Navigating the sea of parenting advice... [Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 6:00 pm]
I remember once, when I was a young kid (maybe 3 or 4), my mom read me a story from a nature magazine we received. It was about (in child-like terms) not wasting paper, and mentioned that sponges could be used instead of paper towels to clean messes and be nicer to the environment. Well, it wasn't much later that I was over at a friend's house and observed her mother cleaning up a spill with a paper towel. Like any dutiful student of truth, I was quick to correct her by informing her that sponges were much better than paper towels. That's all I remember - I'm sure the mother handled it graciously and told me that, while sponges are good for many things, it's okay to use paper towels sometimes, and each family has to make their own decisions about it (which of course, is exactly what my family believed too, but I lacked the perspective and context at the time to be aware of that).
I recalled this story while trying to reconcile the dark and dangerous world of parenting philosophies, or what little I have encountered of them thus far. I enjoy learning and believe that it's important to be as prepared as possible when entering into new life situations, especially ones as important as birth and parenting. But because of the great importance of these issues, everyone has their own opinions, and many are not at all afraid to let you know what theirs are, which can come on especially strong with the aid of Internet anonymity.
There seems to be a plethora of labels and kinds of "rules" to choose from: freestyle, unschooling, attachment, natural, babywise, authoritative, and the list goes on and on. I think it's natural to want to have something to "follow." Especially when embarking on something that you are brand new at. But sometimes I wonder if more "rules" leads to more confusion.
An adequate phrase for this quandary might be, "Don't follow a rule off a cliff." Which I take to mean as: even if you find a philosophy that seems right for you, follow your instincts. Don't be so bonded to a rule that you fail to notice whether or not it's actually the best choice for your family. Sometimes I look at some of the choices we've made up to this point and think we might fit in very well with a few of the more popular philosophies - but then I look at other things we do or plan to do and realize that we probably don't. Is it okay to not have a philosophy? Does that leave us destined to become unattached, unnatural, chaos-driven parents?
I don't think so. And I'm glad, because another thing I've noticed is how quick parents are to judge each other. And I know this not only because I've seen it but because I've done it. Yeah, already. And I'm not proud of that. A few weeks ago I discovered a satirical facebook page called "Sanctimommy"which has given me abundant laughter as it pokes fun at the judgment that parents often cast on each other, based on their own parenting preferences, and how easy it is to not realize how sanctimonious the things that come out of our mouths can be.
By judging, I'm not talking about unsolicited advice. I really don't mind receiving advice, especially if I'm clearly struggling with something - the real issue is the spirit in which it is given. When someone suggests that you do things a certain way because it "worked for them," that is fine and can actually be very helpful. But when they think that because it worked for them, it will work for everyone else, and anything less is just doing it wrong, then it's not so helpful. ("If you let your baby cry for more than 5 minutes, they'll get brain damage!" "If you use baby carriers on a daily basis, your child will be spoiled!") What do statements like that accomplish?
I guess my point here is, again... we don't have a philosophy yet. Maybe by the time we're done, we will. I don't know. But I'm extremely grateful for the good friends that we have to learn from. And I want to be careful to avoid reverting to my 3-year-old self and becoming sanctimonious about things I lack the perspective to fully understand. But we have to learn from somewhere, and we and our friends all want to do what is best for our children. And what is best for our family, no matter how good it is, may not be best for another, and we should not judge them for that, or try to proselytize our choices in order to "convert" them. What we should do is love our kids and others, and try to support each other the best we can. Easier said than done sometimes. Overall, I would rather learn from other parents anyway, than some parenting philosophy book. Because we can't see how the authors' kids turned out, but we can see that in our friends, and decide who we want to emulate more. And it probably won't be those who try to shove their philosophies down others' throats. :-)
Sometimes I forget - Sunday, Jul. 05, 2015