Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Extreme Parenting

I've been thinking about Annie's post about parenting extremes and what is "good" parenting. Over the years I've gotten comments on my blog and in real life that indicate that I'm lacking in some aspect of good parenting- usually boundaries. And then I'll comment, "Well... I do have boundaries and... blah... blah...." because I feel like I have to defend myself and prove that I really do sit in the smiley face boundary (see Annie's post) of what a good mom is. Oh and I'll quickly clarify that Annie isn't saying that she thinks the smiley is the best, but that what she has observed is that our culture thinks the smiley is the best.

As I've thought about my impulse to qualify my "lack" of boundaries, I think about how I qualify a lot of things: I have unassisted pregnancies, but when asked about it, I'm quick to reply, "I check my urine for protein, glucose, and other things." When people ask me about Margaret still nursing, I sometimes feel like I have to add, "But it's definitely not as often as she used to," to show that we are actually headed towards weaning. On bedsharing with Margaret: "We've put some blankets at the foot of our bed and let her lay there" to show that we are going to have our bed to ourselves someday. Or even, "Yeah. I stay at home and knit, but I knit by commission and graduated in mathematics and plan on starting my master's when we settle down some place."

You see, you have to look well-rounded. You can't look like the extremes. And even though I hate qualifying my actions, I still do it.

But Margaret does sometimes nurse as often or more often than Isaac. I didn't check my urine in pregnancy on a very regular basis or chart it. Those blankets at the foot of our bed? Once. And it lasted 10 minutes. And I really don't think kids need more boundaries than general safety issues and the physical limitations that are innate to children: height, dexterity, language, etc. And I do stay at home, adding no monetary income to our family, learning nothing in a formal course of study, and enjoying a lot of knitting time that benefits no one but myself.

And even now, I feel the impulse to quantify it and shout, "But I'm well-rounded and normal! I'm not extreme! I'm doing everything 'right'!"


Do you quantify your life? I do. And I feel guilty about it- why can't I just accept it an move on? And why does it matter to the random strangers at the grocery store if Margaret is holding my hand 100% of the time in the parking lot? Comments welcome.


  1. I remember the first time I really heard about bedsharing beyond baby years, as an intentional practice. I went to the house of this Indian family, and the father was speaking to us, talking about how his two younger children still slept in their bed, and how their teenage son slept on the floor in their room. That sounded beautiful to me, and something that I would want.

    I remember hearing about a seven year old who was still nursing... and it was shared in a "CANT BELIEVE THIS MOM IS DOING THIS" way, but I thought it was beautiful, that this mother chose to still nurture her daughter in the way she needed.

    When I was younger, I used to think about how I wanted to be writer, and used to kind of argue and qualify in my mind with indignation that the reason I would be staying home was to write, not because I was the woman. But time and perspective have softened and refined me. I work now, but I want nothing more than to be married, having a husband support me and our children as I stay home and take care of a household and the most important thing in the world - children.

    It is hard not to qualify or try to defend the things we do in the framework that other people live in, when we choose to live in a different framework.

    If it works for you, Margaret, McKay, and Isaac, then that is what matters. I think we get this concept in our society built up in our minds that if we follow our natural inclinations to do good things, it can have the same effect as following our inclinations to do bad things. But I think we are given inclinations for a reason. You are designed to be a mother, and to love and know how to love and care for the precious children you have.

    And what is it that really bothers people? That you love them -too- much? That you want them around you too often? That you want to give them something they still desire and still helps them?

    What bothers people is that it is different from what they are used to, from what they expect, and they aren't judging it off of its merits alone, but just because their experience is that it is very different to what they have known and feel comfortable and confident about.

    And so it is an ongoing labor to educate people, but I think you deserve to have confidence about the things you are doing, to say yes I am nursing Margaret, and I will nurse her as much as she needs for as long as she needs. I sometimes yearn to just up and move to a society where these things are the norm, and where I can feel accepted and supported in wanting to do the things that I think will best take care of me and my children. But having someone like you around makes me think that maybe it is worth it to stay here, that there are other people like me. You inspire me and show me the kind of mother I want to be, and that it is beautiful.

