Sunday, October 09, 2005

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.


Anonymous MIM said...

Mary, this is truly an excellent, excellent post. You can't be a good THINKER, let alone parent, without gaining as much knowledge as possible from ALL camps.

I've been contemplating a somewhat similar post based on my grad school experience (where I've been labeled a "strict American parent" -- American because we don't co-sleep, or carry Tod-lar around all day and night). I'm now encouraged to write it! Thank you!

10/09/2005 10:23:00 p.m.  
Anonymous MIM said...

Oh, and get out of my head, would ya??! Sheesh.

10/09/2005 10:24:00 p.m.  
Blogger CyberKitten said...

Being open-minded about things is SO cool.... Especially when there's a freshing breeze blowing.......

10/10/2005 08:37:00 a.m.  
Blogger Simon Peter said...

Nice post Mary.

So good, that you've inspired me to write a post endorsing your post. Check for it later today. (I try not to post during the work day, incase the boss checks the timestamps!)

10/10/2005 09:16:00 a.m.  
Blogger Heather said...

I am touched by this on many levels Mary. At work, I am being told that I cannot adequately teach without a Phd. I come here, and read all the sagely wisdom that is being reflected even in the most erudite of texts. Mothering garners us all the wisdom of the word, we just need to choose to learn from it, let experience be our guide. Its so refreshing, and real. Thank-you again.

10/10/2005 11:03:00 a.m.  
Blogger ieatcrayonz said...

Absolutely. I admit I'm a bad mother because I don't read any parenting books. Honestly, I want to figure things out on my own, and then when I can't, I know where to find my dear friend, Mary, the cornucopia of child rearing knowledge.

So, the sleep thing: Lauren sleeps all through the night, but getting her down is normally all tears. We try to tire her out so we can put her down at 9pm regularly, but it often tires us out even more. Any suggestions? She doesn't normally cry for more than 15 or 20 minutes, so maybe I'm fretting over nothing.

10/10/2005 01:17:00 p.m.  
Blogger Juggling Mother said...

I didn't even know there were ideologies until after I had Mstr A. I mean, I knew there were nbooks out there, and some said one thing & and some the other, but the concept of a strict ideology when dealing with babies was (and still is) an anathema to me.

Of course, I'm not much of a believer in the teaching ideologies I was told about on my teaching course either. They all had some great ideas, but ideologies just don't work with living, breathing, complicated people!

10/10/2005 03:10:00 p.m.  
Blogger CyberKitten said...

Seems to be Ideologies for everything these days.... Now back in my day... we had nothing like fancy ideologies... We just had to get on with it...

OK.. We did have two World Wars... but we muddled through without ide-bloody-ologies.... never did US any harm....

(Said in Gruff Yorkshire accent for the proper effect)

10/10/2005 04:39:00 p.m.  
Blogger craziequeen said...

but - but -'re not *from* Yorkshire........gruff or otherwise... :-)


10/10/2005 04:42:00 p.m.  
Blogger CyberKitten said...

But it's far funnier with the accent.....

BTW - Just so there's no confusion... the reference to 'US' is for emphasis only... and is not a reference to any country real or imagined.....

10/10/2005 04:45:00 p.m.  
Blogger Mary P. said...

MIM: "American" because of the non-co-sleeping and hauling about; "strict" because...? Because you have any limits at all, in a world which perceives American children (rightly or wrongly) as horrifically indulged?

I'm not in your head, lady, you're in mine! Or perhaps, in the words of Lucy Maud Montgomery, we're "kindred spirits". (I clasp my hands 'neath my chin and blink beatifically.) 8-)

Yeah, I always found her a bit maudlin and sentimental, too. Betcha there were wee fairies at the bottom of her garden too, and that an angel was born every time a baby laughed...

CK: That must explain why I wear a scarf from now til the end of April.

Simon: Been there, but haven't commented yet. However, I'd suggest everyone else go have a look. Seems Mr. "If you must cry, do it quietly" is very flexible and quite the softie! Thus proving that parenting, like each of us, is a many-faceted thing. (Looks good on you, Simon.)

Heather: I am very pleased to know this resonated with you in such meaningful and affirming ways.

I have spoken to people who ask me if I don't miss being out in the "real world". My response is that it doesn't get much "real-ler" than this. Children are not only the future, but dealing with them brings you back to first principles of humanity. All the rest is window dressing.

Crayonz: Ooo, I get to play child-rearing maven! "Cornucopia of child rearing knowledge", even. Wow. Well, let me just roll up my sleeves and set to typing you a private email. Wait for it!!

MrsA: You sound just like me at the beginning - didn't even know there were ideologies! And you've nailed it when you say they "just don't work with living, breathing, complicated people!"

CK: Gee, you look good for your age! And I love the accent - so quaint, positively loveable: makes me just want to ruffle those iron-grey whiskers! Oh, was I supposed to be sitting up a little straighter, intimidated into all due respect? Soooo sorry.

CQ: Oh, we'll just let him have his fun, shall we? Rip his fantasies away, and what has he left? (Am getting mental pictures of cotton boxers decorated with fluffy kittens, for some reason.)

10/10/2005 07:43:00 p.m.  
Blogger Juggling Mother said...

CK - two world wars? That makes you umm, at least 90. Wow, you do look good for your age, but you really should stop chasing the girlies now, it's not dignified at your age:-)

10/11/2005 04:22:00 a.m.  
Blogger Bill said...

I like this approach specifically the line "Pick the way that works best for your family unit."

I have never been a fan of following blindly any one ideology in anything.

The folowing post is more a question than a comment, and I am in no way advocating my point on this as my partner and I have no children.

Looking forward to the day my partner and I can afford to have children this "Pick the way that works best for your family unit" will likely form the basis of our philosophy.

I suspect that our parenting approach will likely be a mix of conservatism (what seems proven from the past, not what is labeled conservative) and what we incorporate from what we read see and hear today. The problem is determining the border between flexibility and that constant state of reaction.

Mary; Just so I'm clear I know you well enough to know that you most definitely are not using flexibility to excuse simple reactionary parenting / care giving.

But what yard stick do you use to judge were flexibility ends and reactionary parenting begins?

I once heard that in parenting the best approach is to find a way you believe in and stick to it. It may be a mix of ideologies and experiences, but it is best to be consistent, but how do you be consistent and flexible at the same time. How do you meet your child’s expectations but be able to react to an unexpected situation that might require what might be perceived as a contrary reaction?

As for Lucy Maud Montgomery's maudlin sentimentality, that seems to have been less dominant in her "Emily" books, and recently, the “Emily” books have gained in popularity, with Canadian writers , Jane Urquhart, Alice Munro and P.K. Page acknowledging the trilogy's influence on their work.

(to note I think Emily was more Autobiographical than Anne)

Which is good as I preferred the character of Emily to the sappiness of Anne. Though Anne was cool from the historical stand point, as Anne for her day is considered to have been progressive . (though definitely not from our perspective) (this however is way off topic. Sorry)

10/12/2005 11:53:00 a.m.  
Blogger Misfit Hausfrau said...

Hi Mary- I am catching up on your posts. That was incredibly thoughtful and well written! Thank you!

10/13/2005 11:55:00 a.m.  

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