Recently I clicked on a link to an article titled, Can moms with different parenting styles be friends. The article described some disastrous play date scenarios in which different parenting styles led to bristling moms on both sides. The article gave some sound advice, like when you see something you don’t agree with, don’t speak out right away and try to avoid unsolicited advice whenever possible. They also recommended that women think long and hard about the value of a friendship and whether or not it’s worth sabotaging one just because you don’t agree with something your friend does.
I have to admit, my first thought upon reading the article was, that has never happened to me! I can’t imagine getting so upset over something as silly as sharing cookies at a play date (the all-organic-no-processed-sugar mom was upset the other mom offered her kid cookies). Then I realized, as a woman with very few mom friends, I haven’t actually been on that many play dates, and even fewer at the actual houses of other moms. I also realized that with children under two, there was less chance of disputes because each mom pretty much deals with their own kid. So I guess these kinds of conflicts will be in my future, whether I like it or not.
As I thought about it more, I realized I did have some experience with moms who parent differently than I do, although the distance between us has prevented any actual disputes from taking place. You see, I “know” these moms through their blogs. As I’ve watched many of my blogger friends become more sure of themselves as mothers, I’ve noticed that many have very distinct ways of dealing with the issues we all face. I will admit, while most of the time I read about their divergent approaches with curiosity sometimes I do perceive condescension and elitism in their words.
The truth is, I don’t consider myself a follower of a particular parenting style, per se, but there is a way I like to do things. Maybe some day I will read a book that describes my parenting style to a T, but so far I haven’t. So I just pick and choose ideologies and approaches that seem to fit me and I create my own personal mothering style as I go along. I’m sure most moms feel that way–that no one style completely describes their approach to parenting–but I have noticed some do seem more attracted to a certain approach than I do.
While I’ve never identified completely with any one parenting style, there is a style that I know I do not identify with, and that is attachment parenting. It is not my intention to disrespect anyone by saying that; by recognizing that attachment parenting is not for me I am not criticizing it or anyone who identifies with it. I’m not trying to declare attachment parenting as good or bad, it’s just not the way I feel comfortable parenting.
A few bloggers that I read, and actually one mother that (sort of) know here in San Francisco, seem to identify with attachment parenting, some more enthusiastically than others. While not all of these mothers would necessarily call themselves attachment parenters, many have admitted to embracing some of the style’s approaches, like baby-wearing, co-sleeping and child-led feeding and weaning.
I didn’t know anything about attachment parenting before I had my daughter. I was first introduced to it, unwittingly, through Sears & Sears’ The Baby Book, which was recommended at Kaiser’s Lactation Center. For some reason, I assumed a book available at a hospital would be free of any specific parenting philosophy, if that is even possible, and I was really thrown by a lot of what I was reading in the book. I didn’t expect to be pushed to baby-wear whenever possible (basically all day), or to co-sleep (as someone who has almost broken her partner’s nose in her sleep, I never intended to bring my baby into my bed). I also felt the book was especially condescending toward working mothers, suggesting that if there were anything a mom could do to stay home with their child, they should absolutely attempt it, lest their child suffer the consequences.
Now most of the time, when I read about mothers embracing attachment parenting I don’t think much of it. Sometimes I find it interesting that others women are comfortable with approaches that don’t speak to me at all, sometimes I’m ambivalent about it. Other times I feel I have nothing to add to the conversation because of the approaches other moms choose; I’ve noticed that many women who co-sleep or feed-on-demand confront sleep issues for a considerable amount of time, sometimes past their baby’s first year. We slept trained Isa at four months and she has mostly slept 10-12 hours a night since then, so I don’t feel like I have much to contribute to a conversation about sleep issues, especially when I know they don’t want my advice, which I never give.
Most of the time I read the blogs of attachment parenters and don’t think much of it. They have their way and I have mine; the most common, and relatively benign, result being our experiences are less relatable and I feel I have less to contribute to the conversation. But sometimes I’ll read a post or a sentence and I’ll feel judgement cast on the way that I do things, even when I’m pretty sure that is not the author’s intention. It makes sense that I sometimes feel criticized; if one person is espousing the best way for her and her child, the child she would do anything for, it’s not difficult to assume that they view other parenting styles–mine included–as lacking, even if that may not be the case. As mothers we want what is best for our child, we want to know we’re doing it right, and if someone else is doing it another way, it’s hard not to wonder if one way is right and the other wrong, especially when some literature suggests just that.
Implications can be dangerous things. If someone serves their child only homemade organic food, are they implying a mother who serves goldfish cares less about their child’s nutrition? If someone uses cloth diapers, are they insinuating that those who don’t are wasteful? If someone stays at home with their child, are they suggesting that the mother who works outside the home is less devoted? Probably not, but when we have guilt or regret or concern about our own parenting decisions we make those implications ourselves, even when they weren’t intended.
I believe that moms with different parenting style can be friends, but it might take some work. It’s definitely easiest to make connections with people who have similar ideologies, but two moms with distinct parenting styles can absolutely navigate a caring and mutually beneficial friendship if they are willing to approach each other with open minds and hearts, while leaving their own baggage at the door. If one mom is not confident in her own parenting style she will be more susceptible to unhappiness in a friendship with a mom who does things differently. If both feel in their hearts they are doing what is best for themselves and their children, they can probably remain friends, if they really want to.
Every mother has to make countless decisions for their child, and for every decision there are myraid possible choices, at least that is how it feels in this country. Have you ever wondered if that is the case every where in the world? Do parents in every country agonize over the hows and whys of feeding, diapering, sleeping and even the way their kid is transported around the neighborhood? I hadn’t thought much about it until I started reading Bringing Up Bebé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. I’m only on chapter three but already it has me asking all sorts of questions about the professional parenting culture in the United States.
If you’re interested in exploring these topics more, I invite you to PAIL’s first book club – which of course is open to anyone who wants to participate. We’ll be reading and discussing Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bebé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, and using it as jumping off point to explore all kinds of fascinating aspects of parenting in the United States. I will have more information on how to participate in tomorrow’s post. I hope you all will join us!
Do you identify with a specific parenting style? Do you have friends who parent differently than you do? Has the difference affected your relationship? Does your own uncertainty about what is best ever manifest as other moms implying that they are doing it better?