    So I applaud you, and say that you have no reason to need to qualify yourself for your "extreme" parenting. You are who you are, and that is beautiful.

  2. Ugh...don't even get me started. Sometimes I wish that I could just live in my own little world with no one else around...then I remember how lonely that would be. I am always quantifying my life. Telling myself (and others) that it's ok that I do ____ because ____. Whatever. I even do it with my kids. (e.g.: Bug doesn't talk a lot yet, but it's ok, because he is so physically advanced.)

    I haven't read the post you linked to yet....Off to do that now. (But I'm worried it will upset me.)

  3. I think this is why we seek out people like ourselves. It's validating for the people we associate with to make the same choices as us. Of course, we also have to insist, "But I'm well-rounded in my friends and have a good variety...."

    There's no end.

  4. I hadn't read Annie's post, but it was definitely good food for thought.

    I kind of think you are extreme, but I mean that in a good way, a Thoreau-live-deliberately-experiment-all-the-time-about-everything sort of way. For e.g., deciding to stop wearing shoes is extreme. But it's also awesome. Most of the pioneers and discoverers of human history have been extreme, right? Otherwise nothing new would ever happen.

    I wonder why it makes us uncomfortable when applied to parenting? Is it because children are so malleable? Because they have so little say in how they live? Because we want to be the best moms we can be, so when someone does it differently, we have to figure out if their way is better (in which case we have to start doing it that way) or if it's not as good (in which case we can dismiss it)? Of course, sometimes many different choices are equal in value, but not always (e.g. breast is better than bottle. period.)

  5. I quantify all the time... about parenting for sure, but other things as well. Even how I spent my day sometimes. I do it even though I know it's ridiculous.

  6. I think the comment above mine -- about comparing ourselves to other moms because we want to raise our children the best we can, and when someone does it differently it makes us question our own parenting and wonder if we're really doing the best things for our children -- nails it on the head for me. (Long, run-on sentence. Whatever.) It's hard to be confident (at least for me) about all these new "mom things" that I've never done before (well, some things. A lot of things I do feel confident about: breastfeeding especially. :) ). It's easy to read one study and be convinced, then read a contradicting study and be confused. I think that we would all benefit from supporting and encouraging and uplifting each other, but I don't think the comparison will ever end, because we're all different and we're all trying to do what we feel is best. That naturally involves questioning ourselves, our actions and motives, and looking at them from new perspectives as they are presented to us (including how other moms are parenting). It's hard. But I think it's awesome to have dialogue about how we're different so that we can all learn and grow and improve our parenting, so long as that's what it's about and we don't denigrate each other. And I also think that we're all imperfect. We're all doing some things that are amazing for our kids, and we're all probably going to end up with a couple of horrible stories by the time our kids are grown. That's just life. I think that ultimately, loving our kids is the best thing we can do for them. After that, making sure they are safe. After that, making sure they are healthy. And then whatever else in whatever order that seems most important to you as the mother of your children.

    As for qualifying your choices to other people? This is definitely a challenge for me as well. It's something I think about often, in many areas of my life. I have lately been putting focused effort into just being me, with confidence and no excuses. It's hard. I'm hoping that it'll come with age. :)

  7. Read the comments to this post: would you contribute your knitting???

  8. I am not a parent. I will repeat that. I am not a parent. I have no business making judgments on how people parent. I do ask lots of questions to people who are though. Because I am curious and someday want children who are normal enough to get through the world.
    But, I do often think that some of the parents of children I teach are a little odd. Is this wrong? I feel that as long as I keep my mouth shut, no. Because often times, the kids with odd parents are the coolest ones.

    Also, I quantify my life all the time. If it makes you feel any better. I usually have to explain to people why my job as a music teacher is important. Typically people only get it if I tie in how it can affect other aspects of school. Saying nothing on the value of it as a stand alone subject.

    So here is what I figure. In both aspects, your life and mine, they just don't get it. Go off and be awesome!

