Let’s just…put our guns down. And let’s settle this…

Sometimes discussing parenting feels like this (if you have little kids around you, you probably don’t want to watch that clip! It’s the end of Reservoir Dogs where four characters have a “Mexican standoff” and all shoot one another. You get the point).

I keep hearing people say, “We as a culture need to end the Mommy Wars.” Or “Let’s all….” Or, most ironically, “You should…”

I recently came across a link to a blog post talking about this very subject. I excitedly followed the link, thinking, “This chick gets me.” And for the most part, she did. She had some really great things to say. But then, in the middle, she broke into some version of, “I think the most common ignorant criticism is levelled at people who parent like me.”

The trouble is, everyone thinks that.

The key to ending the Mommy Wars is not getting everyone else to stop making me insecure and angry. The key is to stop being insecure and angry. If I wait around for people to kindly decide to desist shooting me with their bullets of sleep training and “you should tell your child no about this thing because I would,” that moment will likely never come. Someone has to be the first to lower a weapon. If you walk around with your parenting decisions like a gun pointed at everyone in case they shoot at you, everything looks a lot more threatening. Once you are looking at the world as though most people are not setting out to criticize you or make you feel bad, though, it frees you up to take what information is helpful to you and leave the rest. If you are really able to do this, after a while you start to realize that even if someone is trying to shoot down your parenting style, they were shooting blanks anyway.

It’s great to find people who agree with you about things, if you can. It is super helpful to have someone who has experience with something you want to try. I wouldn’t go to La Leche League for advice about which formula to try, just like I wouldn’t go to the Babywise blogs for advice about safe cosleeping practices. I also wouldn’t go to an all-beef hamburger place expecting vegetarian food, or a vegan restaurant for steak. Know your sources and where they are coming from, to avoid feeling offense where none is intended.

Even when you’re talking to people who agree with you it’s good, wherever possible, to avoid the trap of saying things more strongly than you mean to because it’s a relief to be with people who are like-minded. Even if someone who isn’t like you doesn’t happen upon the conversation, engaging in “what we do is better” kinds of conversations just reinforces othering. It makes your ideas more likely to leak out of you at an inopportune moment and in a way that will almost certainly be taken as judgmental by someone who does something different. This goes quadruple on the internet.

Parenting is so hard. Our emotional energy is too important to spend so much of it fighting against people who could be our allies in the trenches. If our children see us constantly battling the idea that our parenting might not be quite as good as someone else’s, I think they will learn a small view of the world. There are real things in the world that need to be fought against. Injustice. Poverty. Racism. Classism. Modern day slavery and human trafficking. I want my children to see me using my precious resources (things like my words, my time, and my sparkling personality) to fight against those things.

Reservoir Moms

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On babies sleeping through the night, the perceived cruelty of cry-it-out, and breastfeeding a college freshman

There is this idea that I hear every so often that still catches me off guard every time I hear it.

The idea is that babies are supposed to sleep through the night, and that if they don’t it’s because of some choice the parent has made. As though we checked some sort of box at the hospital to choose sleepless nights. I didn’t, by the way.

Babies are biologically designed to be light sleepers. This is so that their immature respiratory systems don’t shut down, causing them to stop breathing and die. This is a good thing.

What this means is that no baby, ever, actually sleeps with a consistent depth of sleep through the whole night.

Some babies are innately able to get themselves back into the deep part of their sleep cycle without any outside help. This is a good thing.

Some babies are confused when they wake up and need help to figure out how to get back to sleep. This presents parents with a choice.

In my family, we (my husband and I, together) have chosen to respond to our babies’ cries each and every time. I don’t have the kind of infants who fuss for a minute and then go back to sleep. Sensitive and loving cry-it-out moms that I know and respect tell me that there are different types of baby crying. There is a little fussing kind of cry that lasts for a minute or less, and then baby is back asleep. I have been at a friend’s house when she has done this, and it was shocking to me how quickly the baby just went back to sleep. It wasn’t shocking that she was “neglecting” or “ignoring” her baby (she wasn’t doing either of those things at all, in fact–contrary to what some of the more hardcore and judgy “attachment parenting” websites might imply), but it was shocking to me that the baby worked it out. Why? Because my babies don’t do that. The longer I let them cry, the worse it is by the time I get to them. We’re talking about 30 seconds from waking up to “someone-is-pulling-out-my-toenails-dear-God-please-help-me” full on screaming. So I am not a cry-it-out mom. And it’s ok that I know that about myself.

I think that any parenting philosophy, taken to its extreme, is not a good thing. I also think that finding out someone is interested in certain aspects of a particular parenting philosophy does not give me license to assume that he or she will take it to its ridiculous extreme.

