Away We Go With Parenting!

by justine on March 17, 2010

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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.

"Your baby is so content! What is your secret?"

"Your baby is so content! What is your secret?"

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?

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justine (21 Posts)

Justine Julian blogs at State of the Heart. Learn more about her work as a doula at JulianArts.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Ayesha March 17, 2010 at 8:35 am

I saw the movie and was put off by the AP family too =( I hope I never come across to anyone as that snobby. Plus, the “do you plan on hiding your lovemaking from your children” was very odd. Maybe other AP parents agree with that but aside from all the AP principles, this one doesn’t fit in our lifestyle. And as you can see, it’s still haunting me ad verbatim lolz. I felt like that exagerrated the AP lifestyle too much, but that just my feeling.


Lissa March 17, 2010 at 8:48 am

I really liked this blog entry! I didn’t see the film but watched the two links you provided. I’m always embarrassed by extremists who give everyone else with similar views a bad name.
I had my first babies (yes twins) last year and was inundated with advice and do this and don’t do this from everyone! “When are you going to get them sleeping in their cribs?” “You can’t just let them nurse all the time” “It’s good for them to cry, it helps their lungs develop” Etc etc etc! Whenever I would listen to someone else I would lose my natural confidence. I picked up the book Attachment Parenting, Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child. It was the amazing. All of the things I was naturally drawn to that felt right for me were healthy and good for my babies! What a concept.
I guess the single most important thing I learned was to go with what feels right and what’s best for your baby. YOU know. Don’t listen to advice that doesn’t feel right to you just because it’s mainstream.


Jen, mom of DS March 17, 2010 at 10:24 am

Those are hard clips to watch. I don’t know.

Should we be generous or kind when we encounter racism or sexism or factory farming? The Ferber ‘throw you infant in the corner and just let her cry’ is no less damanging than all of these things. Read dr. Sears. He proves it!! i don’t know if we should be passive in the face of cruelty. i just dont know.


Sheri March 17, 2010 at 10:48 am

I often have to remember that AP isn’t just for children. The gentle approach can work wonders with other parents when imparting your wisdom of how well it works.


Nancy March 17, 2010 at 10:53 am

Very recognizable! People always compliment me with my daughther; that she is so happy, sweet and calm. But when I tell them she sleeps with us and I still breastfeed her whenever she askes for it, suddenly I am spoiling her!


Erica March 17, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Nancy, I am not a “helicopter” parent, but I love my daughter (my husband too) – oh I could go on about that one… I wear my daughter almost everywhere, and when she’s not in a carrier and she wants, she’s in arms (she’s 8 months old, crawling and wanting to walk). She sleeps with us and would be breastfeeding if I could…. And I’ve been told the same thing about “spoiling” our daughter by doing those things (from my husband’s family) – “she needs to be independent; she needs to figure things out (after she reached for a stack of play chairs and they fell on her), etc, etc” – she’s 8 months old!?! Are they nuts?!!! This, coming from people who have small children of their own, who do “spoil” their children, but with material goods.


Nicole March 17, 2010 at 11:26 am

As to Jen’s comment, I think it is unfair and actually incorrect to summarize Dr. Ferber’s methodologies and philosophies as ‘throw you infant in the corner and just let her cry’. You are being a prime example of just what this post is all about. I see so many hysterical uber- AP style parents freaking out about every choice or behavior that doesn’t fit into the AP mold of attached perfection, and it makes me cringe and laugh. Our family practices many AP behaviors but we are not dogmatic about any of it. We do what works and feels right for us. We do not co-sleep with our 3 year old, but did when he was under a year. We breastfed for 18 months and then I weaned my son (slowly but on my time frame, not his). And the list goes on. We all learn as we go. Parenting is not black and white. There is room for flexibility and change. And being a jerk is no way to model loving, peaceful behavior. We will surely win more people over to the gentler side of parenting by being aware and gentle in our interactions with other parents.


Suzanne March 17, 2010 at 11:33 am

Oh for heaven’s sake, Jen. Did you really just compare Ferberizing to racism?? That is exactly the kind of smug, haughty, over-the-top attitude that the author (and movie) were targeting.

Some aspects of AP work well for our family. Other aspects I strongly disagree with. No matter. The point is that all parents do what they think is best for their children, and that as parents, we should understand and respect the fact that there are many ways to accomplish a single goal: a healthy, loving relationship with your children.

And if you want to promote YOUR method, then the best way to do it is as gently as your parenting practices are, not by berating others and ridiculing their actions. That’s not very AP of you, is it?


Nad March 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Thank you for reminding us to be “generous, kind, and genuine”.

It certainly is hard to be calm when faced with so many parents that think the complete opposite from us. But, I’ve tried not to be smug around non AP’ers.
Yes, it’s been tough not screaming at all the parents I know that practice CIO… yes, I feel smug when confronted with so many babies in strollers, but I’ve made an effort not to act smug around others. I try to communicate my point of view in a calm and rational way. And I never PUSH. I just share what I do and leave it at that.
Luckily, I think it’s worked as recently 2 different sets of parents have asked my advice on baby carriers for their new baby. Yay! 🙂

Remember, you catch more flies with sugar…


justine March 17, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Cruel, abusive, or harmful behaviors should never be condoned, advocated for, or approved of. In that regard, you are correct, Jen. However, I never advocated for passivity in my post. Being gentle in your approach to sharing AP and being passive when encountering cruelty are *very* different things.

