American Parenting Philosophy: You’re Doing it Wrong!

A friend of mine just had her first baby, and she and I have been emailing back and forth for the last couple of days.  (The baby is a little more than a week old.)  She and her husband are trying to figure out all of those little tricks that hep to keep you sane during those hazy newborn days.  (Our experience with Maggie was the vacuum cleaner – the white noise usually calmed her instantly.  Beckett liked to be swaddled, and not too hot.)  So in her emails, she’s been asking me about my experiences with both of my kids.  Did they sleep a lot?  Did you have to wake them to nurse? Did you have trouble getting them back to sleep at 3AM?

(I will here add a note that I would not go back to being a new mother for the first time for anything in the WORLD!  I totally Googled “Does my baby sleep too much?” when Maggie was about two weeks old.  She did not, in fact, sleep too much.)

In the news during the past week, I’ve heard and read a great deal about this book, Bringing Up Bebe.  In it, Pamela Druckerman gives an account of her experience as an American Mother in Paris.  She noticed that French children, in contrast to her daughter, were Calm!  They ate fish (of the non-stick variety)!  And vegetables!  Her daughter only ate white bread and pasta.  Therefore, according to the title of the piece in the Wall Street Journal, French parents are superior to American parents.  In other words, we’re doing it wrong.

Today, I read a piece in the Huffington Post by parenting blogger Roma Downey.  In it she talks about lessons that she has learned as a parent.  One of her most important lessons learned?  That in being a parent, “there is no such thing as “perfect” – but you have to make “perfect” your goal.”  In other words, not only are we doing it wrong, we can, in fact, never actually do it right!

Yesterday, David and I took the kids out to the store to purchase a potty for Maggy and to seek a set of nice rocks glasses.  (Potty training and whiskey go well together, I’ve heard.)  We took the kids out partly because we needed those things and partly because we were all driving each other crazy trapped in the house together.  So we packed up the kids and went on an adventure to various Big Box Stores That Sell Household Items. We found a potty for Maggie, but not any acceptable rocks glasses.  As we stood in line, we ran into one of Maggie’s classmate’s mothers.  She greeted Beckett with the usual “He’s gotten so BIG!” Then her glance traveled south and spotted the potty chairs David was carrying.  (We bought two – one for each bathroom.)  She then confessed that she was afraid to start potty training her daughter because she is a psychologist and a number of her colleagues think that potty training is such a BIG DEAL that it can really mess up a kid.  So she is inherently afraid that she will do it wrong.

I feel like I have read a number of pieces on the general unhappiness of American mothers lately.  This study claims that stay-at-home-moms are more prone to depression and anxiety disorders than working mothers.  Bringing Up Bebe claims that a 2009 study found that American mothers found dealing with their children twice as unpleasant as French mothers.  American mothers are falling victim to mommy wars and mommy guilt.  And it is no wonder!  In the course of a week, I have encountered the message loud and clear from all corners!  You are doing it wrong! Even from the very beginning!

Giving birth at home?  Dangerous hippy nonsense.

Giving birth in a hospital?  What?  You don’t trust your own body?

Breast feeding?  Well, as long as it’s not until the kid is TWELVE, or whatever.

Bottle feeding?  Why wouldn’t you give your child the greatest gift you can possibly give – your sweet nectar from the gods I mean breast.

Attachment parenting? Your kid will grow up to be a spoiled brat who will still need you to tie his/her shoes when s/he is in college.

Free-Range Parenting? Your kid is probably that ruffian who skateboards at the mall and spray painted the parking lot.

Letting your kid Cry It Out?  Inevitably your kid will have abandonment issues and attachment disorders.  Why did you even have children?

Co-sleeping? Like letting your baby sleep with a butcher knife!

Crib sleeping?  Forcing your child to sleep in a cage like an animal!

The message seems to be clear from all corners.  Our children are all DOOMED from the very beginning no matter what choices we make as parents.

And yet, that’s not the case.  Most of us grew up in more-or-less perfectly fine and acceptable good-enough homes with good-enough parents who had good qualities and bad qualities just like humans do.

American parenting seems to have gone the way of American politics.  The rhetoric is strong and vitriolic with very little basis in actual fact.  And I am as guilty of it as the next mother.  When I am feeling a little insecure about my own parenting choices, I tend to get defensive and criticize the first mother with an out-of-control toddler I see.

Some people will say it’s because there is so much at stake.  After all, the children are our future.  But honestly, the culture of parenting that is full of fear and guilt is destroying whatever solidarity and serenity we might have.  Not to mention, the drive to get it right and have the perfect answer (even knowing that the perfect answer does not exist) means that we are going to miss the small moments when our kids surprise us.

The other day, Maggie was being particularly difficult.  She was tired for lack of napping, and she couldn’t focus on cleaning up her toys.  So I bullied her into doing it.  I yelled at her and made her cry.  It is not my proudest moment as a parent, but it won’t be the last time I misstep.  That doesn’t mean that my kids are DOOMED.  Instead it means that tomorrow I have an opportunity to do it differently and see if that works a little better.

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