So to my dear cry-it-out mama friends, I promise not to assume that you put in earplugs and drink wine on the couch every night, enforcing 3-4 hours between feeds and causing failure to thrive. If you want to, you may promise not to assume that I will follow my son to college and breastfeed him in his dorm room.

Deal?

I've posted this before, but seriously...this is how she fell asleep for the first three months of her life. Every. Time.

I’ve posted this before, but seriously…this is how she fell asleep for the first three months of her life. Every. Time.

Priorities and Competition in Parenting

There is only so much energy a person can have in a day. We can only do so many things, care about so many things, fix so many things, etc. As a parent I find this stressful because I feel this internal pressure to GET IT RIGHT for my kids’ sake. The problem is, we don’t live in a perfect world and I am only one (very flawed) person and I spend my days raising a couple of adorable-yet-also-flawed children.

So I prioritize.

Whether we realize it or not, we all do it. As a chronic thinker I organize and reorganize my priorities constantly as I move through my day. This has recently been made even more necessary on a pragmatic level by the fact that my hands hurt (my doctor said I should “use them less” and then shook his head because he is really smart and knows how ridiculous that sounds). I physically can’t carry the laundry upstairs and put away the cast iron cookware and scrub the bathroom tub and carry the kids around. I have to pick.

This physical limitation has me thinking about other limitations. We have a certain amount of parenting capital, so to speak. That thing that allows us to (necessarily) stress our relationship with our children with phrases like, “please sit down” or “not yet, finish your food” or “please stop peeing on that”. It’s comprised of a delicate balance of the amount of feedback our kids can truly process, the amount of kindness we can muster to say things to them well, and the amount of energy we can spend helping them to really understand what we expect of them. I don’t know exactly how much I have, but I know it’s not enough to make my child perfect.

After I spend enough time and energy trying to fit into someone else’s idea of good parenting (luckily for my family I have a pretty low tolerance for pretending to be somebody else so it doesn’t usually take me more than a few days), I eventually get tired of feeling like my house is a mess, my kids are a mess, and I’m not a good enough parent. I don’t know anyone who would actually say this to me, but there are moments when I take things the wrong way because I have in mind what my friends’ priorities are, and I want my friends to be happy. The problem with trying to live someone else’s priorities over my life is that they don’t fit. It’s like trying to wear clothes that no longer suit me. They make me feel undesirable and like I am the wrong size.

The easiest way to avoid this would be to seek out only people who prioritize the same parenting items I do. But that would be sad. You see, there are a lot of people I love very much and who make my life better and make me better, and yet care about different things than me. And I really, really need that because, again, I can’t care about ALL THE THINGS. I need my children to see other people caring about different things because that’s how they’ll figure out what they should care about. In Christianese we call this “finding your calling” in case that language is helpful to you.

But.

If I am going to continue to be friends with people who have different priorities than me, I’m going to need to learn to let other people have their things back.

***********

My fellow parents,

I see how hard you work to live your priorities and I think it’s amazing. I want you to be great at what you care about most. It frees me up to be great at what I care about most. And to be clear, just because I care about something else most doesn’t mean I don’t care about your thing. One of the things I care about most is raising kids who are good at being with people. So I will teach them to care about your things, because I will teach them to care about you. I need to be able to talk about your things to my children and say, “Look! Aren’t they great at caring about that? They are making the world a better place.” But they’re little, and the first things I need to make sure they get down are my things. I’m sorry about that.

I’d like to propose a clause on our friendship. A non-compete clause. 

I don’t mean that we should not be friends with a competing party for six years after being friends. I understand that the legal definition is something like that.

I like it because it sounds contractual and binding and if we are going to do something as life-changing as not judge and compete with one another in this current parenting culture, it’s going to take one heck of a commitment to changing our thinking. Something that requires so much intentionality should sound legally binding. 

What I mean is that I am no longer willing to bond over how ridiculous some random parent is because they do x, y, or z. I am no longer willing to spend all or even any of my time with you thinking about how my children stack up against your priorities. It puts me in direct competition with you and we both lose. What we lose is the chance to actually learn from one another, because if I’m always worried about what my kids aren’t getting right, I will miss the things they are getting right. If I spend all my parenting capital trying to get my kids to be more like what I think you want them to be I will probably fail (it turns out I’m pretty bad at being you). And even if I succeed at that (which seems unlikely), I will have raised someone else’s children. And these kids, for God knows what reason, were given to me. To raise with all my Things and all my passions and all my quirks.

I need you to keep being who you are so I can learn to be who I am. Thank you for parenting in front of me. I have learned so much from you; probably more than you know, and I hope that continues because parenting is so hard and I think we need allies more than we need judges.

Your ally,

Kate

Other People’s Choices

Things I have heard said (not necessarily all to me) in the past week:

“What?! That baby is nine months old and woke up in the middle of the night? That’s because that mother is doing something WRONG.”

