Parenting philosophies

One of the things that bothers me about the American parenting scene is people’s strident, in-your-face attitudes about “the right way” to parent. I had a ‘friend’ a while back who was a militant “attachment parenting” type. In her Christmas newsletters she would write to the world about how “we believe in long breastfeeding”, “we believe in co-sleeping” etc. I guess she felt defensive about her choices (probably she had heard other strident parents tell her that co-sleeping would kill her child etc.). But her attitude used to drive another friend of mine who was not into attachment parenting crazy… especially after friend #1 told friend #2 that  she “did not believe in daycare” (which friend #2 was using while working) but that “sometimes she got so frustrated with being with her kids all the time that she would hit them.”  That set off a bit of a nuclear inferno.

Overall my childbirth education class has been really good. But we have had a pile of readings to do for the class and the tone of some of the readings seems equally strident to me. For example, I really want to do natural childbirth if possible (still waiting to find out if that pesky placenta moves out of the way) but the reading which extolled the fact that “women know how to give birth and have been doing so for millenia without doctors” really bothered me. I recently spent 6 months living in what is in this blog termed RIR-land, a remote community where up until the 60’s women gave birth at home with a midwife, too far from hospitals to be able to give birth there. And you know what? Nobody is nostalgic for the “good old days.” So many women died. And so many babies.  Women’s bodies do know what to do.  But childbirth is an imperfect process, and sometimes women die.

This week we had a set of readings about breast-feeding. I want to breastfeed and I appreciated the suggestions and advice about how to do so. But once again there was a reading that hit the strident tone, extolling all the virtues of breastfeeding (breast is best! it will make your child smarter! it will make your child healthier!) without referring to any of the very real costs of breastfeeding (e.g. it ties down the mother as the primary source of food, it requires incessant feeds and/or pumping, it means women are the ones who will be getting up all night, etc.). Having seen friends and family struggle with breast-feeding in various ways – and kill themselves with guilt at the thought that – shhhhh – maybe it might not be worth it, I am not interested in “breast at all cost.” Yes, breast-feeding is better, but it is not so much better that it should trump all other concerns.

So I brought my own reading to childbirth education this week. This did not make the educator happy. She said the article I brought (which talks about the cost to women of breastfeeding, and questions the evidence behind the claims that breastfeeding is vastly superior to formula feeding) had felt like a slap in the face to her when she first read it. If you search on the title of this article you will indeed find 10,000 blog posts, reviews, etc. which are all very upset about that article. But if you read the article itself? OK, I don’t know if the claims made are true, but the person who wrote it is herself a breastfeeding mom. How did we get to the point that a person who is breastfeeding saying “I’m not sure this is worth it, is this what feminism was really about?” is a blog-fire-raising scandal?

I guess it is a similar situation to my strident friend – that people who are pro-breastfeeding have already had to put up with 10,000 people saying crap like “is your baby really getting enough to eat?” and sidelong glances that say “you have a lot of nerve to expose your boob in public.” So anything that dares to question breastfeeding sounds like an attack. And there we go into mutual strident-land again.

The other day someone told me that when she was breastfeeding the ticket to happiness for her was co-sleeping, it made it so much easier to deal with breastfeeding at night. Then she said, “But it isn’t necessarily for everyone. What’s your parenting philosophy?” I stared blankly at her and said “My philosophy is ‘whatever works.'” Because I really don’t want to be one of those people who defines their parenting according to one of these labels and then has to kill themselves to live up to the label rather than actually doing what seems right for them.

But it isn’t actually true. I do have a parenting philosophy, I think. Here it is:

  1. Respect your child as an individual with its own needs, preferences, and feelings.
  2. Make sure your child feels loved.
  3. You don’t have to be perfect.
  4. Don’t buy into the omnipresent American atmosphere of parenting guilt.
  5. Everyone in the family has the right to have their own needs, to love and attention, and time to do their own thing rather than responding to others’ agendas.

That’s pretty much it, I think.  Fortunately, Mr. Nishkanu is 100% on the same page.  We’ll see whether this stuff actually survives the heat of practice.