  9. Refering to Jenne's crypitic comment: this was the link she refered to:

    While off-topic, I'm leaving it just in case it inspires someone to do something with their craft.

  10. Actually, maybe that was on-topic since I said my knitting doesn't benefit anyone but myself. Where's my foot? My mouth is empty again.

  11. I love this post. Mostly because it made me laugh, because I totally do qualify and hedge in ways that are really very silly. About how we choose to spend money, what we eat, etc., etc., etc.--less about parenting than other areas of my life, strangely. You should have heard me justifying my purchase of expensive (but high-quality! and much-needed! and durable!) winter boots to my mom, who totally didn't care even a little bit. I could hear the oddness coming out of my mouth even at the time :)

    I think our particular parenting choices are so strange compared to those of the people around us that I've adopted a don't-even-think-about-commenting-on-our-parenting attitude. Less confident/imposing with regard to my own stuff, though, alas.

  12. I quantify my whole life BLAH.

    But the only thing I really wanted to comment on was the holding hands in the parking lot. That was my mom's rule with us, and my rule too. It's too, too scary and dangerous - maybe Margaret's not like this, but Toby will TAKE OFF running at the drop of a hat, and he's so small and people are such asshat drivers that I am scared he'll get run over before I can get him to stop and wait for me. And I see at least 2 "close calls" with other families in parking lots every DAY, so it is something that concerns me a lot.

  13. Very interesting article. I find I'm an in between mom... My children haven't had their shots, but both sleep in their own beds. I loved nursing/wearing my babies, but I have no problem with timeouts. My boy is intact, but my daughter wears a lot of pink, frilly things. I'm passionate about holistic nutrition and alternative medicine, but I gave birth to both my children via Cesarean. Most times I feel I'm not extreme enough on either side of the spectrum, and consequently am looked down on from both sides. I am constantly conflicted, and I always feel like a "bad" mom. And then I remember that I can NOT do it on my own; I'm not expected to. When I am struggling the most as a mother, sometimes the only time I find peace and strength to continue on in my divine roll is when I turn to my Father. He is the perfect, smiley parent. And only He can judge my parenting. *B

    PS - Love the circle time idea! Going to try it in the morning :)

    PPS - Congrats on your CA permanence!!! Give McKay a squeeze for me.

  14. I find myself qualifying my decisions in all sorts of little ways when I'm thoroughly questioned about it... but ultimately, I make choices based on the information I have and my gut feelings.

    I understand where you're coming from, to be sure. Sometimes though, I'm intentionally extreme in my wording because it gets some people to back off and leave me to my own devices....

  15. I do the same thing all the time. Especially now as I'm trying to branch out and am making more of the "extreme" lifestyle changes. I think I especially feel I have to qualify my decisions when I'm talking to my mom about the new 'extreme' things I'm doing because I expect her to think they're so strange. Sometimes when I do that though I realize that I didn't really need to qualify it, and doing so just made it more awkward. :-p I'm trying to make the changes more confidently and be ok with my new role as advocate!

  16. I love this post, and the comments :)

    I've felt like I've had to do a lot of justifying my family choices to others recently (why isn't Eve in nursery already, especially when you're so tired with pregnancy etc. blah) Everyone's given up asking about the breastfeeding and cosleeping... it's just what we do... In fact, I guess I just don't need to justify it anymore, I *know* it works for us, so it's just not an issue and I don't get worked up about dealing with silly questions!

    I guess the next thing for "them" to question will be the home education. Making sure we have "structure". I hope you figure it out, because then you can let me know :D

  17. I'm having trouble thinking of any choices I qualify when they are brought up. I sometimes give a reason for why I do something, but most of the time I just say, "It works for me/us right now." I suppose that has been easy for me to do since I don't do a lot of "extreme" things except the bedsharing and nursing a toddler.

  18. When it comes to parenting it would seem that some people just can't help themselves from "butting in" - they'll let you know what they think is the only way (trade mark) to do something, regardless if you asked their opinion or not. When it comes to babies everyone who's had one seems to think they are experts...