“What?! That baby sleeps in a crib in a different room? What if she NEEDS her mother?”

“You just need to tell her what to do, because she doesn’t know anything.”

“I know I do too much for my children. Way more than you.”

“I should be more like you.”

“She needs to…..”

“I’m gay, and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.”

“I don’t like the ‘gay agenda’ and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.”

“Paula Deen’s the worst. Hers is the face of racism and as a white person I like pointing my finger at her because it means I don’t have to deal with my own stuff.” Or on the other hand, “Why’s everyone so upset at Paula Deen? That was a long time ago and people need to just get over it. Racism was super terrible. Glad that’s over.” Ok, ok, no one actually said these exact words, but I definitely heard this subtext in a lot of places…

It’s enough to make a person’s head spin.
The reason all of these statements are lumped together in the same post is that I’m noticing a lot of us are having trouble separating ourselves from the choices of people around us. And the more we love them, the harder it is. If someone around us makes a different choice than we do, we are forced to recognize that there are different ways to do things. And if there are different ways to do things, then how do we know the way that we picked is the best? Or what if it isn’t the best? In parenting this is hard, because in many cases we won’t know if our kids end up in therapy or prison or medical school or all of the above for another 20 years or so. In religion this is hard, because it is so easy to fall into the trap worshipping our own understanding of who God is. If we are doing that, then if one part of our understanding comes into question it is easy to feel like everything is crumbling apart. In other areas, well, all I can say is that if we base our entire philosophical understanding of life on the understanding that a set of ideas is correct, then anything that appears to challenge those ideas is scary. Scary is bad, so instead of admitting that it’s scary it’s a natural human response to want to discredit something so we don’t have to deal with it. Natural human responses are not necessarily always what we should act on. Just saying.

Is there a way we can engage people around our differences without making their choices about us? Is that even possible? I try. Because I think that if I can learn about why you are doing something the way you are, I will know more. It doesn’t mean that I’ll do everything your way, and it doesn’t mean that I need you to change to validate my choices. So what does that look like in practice? I’m still working that out (I believe that’s a life-long process). Let’s take a trip through those statements again, but inside my brain.

Once more, with commentary:

“What?! That baby is nine months old and woke up in the middle of the night? That’s because that mother is doing SOMETHING WRONG.” No. No it’s not. It’s because babies are biologically designed to sleep lightly so they don’t stop breathing and die. Some babies naturally can put themselves back to sleep without crying, some babies are left to cry until they give up and go back to sleep, and some babies are picked up each time. There are as many ways to parent as there are children in the world.

“What?! That baby sleeps in a crib in a different room? What if it NEEDS its mother?” There are as many ways to parent as there are children in the world.

“You just need to tell her what to do, because she doesn’t know anything.” THERE ARE AS MANY WAYS TO PARENT AS THERE ARE CHILDREN IN THE WORLD.

“I know I do too much for my children. Way more than you.” You doing more for your children than I do for mine doesn’t mean that you are a ‘helicopter mom’ any more than it means that I don’t love my kids. Neither of those things are true. We do differently, and that’s ok. There are as many….well, you know.

“I should be more like you.” Nope. One of me is enough. I could find any number of people to back me up on this if you don’t believe me. Also, I’ve spent a lot of energy at different points trying to change myself to be like other people. It wasted my time and just made me a less effective version of myself.

“She just needs to…..” Live in a world with less judgment? Be encouraged by people who care about her? Understand her value? Eat food? Drink water? Oh…you are making a judgmental statement about her behavior again. How disappointing.

“I’m gay, and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.” I think this came from a place of hurt because many times people take one another’s decisions very personally and sometimes do so in less than examined ways. If you know and love a gay person who is coming out and you have a problem with gay-ness, maybe try to recognize that you should probably find a safe space to process that out and don’t dump it all over him (or her). He has enough going on. Or if you do talk to him about it, please at least make sure that he knows your feelings are not his fault. He has enough going on. If you know a gay person who is coming out and do not love him, please leave him alone. You have enough going on.

“I don’t like the gay rights agenda and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.” This attitude makes very little sense to me now, in retrospect…I hear a lot of conservative people say that homosexuality is a choice or an action, not an identity. If that is true (now that I know actual gay people I doubt very much that it’s that simple), then why should we distill our entire understanding of someone down to one thing we know about them?

“Paula Deen’s the worst. Hers is the face of racism and as a white person I like pointing my finger at her because it means I don’t have to deal with my own stuff.” Or on the other hand, “Why’s everyone so upset at Paula Deen? That was a long time ago and people need to just get over it. Racism was super terrible. Glad that’s over.” Sigh...Back away slllooowwly…please consider reading this post from Kristen Howerton or this other post that I wrote, and then maybe we can have a thoughtful conversation with each other about this.