Away We Go With Parenting!

By , March 16, 2010 1:16 am
Lazlo is a happy baby. What's my secret?

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

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 depicted several families and several different parenting styles. There was the disrespectful family who seemed to believe that their children were deaf and dumb. There was the super-crunchy AP family. There was 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 value 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 that the things my older children missed out on, they were lucky enough to be able to experience 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?

6 Responses to “Away We Go With Parenting!”

  1. Anne says:

    You articulate just what my own reservations were about the movie (especially since a good friend first told me about it by saying that Maggie’s character reminded her and her husband of me – um . . . ouch?), and then do a beautiful job of dissecting the lesson therein.

    Navelgazing Midwife did two posts recently talking a bit about something similar, specifically from a natural birth advocate perspective. Hmm, I can feel that I’m about to get longwindy – perhaps I’ll reply-turned-post it. :O)

  2. Kara says:

    Wanted to see this movie and could not remember it’s name! I also watched the vidi on slings… good to know to inform my mommmy friends or people under the influence of misinformation! I don’t see parenting practices or the people who implement them as snobby… I feel that we are all conditioned to certain things… hopefully one day this conditioning won’t have such a grip but for now it does so the more info is spread to help educate and create awareness the more parents can see their options and make informed choices for themselves and their babies…

  3. Lauren S. says:

    Love this.

    See, I’m one of those “I’m staying as far away from AP as possible” parents because the AP parents that I’ve met have been snooty and lofty about their practices. I’m really new to this parenting thing (6 months in the making) and I’ve definitely made some choices that I wish I could take back, but they were things I had to do to survive colic and PPD. I’m currently working on my Masters in English Ed, so I’m an intelligent and well-educated person. I’m certainly no dummy, and I look carefully into the potential ramifications of my choices for my daughter. So when I tell AP parents that I CIO’d my precious daughter (for whom I would crawl over broken glass on my hands and knees) and they look down their pointy little noses at me, and state that she and I must not have bonded well enough or that I should have “played music I like” during those dark hours, I recoil and resolve never to turn into such a parent, such a person. How dare someone decide over the course of a 15-minute conversation that I am stupid and must not love my daughter very much (or, at least, not have the acumen how to show her I love her)?

    To you, however, I feel I might be willing to listen. Seems like I’d learn some good stuff.

  4. justine says:

    @Lauren…what a splendid compliment!

    With all of my training, all of my parenting experience (21 years of it and counting), and all of my personal history, I have come to the conclusion that AP Principles and the Blueprint from the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children (which is available under the Parenting Wisdom Tab above) are THE VERY BEST PARENTING PRACTICES–they are the IDEAL. Perhaps your research and experiences will show you a different path. However, I follow them (imperfectly) bc I believe in them. Reaching the ideal is never possible, though…AP is a guiding force in my life, not a checklist of goals that I either do or do not achieve. We all have our different relationships, our responsibilities, our knowledge, our resources, our strengths, our talents, our histories, our economics, and our culture to factor into the parenting equation— which make everyone’s journey uniquely their own.

    We are not horrible parents just because we are not perfect or bc we have made choices we now regret. I often ask myself: Did I make the choice out of love? Did I feel that I made choices that would be mutually beneficial for my child and myself? Was I following the best medical/expert/or parenting advice that I had at the time?

    I do suggest reading/researching/observing as many parenting styles as you can and actually choosing one. Then, you will have the tools to turn to when you are uncertain of how to handle a situation or need some advice. If I could give every parent just one book, it would be Pam Leo’s Connection Parenting. She outlines how to connect with your child, ID your own parenting strengths, and recognize what you bring to the parenting table from your personal history. Those essential truths can compliment any philosophy…AP or otherwise.

    Chose your ideal, strive for it, reflect and meditate on walking closer and closer to that ideal with every step you take. Take the time everyday to ask “Is this parenting choice working? Have a made a choice based on fact and research which will yield a desirable long-term outcome or a knee-jerk response to put a band-aid on a problem that will be ongoing?”

    And thanks for the reminder that all parents are teachers…not just to their children, but to each other. AP parents need to remember to practice the principles with everyone they meet…especially the one about responding with sensitivity :)

  5. I thought of this post again today (read it a couple of weeks ago). I just saw the movie a few weeks before your post… I had it on hold at the library for months!

    I think all the parents are shown in an outrageous light or in the extreme form, though I couldn’t help but wish for a more reasonable presentation of AP (or “continuum concept” parentsm which they actually seemed to be portraying) since so many people will see the film.

    But that’s not the kind of film it was. There were many uncomfortable “these people have gone too far” moments for all three families. Also, I wanted to tell you, too, that my interpretation/experience of the film was influenced by knowing who the writer of the movie was. The writers were a husband and wife, who have two young kids. They are both novelists, with the husband being the rather famous Dave Eggers. He is a big-hearted but also very wacky/humorous dude. It helps me understand the film… I am sure they encountered all these types of parents as they began their own journey and wanted to present them all out-sized.

    Thanks for your post!

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