Parenting can bring out some pretty big emotions. Nothing kicks off a debate between adults quicker than the implication that YOUR/THEIR parenting philosophies might be half-baked…or wrong…or questionably legal…or safe. Say one of these words loudly at the mall, at your next family reunion, or at the office get-together: Circumcision. Co-sleeping. Breastfeeding. Spanking. Childbirth. These simple words can evoke so many different feelings depending on who you are talking to: Guilt. Pride. Jealousy. Regret. Joy.
But the feelings that I am trying to cultivate more in myself are: Empathy and Humility.
I recently watched the film Away We Go. Let me say first: I really loved it. Let me say secondly: I only knew the bare minimum about it, I had not read reviews or viewed any trailers for it. And finally, let me say: the scene about AP values really stung when I first saw it. Here is a clip from that scene. And another. Go ahead and watch them if you have not seen the film. Here is the trailer if you want to get an overview of the whole thing. I’ll wait.
The film depicts several families and several different parenting styles. There is the disrespectful family who seems to believe that their children are deaf and dumb. There is the super-crunchy AP family. There is the open-arms adopt-a-lot-of-kids rainbow family. The single-parent family. It was very easy for Sir Hubby and I to scoff, guffaw, and feel superior when the disrespectful family was on the screen. What kind of jerks treat their kids like that! But there was an awkward silence in the room when the AP family came on. Mostly it was quiet because Sir Hubby had fallen asleep. But also, because I could easily identify ALL of our AP values being depicted by these characters. At first, a sort of pride welled up in me…
Hooray for AP values being shown in a movie! Extended breastfeeding! Babywearing! Family bed! Doula’s! Yippeeee!
But then I realized that the film was not praising those choices, but depicting them as kinda crazy. Kinda over-the-top. Kinda awful. The pregnant couple shouts at the AP family, calls them horrible names, and finally flees the house.
Whoa. I start warming my fingers up to draft a strongly worded letter to the writers:
How dare you! Babywearing this! Family bed that! Baby-led breastfeeding this! Don’t you know that studies have shown that AP…
Wait a minute. THIS is what the writers of the film were making fun of! The passionately snobby caricature of AP parents. They were showing how non-AP parents are meant to feel when smug-AP parents berate them or humiliate them or shame them for not being superior enough to make the choice to AP immediately and instinctively. And maybe we don’t do it on purpose…but whenever we proclaim that our way is the best way– the ONLY way– if you want healthy kids, happy kids, gentle kids, smart kids, compassionate kids, then we have not turned someone on to AP…we have chased them away. They are fleeing the house just like the couple in the movie did.
Similar to my choice in clothes, my hairstyle, and my favorite music or wine— I think that my parenting preferences are the best ones. Dare I say– the correct ones. I see the benefits of my choices and have become quite comfortable with them. However, it is all too easy to become smug and (just a little more than) a tad self-satisfied with my choices when I allow myself to forget that it has taken me 21 years of parenting to get to this place. I did not start out my parenting journey as smoothly as I would have liked. I made choices that I now regret having made. I have put a lot of time and effort into not repeating my previous parenting mistakes. I do feel regret about the things my older children missed out on, but they have been lucky enough to be able to experience much of that through watching me practice it with their younger siblings. I have certainly been sliding much more to the way-out-there side of the spectrum in the past few years by having a VBAC home birth in 2008 and another earlier this year while practicing tandem nursing. We’ve even got the 100-inches of family bed going on now (that’s a lot of bed, folks). These are things that I am perfectly comfy with now, but might have raised an eyebrow at even a decade ago. Parenting is a lifelong process and we continue to learn along the entire journey. You are not the same parent today that you will be in 20 years.
I can attest that exactly zero of my positive parenting choices were made because someone bullied me into making them. I am sure that there are plenty of people who see my hair, my taste in clothes, music or wine and think “What is she thinking??” and that is okay because I am the one living with the consequences of those choices and we are all allowed to make our mistakes and labor under our own delusions about stuff like that. It is a little trickier with parenting. Particularly attachment parenting. I buy into the philosophy that AP could change the world. I honestly believe that it is the key to creating a better society for our children to raise their children in. So, it is a little harder to stand by the sidelines and watch someone make parenting choices that I believe are perpetuating the not-so-great elements in our current culture. But, the best students are the ones who want to learn. There is no greater compliment than someone approaching me and saying “Your baby is so content! What is your secret?” My answer: Simply loving my baby! Just the same way you love your baby. I have some tools that make it simpler to live my life and love my baby at the same time. I’m happy to share them!
Let’s make sure that we are not the AP family in the film, folks! Be generous, kind, and genuine when you discuss AP. Respond with sensitivity to everyone you talk to about parenting. Remember that they are not at the same place on their parenting journey, but that does not mean one of you is further along while the other one is behind. What are some ways that you share your parenting wisdom without turning people off? What was the AP “jumping-off point” for your family? If you could get families to embrace just ONE AP principle, what would it be?