Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Politics of Parenting


This latest post has been a long time coming. I've been pretty busy with school and the part-time job I have resumed, BUT I assure you, I have been doing my research for this latest topic.

The methods by which I complete my school work are extremely effective and studious. I start by going on Facebook, then Twitter, then I check my gmail, before rounding the whole thing off with five minutes of reading Yeats or an article on post-colonial criticism. At this point I will reward myself with a snack or fresh cup of coffee and then begin the process all over again. See? SMART.

During my mind numbing perusing of random Twitter pages, I came across what I consider to be one of the more prominent subcultures of parenting. I don't exactly know what to call them; I guess they refer to themselves as "crunchy", which some little part of my brain, the part that was supposed to remember the endings to all the movies I somehow forget, THAT part tells me that maybe this has something to do with granola? Because hippies eat granola, and granola is crunchy? I don't know, but now I've lost my train of thought, and I want some granola.

Anyway, so this group of mothers send thousands of tweets to one another all day regarding the benefits of breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, and cloth diapers. They rally around one another when one of them is having latching issues or problems with their organic cotton diapers not fitting properly. And, I think this is great. The internet has become a veritable haven for parents (first time or seasoned), to vent, seek information, and make friends with one another.

The problem lies in the human tendency to put ourselves into groups, decide that our group is the best group, the only group that knows anything about the world, and that every other group is wrong, wrong, wrong. You know, like you decide you're a Democrat, and then all of a sudden, everything Republicans do is stupid. And evil. And wrong. And it works both ways.

This is why, in life, as well as in politics, I choose not to associate myself with any one group. I'm not a Democrat. I'm not a Republican. And, I'm not a "crunchy" mom. I'm a mom who breastfeeds, but sees nothing wrong with supplementing with formula. I'm a mom who tried co-sleeping, but didn't like getting smacked in the face all night so taught her daughter to sleep in her crib. I'm a mom who occasionally wears her baby in a front carrier, but usually opts for the stroller because, hello? A BabyBjorn does not have a cup holder for my latte! I'm also the mother who wrote about her tendency to judge other parents and her dedication to knocking that shit off because she knows how it feels to be unfairly judged.

So, I tend to gravitate toward people who share my enthusiasm for the middle ground. It's nice here! Make yourself at home. Would you care for some nonchalant tea and an unimpassioned cookie or two?

Still, I have respect for anyone who is devoted to a cause, and I am fascinated by subcultures, so I was spending a lot of time being a creepy voyeur and reading the conversations these moms were having with one another. I was even identifying with some of the causes they were so up-in-arms about. I loved reading about their empowering views on nursing in public. One of the reasons I think I was so stressed out about nursing and was subsequently unable to enjoy it as much as I had hoped, was my fear of getting dirty looks when I needed to feed Charlotte while we were out. And when she started rejecting the cover, rather than simply nursing her without a cover, I panicked, tried to force feed her bottles, and stopped going out as much. These women were telling me that it was okay to feed my daughter anywhere I wanted. Anywhere that it was acceptable to feed a baby a bottle, it was kosher to breastfeed. It makes so much sense. Maybe I CAN relate to these mothers. It was so uplifting!

Until they pulled a 3 A.M. Charlotte maneuver and smacked me in the face. Turns out they would sing my praises for pulling my boob out in the Olive Garden, but I was "inhumane" for letting my baby cry herself to sleep. I was "cruel" for kicking her out of my bed and teaching her to get the sleep that she wasn't getting cradled in my arms. It also turns out that the formula I gave her for her jaundice was the fourth in line of suitable options for infant food. If I really loved her, I would have forked over some serious bucks for another woman's breastmilk. Only then would I not be poisoning her.

Call me crazy, but some of these accusations really hurt my feelings. Here I thought I was doing a good job raising my daughter. But what do I know? I'm just an evil, bottle-wielding, stroller pushing, meanie who makes babies cry. I suddenly realized that what was an awesome support system for fellow crunchies, was a toxic environment for anyone not drinking their Kool-Aid.

Now, to be fair, I'm sure that they get their fair share of mockery and name-calling. I recently watched Sam Mendes's "Away We Go" and laughed heartily at the representation of the new agey mom portrayed by Maggie Gyllenhall, who breastfeeds her school-age child in tandem with her baby, scoffs at strollers, and alludes to lovemaking in the family bed so as not to "hide (her) sexuality from (her) children". I'm sure attachment parenting advocates around the world did not appreciate the joke. And I know they must receive just as many unenlightened and hateful comments as they dole out. But that doesn't make it right.

