When our first child entered the world several (uh, now 13!) years ago, I soon became aware that there were essentially two camps when it came to parenting infants and pre-schoolers. The two styles were easy to identify, as parents held firmly to a particular set of values and practices that stood in stark contrast to those of the other group.
Each group deplored the practices of the other and heartily believed that they were right. It was at times hard to find a circle of friends, which welcomed parents from both camps. (This was in a metropolitan area just outside New York City.)
Personally, I get on well with a wide range of people and really didn’t want to have to choose between the two. I embraced some of the values from both parenting styles, but was unwilling to go the whole nine yards and fully endorse one particular philosophy.
I was also reluctant to conform to what the latest bestseller on parenting had to say – preferring to model those parents whom I could actually observe in action, and see them relating to their children in a variety of situations.
On the one hand I observed those of the “Attachment Parenting” camp (Dr Sears et al) – easily recognized by their use of slings and carriers, unlimited bed-sharing and unrestricted access to breastfeeding for as long as the child wishes. (I did once meet a woman who admitted her daughter was five before she was weaned. Really, that was too much information.)
In the area of discipline these people proposed gentle guidance and steered clear of anything that might be deemed authoritarian. They were also anti vaccinations at any age, favouring natural cures over medical intervention, and often raved about organic and eco-friendly products.
On the other end of the spectrum one could often find the highly structured and rigid rules laid down by Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book in 1999 (An expert who’s never had a child of her own.) Although less rigid than earlier gurus (i.e. Nobody today would advocate strict limits on cuddling), many elements remained the same.
Such as not having the baby in your bedroom, ever; pretty tight scheduling of breast or bottle-feeding, along with early introduction to solids. The folks in this camp also stood for defined parental leadership and strict discipline in the area of child rearing, and would accept every drug or vaccine on offer at the earliest opportunity.
As far as I could tell, both styles obviously had their flaws, though in my early days as a mother I felt pressured to side with one of these polarized views. It was unsettling, and somewhat disturbing; I just wanted to be free to be friends with all kinds of parents and let others feel free to do their own thing.
Trouble is, parents often tend to pressurize others with their philosophy (“So, what do you think of the family bed?”- became an uncomfortable topic of discussion over wine at newfound friends’ one evening. Awkward)
Thus over time I began to wonder about the prospect of parents establishing their own, individually crafted style of parenting. One that includes a measure of common sense, practicality, nurture and compassion, mixed in with a whole lot of love; one that seeks the best for one’s children, yet not at the expense of letting them rule the household and dominate your every moment.
I would now encourage parents to draw on the expertise of many and consider opinions from a wide variety of sources – from mother-in-law to community nurse, or friends down the street – while adapting what they’ve learnt in the best interests of their children and their unique family unit.
I also support the right to try things out and make mistakes. That’s right – we all learn from our mistakes. At the end of the day I’d just like to see more balance, an attempt to steer away from any extremes.
Ultimately your child is not a carbon copy of anyone else’s. In an age where there are so many variables, like allergies and ADHD, it seems appropriate in some areas to try a bit of pick ‘n’ mix in the realm of parenting philosophies and admit that sometimes one size doesn’t fit all.
Just this year in the news there have been reports about baby experts’ books leaving mothers feeling ‘confused and inadequate’; something which I only wished I had learned earlier on. It would have relieved some of the pressure.