. But I was a bit baffled by the thought of choosing a "style" (before I'd even had a baby no less!), and then sticking to it. Like I was choosing a club to belong to.

Even when Peregrine was in utero, I focused on eating healthy organic fruits and veggies...
...and queso dip made with Velveeta. Welcome to rural Texas. (That's my dad's cousin on the right).
I think there's a certain amount of confidence that comes with any label or name. If I agree with the vast majority of what a particular author or doctor or researcher says, it's easy to just start considering myself   That Type of parent, whatever it is. And suddenly, I start thinking that whatever That Person endorses is something I ought to be doing.

Let's take, for instance, one of my favorites: Free Range Parenting and author Lenore Skenazy. The basic philosophy behind this movement is that we give our children far too little freedom and that we tend to parent out of fear of what might happen instead of allowing our children to take risks and grow on their own without always monitoring them. Overall, I love this philosophy. It syncs with a lot of what I believe about raising healthy children. I love that there are parents out there who are starting to let their kids walk to school, and play in the dirt, and bike to the store on their own, because of Skenazy's blog and the book she wrote. But it is so, so easy to get sucked into the label. It's so easy for me to say, "Okay, because I agree with so much of what Free Range Parenting has to offer the world, I'll buy it. I'll buy the label, get my membership card, and voila! I'm a Free Range Parent."
The dirt. It's good.
But then, for some odd reason, I then feel like I should think like she thinks. When I have to decide whether or not to let Peregrine play in the freezing muddy creek, or ride his little "car" on the driveway near the (quiet, carless) street, instead of weighing my pros and cons and making a decision based on all the circumstances, I'll find myself wondering "What would a Free Range Parent do?" Like I would somehow have to turn in my Free Range Parent card if I made the wrong decision. But the truth is, I'm not a Free Range Parent. I'm a parent. Who happened to read (and agreed with a lot of) the Free Range blog.

I think it's something about human nature to try to find a category that fits us. But the truth is, when it comes to parenting, there is none. Each one of us has a unique personality, a unique spouse, a unique set of children. Not to mention a unique extended family, a unique set of friends, a unique community. Those are the things that will determine our parenting, which will in turn be unique.
This. It's mine. 
I don't know how many times, both before and after giving birth to Peregrine, I've run into questions like this:

"Can I be an Attachment Parent and still use a crib? What about sleep training?"

"Would a Waldorf Parent use plastic Fisher-Price-style toys?"

"Can I be a Babywise Parent and nurse on demand sometimes?"

And while I know that most people asking these questions are generally concerned about how different practices fit in with certain principles, I still think it can be very confusing, both for moms-to-be and moms-who-already-are. Because it's not about categories. Can you be an Attachment Parent and still sleep train? Maybe, maybe not. I don't know. But can you be the parent of your child, who agrees with the majority of attachment parenting principles and also believes in training a baby to have good sleep habits? Yes, you absolutely can. It's okay to pick and choose. It's okay take only most of a style, or only part of it. Adhering to a style is not near as important as adhering to the quirks of your particular family.

And you know what? Some of us will end up looking like poster children for certain parenting styles, because that's what works for our families. I know plenty of people like that, and they do it well. But for a lot of us (most of us, probably), we'll end up looking like parenting mutts. And that's okay, too.

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