Last time I wrote about the Cry it Out issue, I said it wasn't for us. And, at the time, it wasn't. But I also said parents should do what is best for their families. I never looked down on anyone who used this method of sleep training. And when the time was right for us, we tried it. And it worked beautifully. With minimal crying, we got her sleeping (mostly) through the night. But, that doesn't mean it's for everyone. I'm not going to pretend that I am without my prejudices. For instance, I've always been uncomfortable with the idea of extended nursing. I have to admit that I cringe a little when I see or hear about a two-year-old who still nurses. But, that's an urge I need to fight. Who am I to say that a woman who kindly will heave her breasts in and out of her shirt for YEARS to satisfy her child, is not doing what's best for her family? Maybe she just has a dedication I don't have. Maybe she has a relationship with her child that is simply different than the one I have with Charlotte. Either way, I support her, even if what she does, isn't for me.

But, lest you think that there are no safe havens for mothers who don't fit neatly in a little package, check out this site: http://fearlessformulafeeder.blogspot.com. I stumbled on the blog of a woman who stands up for women who choose to formula feed their babies when breastfeeding fails or because formula makes the most sense for their family. She provides support for women who are mourning the loss of this supposed "natural gift" that all women are told they can and should be able to do. If you are a mom who has been made to feel ashamed for the way you chose to feed your baby, or if you are a person who celebrates open-mindedness, check out her site. It helped renew my confidence in the idea of mothers lifting one another out of the mire, not shoving each other's faces into it.

Hopefully, we can all take that message and practice it on a much larger scale. It's hard enough being a mom. Let's give each other a break, shall we?


  1. Megan, thank you SO much for the shout out! I'm also happy to find your blog- you are a wonderful writer and I totally relate to everything you're saying about the middle road - politically, mommy-wise, etc. Your comments on FFF have made such a difference; just want you to know how much it means to me (and I'm sure the rest of my readers).

  2. Thank you! That means so much to me. :)

  3. Megan,
    I just found your blog when I clicked on your name from a comment you made on FFF's blog. This is a great post and I totally agree with you. Interstingly I just wrote a post on the "politics of parenting" about many of the same things you were talking about here. LOL. Anyway, I glad I stumbled upon your blog.

  4. Thank you! I'll be sure to check out your post, as well.

  5. Hi! I clicked over here from your comment on amoment2think's post. A bunch of us do a thing called ControverSundays, where we talk about "controversies" in parenting with an aim of NOT being judgy or jerks about the different choices we all make. It's pretty fun. You should join us! :)

  6. Awesome! I will definitely be joining you guys. Thanks! :)

  7. We gave Hank formula in the hospital for jaundice/cause he wouldn't poop. All the breastfeeding propaganda had me worried that the pediatrician handing me a little 2oz bottle of prepared formula was going to set off some sort of chain reaction that would derail my intentions. Once the hormones calmed down, and I got some much needed perspective in general, I was like: Wait a minute. Why was I worried about that again?

    We do so much in a "hybrid" manner--part "crunchy" part "mainstream" and a BIG part "whatever works best for all three members of our family." So we cloth diaper most of the time, but use disposables for overnight/errands. We don't freak out when I don't have enough pumped milk, Hank just drinks formula (though we weren't always this chill about that). And so on and so forth.

    Great post! You nailed it here--yes, we need the Internet to turn to each other, and community isn't a bad thing. But...the fanatics can start to really grate on you.

  8. Thanks! It sounds like we are very similar in our parenting styles, as well. I'm all about the mixture of whatever works for you.

    I hear you on the lax attitude towards formula. I, like, you FREAKED about giving it to her to make her poop. But then I got over it and used it to supplement till my milk came in (which it DID, even while using formula, thank you very much, lactivists). I even tried to switch her over after the umpteenth nursing strike, but she just never took to it.

    Man, so many of you guys use cloth diapers! That is my one and only regret. I was so sure I would use them, and I ended up chickening out because I got so overwhelmed by the cost, all the different types and sizes, and cleaning instructions. My inner environmentalist and the "crunchy" side of me are so ashamed. :(