Stop Capital Punishment: Say No to Official Parenting Philosophies

Filed under: Bedtime, Activities: Family Time, Family Time

Recently, feminist Erica Jong wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal on today's popular parenting methods and how she feels they imprison mothers. She believes philosophies like Attachment Parenting or Green Parenting have "encouraged female victimization" and are the bane of feminism. (Yikes!)

She writes: "Today's bible of child-rearing is "The Baby Book" by William and Martha Sears, which trumpets 'attachment parenting.' You wear your baby, sleep with her and attune yourself totally to her needs ... Add to this the dictates of 'green parenting' -- homemade baby food, cloth diapers, a cocoon of clockless, unscheduled time -- and you have our new ideal. Anything less is bad for baby. Parents be damned."

There was a large and strong negative reaction among mommy bloggers to the article, especially among moms who follow these philosophies. Many felt Jong was overwrought and misguided. Lisa Belkin of the New York Times' Motherlode blog wrote that her piece was "a mishmash of old accusations against overinvolved parenting." Madeline Holler of Babble.com's Strollerderby blog defended Attachment Parenting, writing that Jong equated it with "... helicopter parenting just to drive her point home that today's generation of mothers is letting down hers, because we're goofy and sentimental and too susceptible to images of Heidi Klum's baby bumps and Angelina Jolie's carefully curated international family."

As I read all of the reactions, I couldn't help wondering, "Why are we even having this conversation?" The truth is mothers gravitate toward what they like. If you like sleeping in the same bed as your baby, it's likely you would have done it anyway, regardless of whether Dr. Sears or anyone else ever said you should. If you don't, you won't do it, regardless of whether Dr. Sears or anyone else ever said you should. What's all this stuff about philosophies?

I think the root of this problem is the modern trademarking and institutionalizing of the ways we care for our children. It's as if, once a certain method has an official name, guidebook, set of steps to follow, and published research showing that it can help your child read by age 3, we must all start arguing about whether we need to adhere to it immediately. The people who like The Method will say, "Obviously!" The people who don't will say "This is ridiculous!" Meanwhile, whatever parenting process The Method has sanctified is probably something some mothers have already been doing (and not doing) since the beginning of time.

When we systematize and capitalize a parenting process, it turns into a crucial choice as opposed to something we would have simply considered, decided and moved on with. Rather than a mother choosing to co-sleep because she likes it and wants to do it, she's now supposed to look at it as a life and death decision. How many of her friends are doing it? Will her child be less successful if she does or doesn't do it? What is the cost-benefit ratio? What are the long-term emotional ramifications? Are there dangers? How will she be judged if those dangers become reality? I could collapse from exhaustion just thinking about it.

I don't want my everyday parenting preferences to be turned into some kind of proof of my fitness to be a mother. As Her Bad Mother's Catherine Connors responded in her post on Jong's article, "Whether you attachment parent or Ferber-parent or Von Trapp-parent (you know, where you dress them in starched pinafores and make them sing at your parties), if you're driven by anxiety to follow a style or adhere to a quote-unquote philosophy, and/or if you persist in following that style or philosophy regardless of whether it works for you and your child, you will be imprisoned."

There are things I enjoy doing as a mom, and things I don't. No co-sleeping for me. No daily craft project. You'll catch me dead before you'll ever catch me homeschooling. It's not who I am. If I tried to do those things, I'd suffer a permanent attack of claustrophobia. Instead, I do what works for me.

One area where I excel? Bedtime. I may have one of the world's greatest bedtime routines. It goes a little something like this:
  • 7 p.m. -- Everyone piles in my bed while I read two stories aloud, one selected by 4-year-old daughter and one selected by 9-year-old son, and they eat their nightly snack of cut-up fruit and berries.
  • 7:30 p.m. -- My 4-year-old daughter and I head to her room. We climb in bed together and I read another story aloud to her or we work on learning to read a little bit. Then the lights go out and I sing three songs ("Grey Squirrel," "Twinkle Twinkle" and "God Bless America") while administering a nice back rub. Then chit chat, lots of hugs and kisses, a promise to see you in the morning, and I'm off.
  • 8:15 p.m. -- I climb in bed with my 9-year-old son who has been reading for the last half hour. I pick up where he left off in his chapter book and read aloud to him for 30-45 minutes. Then the lights go off, he gets his regular back scratch, and we talk in the darkness.
  • 9 p.m. -- World's greatest bedtime routine done.

My husband thinks this is completely out of control. He can't understand why I disappear for two hours to put the kids to sleep. He thinks I'm coddling them. Like Jong, he might even utter the words victimization and imprisonment. What he doesn't realize is that the routine is as much for me as it is for them. I may not do some of the things other moms do, but I do this, and my kids love it. You have babywearing, I have super extreme bedtime. I didn't find it in any book. It's not an Official Parenting Philosophy. It's just my thing. It works for me and I'm sticking to it, victimization be damned.

You can be sure I will not be writing a book called "The Stone Slumbertime System" and require you all to read it and follow it in order to be good mothers. I don't want you to compare your bedtime routine to mine, and I no longer wish to compare your craft-making/cloth diapering/gluten-free skills to my complete lack thereof.

I'd like it if we could just stop the "capital" punishment. Instead, let's all be friends and agree to keep this parenting stuff lowercase.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.