Parenting Without Ideologies
I keep a library of books for my parents, resource material on a variety of significant topics to my clients: breast-feeding, nutritional guidelines, discipline, developmental stages, sleeping. The basic parenting stuff. This library includes both the sleep-training guru and the no-cry lady. A parent noticed this and was startled that both books could co-exist in the same library. Startled, and, it was quite clear, disapproving. It doesn't matter which approach she favoured: the point is, she didn't think I should be promoting the other. I sighed as I recognized a parental ideologue in my front hall. The older I get, the more experience I gain, the less and less patience I have for ideologies. I am firmly of the opinion that you are a better parent if you operate from principles and a philosophy, rather than in a constant state of reaction. This is not the same thing as forming an ideology; sadly, too few people recognize the distinction. How do you know whether you are developing an approach and a philosophy, or whether you've crossed the line into ideology? In part, I think, this can be determined if your approach has a label. Labels denote tidy packages, with rules and defining characteristics. Tidy packages are limiting: there are things you do and don't do, parameters one must stay within. The biggest determiner of an ideology, however, is flexibility, or more accurately, its lack. Can you think outside the rules? Can you step outside the parameters of your parenting approach and try other strategies? Can you evaluate and reconsider your principles, modify your actions and reactions in the face of reality? Can you do any and all of these, and still be a "Good Parent"? Barring clear abuse, of course, can someone else have different parameters and principles, and still be respected as a fit, loving parent? Is there more than one right way to do things? If your answer to these questions is yes, you are not a victim of an ideology. If your answer is no, you likely are. My parenting principles began before I had children; they were evaluated and modified when actual children came into my life. I wanted my children to feel loved and secure. When my children were tiny, I brought them to bed with me (which I've since learned is called "co-sleeping"); I carried them around for much of the day in a carefully chosen baby sling; I breastfed on demand. All this makes me an "attachment parent", a term with which I had no familiarity at the time. I had some familiarity with the attachment parenting guru: though I embraced aspects of his approach, his ideological extremism was repellent to me. (I was 24; I think I called him "that nutbar". ) I wanted my children to understand that I have needs too, equally important to their own. When my middle child, who had been sleeping well (9+ hours) from 5 1/2 months of age suddenly started waking every hour at 8 months, I was a miserable, desperate, sleep-deprived zombie in very short order. I could not cope with this. Nor did I see why I should have to. A friend recommended a book, and I "ferberized" him - without fearing that I was going to scar him for life. It was short-term pain for long-term gain, I figured, and I was right. In ten days he was sleeping ten hours, and everyone - including him - was happy again. What's not to like? (He's sixteen now, kind and affectionate, a good student, a good co-worker, healthy both emotionally and physically. Those ten days were the merest blip on his radar; it has not, despite the doom-and-gloom prognostications of the most evangelical of the attachmenters, either scarred him or harmed our relationship. This is the boy who still hugs me hello and goodbye, even when his friends are around.) It is a truism to say you must choose the way that is "right for your family". Frequently this phrase makes me wince, since it is too often used to excuse the most blatant abdication of parental authority. This doesn't change the truth of it, however. Choose what's right for your family. Give your baby a soother if it comforts him; keep soothers well away if you'd rather he rely on you for that comfort; put her in her own crib if you can't rest with your baby tight against your body; keep him in bed with you if that makes you both happier; respond quickly to his cries; let her "cry it out" when you feel it necessary. Pick the way that works best for your family unit. Be consistent in your patterns, be willing to modify them thoughtfully when required, be loving at all times, and you will be A Good Parent. So there.