    As a new, unexperienced parent you shouldn't ignore good advice of course, but I think it is just as important to always stop and think: how do I feel about this, what's the best for our family etc.

    Just like you're doing :-)

  19. You know what's weird? I don't really do this! I mean, you would think me, of all people, would have someting weird that I would want people to understand. But I find myself just not caring anymore. I'm seriously trying to think of something that I try and justify when I"m talking to people who think differently...

    What's that say about me?

  20. I think 'extreme' can be a compliment--if you're doing something not mainstream, it means that you're doing it intentionally. Being mainstream is the cop-out, you know? Just going with the flow... if you're making your own choices, you are living more intentionally.

    With that said, rather than try to quantify myself, I usually go with the vague answer. Something like "yep!" ;)
    How is it anybody elses business anyway whether I nurse or bedshare or stay at home with my kids?
    If occasion seems to demand it, I will add "I did a lot of research and decided this was best for our family." People who are asking questions based on 'norms' are not usually prepared to combat someone who has done research ;)

  21. The "extremeness" in parenting is all relative. I know people think I'm extreme, but I actually think I'm somewhere in the middle.

    I have to set limitations on my son or else I would go crazy and end up snapping at him all the time. So I clearly define "rules" for him so we can all be happier. If you can have fewer boundaries and all be happier for it, I think that's good. The problem is when children get mixed messages from their parents (like if a child can sense their behavior bothers you, but you say nothing about it).

    I used to feel more of a need to qualify my parenting. Mostly it's more that I'm trying to validate the method that I believe so strongly in, because I don't want people to blow off alternative ideas just because they seem weird to them. But I'm pretty straight-forward about what we do and how I feel about it. I'm very happy with the way we parent and how it's working for us, so I feel no need to play it down.

    All parents have different ideas of what is ideal for their children. Then they try to parent in a way that supports their own belief system. Think what parents need to do is evaluate their own parenting and see if it is working the way they want it to. And not be afraid to change things if all is not well.

  22. It is hard to feel like you're outside of the norm. Funnily enough, I often feel that both ways. I breastfed my daughter until she was almost 3, I co-sleep, I cloth diaper, I practice gentle discipline, I've had two unmedicated births attended by midwives and all that jazz.

    But I also vaccinate fully and on schedule. I chose to give birth in the hospital. I send my daughter to public school.

    I have found that, as my firstborn gets older, my way is a little more smoothed. She IS weaned now. She DOES sleep in her own bed. She's toilet trained and she goes to school and she can carry on a conversation with other adults. The fact that she's a normal 5 1/2 year old somehow justifies my parenting, and I feel less defensive.

    I'm sure that you'll get there, too. Or at least more there. I'm only LESS defensive, not completely over it. But it is easier these days.

  23. I find myself having conversations in ways that I don't have to make excuses. When coworkers ask which hospital I'm having my baby at, I say that I want to be like my cat and give birth in the closet. When they ask about baby names, I say that we're following Genesis 46:21 and naming the child Muppim since the children of Benjamin (my husband) are named Muppim, Huppim and Ard. When they ask about due dates, I say that the baby will get here when it wants to get here.
    These are such shocking answers in my city, in my culture, because in the Midwest, women loudly give their preference for an epidural at 8 months. We even refuse to find out the baby's sex ahead of time! I'm being such an anomaly that they don't know how to respond and I can escape. I'm getting a weird reputation for non-answers, but they're all kind of afraid to question me, for fear that I'll say something even stranger. It works for me. I assume I'll be the same way with parenting choices - make a joke about something and escape before anyone can judge out loud.
    My MiL is having fits about all this - even if I don't find out the sex, can her son, so he can tell her? Couldn't we just tell her the exact due date? She's trying to trick me into giving away the date by asking when I expect to leave work or what date the doctor thinks. I actually scanned my ultrasound pictures and blurred the legs so that she can't even guess at a gender and then I refuse to hand over the originals.
    I guess all of this just makes me feel stronger in my decisions as a parent already. I'm not giving in on things that I feel strongly about.


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