There’s plenty of labels on the parenting spectrum these days: attachment parents, crunchy mamas, baby whisperers, Ferberizers, helicopter parents, snow plough parents, baby-wearers, Failsafers, GAPS parents… The list goes on.
One of the labels I kept coming across in my desperate Googling for answers about A was ‘crunchy’. Indeed, to the casual observer I must seem pretty crunchy (which is a US term to describe environmentally conscious, left-leaning types – named after the sound a person makes as they traipse through the granola littered aisles of a health food store in their Birkenstocks). I prefer gentle parenting methods, use cloth nappies, leave onions in my kids’ rooms overnight when they have colds, passionately promulgate Maria Montessori’s philosophy and pedagogy and regularly consult a naturopath about most ailments.
But I’m not really a crunchy mama, or any other catch-all label for that matter. I’m a cherry picker. I take the best bits out of each ideology and combine these pieces to create a parenting philosophy that suits me and my family. I’ve never been an overly black and white person. As a Libran I prefer balance. I believe and trust in the rigour of scientific evidence as much as I enjoy the inexplicable success of unproven, ‘alternative’ methods.
My issue with a lot of the positive parenting approaches that I loosely follow is twofold: fanaticism and total sublimation of self. Take, for example, attachment parenting. The basic tenets of attachment parenting include baby wearing, co-sleeping and unschooling/homeschooling – choices that basically ensure you spend 24 hours a day with your child or children. The aim of attachment parenting is to develop a strong and trusting relationship with your child, with a deeper emotional understanding between you. This is both admirable and desirable, but when you spend all of your time completely devoted to your children you run the risk of completely sacrificing your own needs in the process. One of attachment parenting’s strongest adherents, Dr Justin Coulson (who I usually really like!) has recently said: ‘when you have a baby, you give up the right to be selfish for the next 20 years’. If this is the case, what message are you sending to your children? That your needs don’t matter? You are a role model for your children, and if you don’t honour your own needs and spend time on your happiness you’re showing them that it is acceptable to sublimate yourself for others.
And then there’s the zealous fanaticism demonstrated by some of these people. In these cases I wonder if their devotion stems from an inner insecurity and fear. They may have had less than amazing childhoods themselves and are living with anxiety or depression as a result. The zealots take to the interwebs and castigate parents who make ‘damaging’ choices. They decry the horror of abandoning a child in daycare with a stranger and the selfishness of a mother who chooses work over caring for her babies. They obsess over their choices and behaviour, trying to ensure that every word they utter is gentle and vilifying anyone who lets their baby cry, even for a second. I’m not saying these people represent all attachment parents, but they make enough noise that it’s often difficult to ignore them.
The discovery that the brain is only roughly 20 per cent complete at birth, while the rest is physically formed by the child’s experience of love or of its absence, is touted as compelling evidence for attachment parenting methods. Love literally creates the neural pathways responsible for happiness, calmness, closeness, co-operation and self-regulation. Whilst I absolutely agree with this, I also believe self-love is a critical part of this picture. I think it’s possible to select the parts of each parenting philosophy that suits you and your family and mix and match them to ensure there is a balance and everyone is getting the right amount of love. A happy, balanced mama makes for a happy, balanced family.
Do you find yourself living an overly restricted life because you believe it’s in your children’s best interests? Are you happy with your choices or do you feel deep-down that you would like a change or some more time out for you? Please leave a comment below and tell me about your experiences.