  1. Ana said

    Great post! I agree with pretty much everything you said! I think the reason some people get so defensive about their chosen “parenting style” is that all parents are deep-down uncertain they are doing the “right” or “best” things. Anything that makes them acutely aware of that—that there are other ways, and maybe those ways work as well or better?—is just too upsetting & guilt-producing. Thus to keep their heads from exploding, they defend their way to the death. That’s my theory, anyways.

    I actually hate the term “parenting style”, but I suppose everyone DOES have one, even if they have not spent as long thinking about it (or writing it out in a christmas letter manifesto). I think I’m going to strive for flexibility in adapting to the kid’s needs and consistency between the two of us. And of course “making sure the child feels loved”. That’s the bottom line, right? I like your points… but I’m imagining you trying to explain #5 to a 2 month old, or 2 year old for that matter 🙂 I have been pondering on the breast feeding thing for a while. I truly WANT to breast feed & I hope it works out, but if it doesn’t, for whatever reason, or if trying to keep it going after I go back to work ends up being too difficult, I hope I can overcome the guilt.

    • nishkanu said

      I think for #5 you have to teach by doing, not by explaining… but what do I know about parenting anyway? We’ll see…

  2. I’d say you’re off to a good start on your ‘philosophy.’ I think the bottom line for us first-time parents is that we are entering New Territory. And as such, flexibility is probably a good tool to keep in your back pocket.

    I agree that every parent is best served by finding their own way. Is an uncomfortable, unhappy breastfeeding mom the best way for her baby to get nutrition? I would argue not necessarily. Food is such a primal need that it’s best delivered in a positive atmosphere. Any baby will sense if the momma ain’t havin’ a good time.

    Personally I’ve heard quite a few co-sleeping stories that sounded really good. Baby is right there, disturbance to momma is minimal, even if you’re bottle feeding (you can keep a bottle warmer by your bed), unless a diaper change is needed. It’s what I’m going to try first with breastfeeding.

    I was nervous about breastfeeding a while back thanks to an idiot SIL who told me horror stories. Since my really good BF dream I had a while back, I’m feeling a lot better about it.

    I think many of these ‘classes’ are taught by people who have an agenda. The all-day labor class we took definitely had that vibe. I’m used to it, living in the Bay Area, but it’s still annoying.

    I am quite sure you will find your own way and that it will be the right way for you and your child.

    • nishkanu said

      It’s interesting. I personally do not want to co-sleep. I don’t have anything philosophically against it, it just doesn’t feel right to me. For one thing, I think I would have a hard time sleeping because I would be worried about rolling over onto the little one (or Mr. Nishkanu, who sleeps very heavily, doing the same). But also, I want the bed to be for the two of us. We’ll put a bassinet next to the bed and hopefully it will be close enough to get similar benefits.

      Having said that, I have nothing against anyone who does choose to co-sleep. I would never argue that because I don’t want to, that means other people shouldn’t or that there is something wrong with it as a concept. I am also fully aware that it might turn out in practice to be the right thing for me even though in theory it doesn’t feel comfortable. I hope that I can stay that way as a parent and not turn into Ms. Judge-It-All.

      • Yeah, we’ve got a bassinet/co-sleeping bed thingy (as well as her crib) and I don’t know if that will work better or actually having her in the bed would be better. We’re both pretty calm sleepers but we do turn. And I’m thinking that just knowing she is in our bed would prevent me from sleeping deeply because I’d be worried about crushing her. I’m hoping the little bed will be close enough.

        I guess we’ll both be finding out soon enough, huh? Can you believe it??!?!

        Glad your little one is getting into good position, btw. Hopefully things will stay that way. The u/s tech I saw last week told me that 99% of the time, once they are head down and in a good position, they stay that way. Fingers crossed for you!

  3. small heresies said

    Some kids are plain easier to sleep with than others. 🙂 I really think people sometimes form “parenting philosophies” on the basis of whatever has worked for them and their particular kid.

    (Also, heavily weighted by whatever their friends think, and that goes equally for all the “AP” and “mainstream” and “fundie” groups and subgroups out there!)

    Which is really fine and healthy, but it becomes hard (impossible?) to explain to some of the more devoted adherents that not all kids and parents are identically situated. lol

    Dude. Didn’t Tolstoy talk about this in the beginning of Anna Karenina? How people are attracted to certain intellectual beliefs because they fit in with whatever they are already doing in life?

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