In this post I am talking about pretty typical everyday parenting scenarios– like the ones depicted in the film. The pregnant couple probably would have been open to hearing about AP values–and would have probably asked more questions (which indicates a real desire to learn)– if the AP family had handled things differently. There is nothing *wrong* or even *weird* with the AP family or what they are practicing (I practice 100% of what they did in the film) the difference is that they had become so accustomed to their values that they had forgotten how to *gently introduce AP* to someone who had never heard of it. I urge readers to be empathetic and practice humility when sharing their AP values so that MORE people WANT to be like us!

I am a parent educator and have been asked to work with families who practice cry-it-out…a hostile, knee-jerk reaction on my part would have only ensured that I was not invited back to their home to help them or their babies! I gently provided info, (like Dr Sears) and invited them to question why they made the parenting choices that they had. Frankly, most of them never “made” any sort of choice, they just practiced what they had seen from family or friends. Providing accurate information and helping them practice their new skills with their baby strengthened their desire to be better parents!


MamanADroit March 17, 2010 at 8:42 pm

I think you really hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that many people don’t make the decision, they just do what they’re told or what they’ve seen modeled. The sad truth is not that everyone thinks about it and researched and yet many choose not to do AP, but that most people don’t really have any kind of conscious parenting philosophy. Most people I know, even friends and family, don’t research, think, and develop philosophies on very many things in life. That’s why there are so many political moderates and semi-religious people, and not just conservatives and liberals, and extremists and atheists.


Erica March 17, 2010 at 10:25 pm

My husband and I are visiting family in South America with our eight month old daughter (we live in Canada).

The other day, I was talking with my husband’s aunt about how our daughter hasn’t been able to sleep (the heat, change in location, etc), and mentioned in passing that she sleeps with us. To which the aunt responded, “That’s SO dangerous; she could suffocate; she could be crushed; she could fall; etc, etc….” and on and on she went (this conversation could have happened with anyone, anywhere). This, from the same woman who belives that children don’t need/benefit from being in car seats (it’s custom in the country for children to ride on their parent’s laps or freely on the back seat). And all I could think was, “Are you for real – WHICH one is really more dangerous???”

I WISH someone would have encouraged me more/offered help/advice when I was trying to breastfeed our daughter, my nipples were raw and terribly sore, and our daughter was becoming accustomed to drinking out of a bottle because I couldn’t seem to produce enough milk…

I WISH someone would have told me earlier about babywearing earlier than her 4 months of age, when I discovered via internet the Ergo and Beco carriers (and since then many other carriers/wraps) – our daughter since “lives” in the Beco carrier…

I WISH someone would have encouraged co-sleeping when she came home from the hospital…since I had more time to read about these ideas(?) the more I’ve been able to educate myself and my huband, too bad more family members, etc couldn’t follow suit.

I’m SO proud to say that I wear our daughter, that she sleeps with us, that I rock and sing her to sleep, that we are both able to spend time with her, play with her, etc, and that she has so much love.


A mom from Siberia March 18, 2010 at 4:54 am

For many Russians AP parenting comes naturally. We wear babies in slings because most buildings have no lifts or ramps and in winter it gets so cold so babywearing is the only way to leave the house. We co-sleep, because not many families can afford a house with a spare bedroom (a lot of families with 2 kids leave in 1 bedroom units). We do not do crying-out techniques, as Russian childrent have enough stress in their lives and no parents want to add more (and kids rarely have their own rooms as I mentioned before – you just can’t ignore baby crying next to you). Extended breastfeeding (until 2-3) is common, because breastmilk protects babies and children from sickness, and kids easily get sick in cold climates.
Does it make Russians a better society? I doubt it, we have our own “goods and bads”.
We do the “AP” things because they make sense to us. Not in order to change the world.


FC Mom March 18, 2010 at 6:20 am

Thank you for this great post. Sometimes those who feel passionately about AP tend to only be around those who parent the same way, so when they meet parents who don’t do that, they seem to forget that TACT is also a pretty awesome principle! No one wants be grilled, at a birthday party, about why they circumcised their son! I do realize that that’s not AP… it’s just bad social skills, but approaching others like an evangelist gives AP a bad name. Thank you for reminding us to take a step back from our own views to consider how expressing our views might appear to others…. best to be an ambassador rather than an aggressive criticizer.


Monica March 18, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Justine –
I always like your posts! I love hearing about your 100 inches of a family bed. We need a picture! We are kindred spirits with the home VBAC (woo-hoo!) and we both happened to be inspired to write about this movie and the way it depicted AP parenting and the lesson to be gained. Here’s my old Attachment Mama post (not widely read) if you’d like to check it out:


mamapoekie March 19, 2010 at 4:01 am

I really like your post… I have been brooding on getting a similar post doan on virtual paper for a while now.
Over these two years of being a mom, I must say I have really learned to be soft when it comes to discussing parenting with other – non AP parents. Before I used to be a very loud mouthed, opinionated person. But having experienced criticism when I was particularly vulnurable, I swore I would try not to feel anyone that way – ever.
It’s very confrontational to be criticized on your parenting – for anyone – because there is so much at stake, and we are all convinced we are doing the right thing.

But the mere fact of being an AP parent can scare off people from talking to you. I recently had my friend say to me she thought she would be unable of discussing breastfeeding with me, just because I still breastfeed my 21 month old. She was amazed that I coul have a gentle discussion and be open minded to her objections.

But if I’d have to eradicate something it would be violence and punishment. Imagine a world where no child had to suffer either… Get my point?


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