BY Sash Milne
I don’t understand parenting labels. I don’t understand them at all. People say to me, oh so you’re an attachment parent? Some say this with a tone of judgement others with a tone of respect. Either way, I find it a bit odd. People want to label, they are desperate for it. It helps them understand. What sort of a parent are you, they ask. I just shrug. Attachment parenting is the first label we get slapped with. People make this assumption because we do tick a lot of the boxes. We co-sleep, we breastfeed exclusively, I try (and often fail) to cook organic, I have clear opinions on how I want my child raised, my daughter Bo is carried much of the day, we own various different kinds of slings and baby carriers. So people assume.
I’m not an attachment parent. Not that it really matters, or that there is anything wrong with it. There isn’t. But I’m not one. I’m a lot of things but when it comes to parenting, I’m not anything other than Bo’s mama. Flaws and failings and total mishaps included.
I don’t like labels. I don’t want my daughter labelled. I don’t want myself labelled. Or my husband labelled. It frustrates me to no end that our Western society is so quick to slap a label on something – whether it be person, behaviour or attitude – and then box it up and tuck it in a dark corner again, as if any issue (or non-issue) that existed is now neatly resolved. As if we have labels for things then we can immediately understand them. As for attachment parenting I love many of the aspects of the theory and others I find very unrealistic for my lifestyle and my child. What I dislike most about it is its name, it assumes that other styles of parenting are detached, and I don’t like that at all. I believe that fundamentally we are all attached to our children. In researching this article I discovered tens of “parenting labels” that I’d never even heard of, including but not limited to the tiger parent, the helicopter parent, the slow parent, the free range parent… I mean, seriously? But then, I’ve only been in this game for the past eight months, and the very first time someone called me an attachment parent I had to look up what that even was – so I obviously have no idea.
We (my husband and I) have our own parenting styles, styles that are often very different from each other. But we also have a set of common beliefs in the way we wish to raise our daughter. Respect is perhaps the most important factor that comes into the decisions we make about how we raise her. Respect for her needs, respect for her space, her personality and her sense of self and included in that is the respect for her future development and her need for boundaries, consistency and ultimately, love. After all, a person is a person, no matter how small (Dr Suess). There is so much chatter in the parenting world about eat, play, sleep routines. About feeding schedules, nap schedules, sleep patterns, bedding guides, what food to eat when, baby lead weaning, there are no-cry methods, cry it out methods, there are rules for how many blankets, what sort of fabrics, creams, organic non organic… there is a name and a label for every-bloody-thing you could possibly imagine. It’s exhausting! There is talk of the manipulative child, there is talk of creating a needy child, a dependent child, an insecure child. There is talk of creating the selfish child, the demanding child, the wimpy child. There are huge, loud and often fear mongering debates about co-sleeping, homeschooling, baby-wearing etc. It goes on and on and on.
We (humans) have been raising children since the beginning of time. Was this the way when our mothers were parenting us? My mother says, no. She didn’t even THINK to pick up a pregnancy book or parenting book to tell her how to grow/raise me… was she the norm? Probably. Did I thrive? Did I grow into a respectful, empathetic and genuine human being who fails and gets up and tries again? Yes. Have I made huge mistakes in my life? Sure. Have I learnt from them? Absolutely. Will I make some of them again? Possibly. I was raised the best way my mother knew how, and even though she isn’t perfect, she raised me with love and with respect… she raised me to believe that money doesn’t matter, things don’t matter… people matter. If you don’t have people, you have nothing. She doesn’t remember being judged for her decisions. Maybe she was too tired from raising five children to even notice. Either way, we are sure, raising kids was different then.
Today our choices are judged by not only our peer group but also our parents’ generation. We are judged for what we do and for what we don’t do. I have friends who are judged for doing one thing and I know I am judged for doing the opposite. It’s like we can’t win in the eyes of the rest of the world. Shouldn’t our choice as parents, our choice as to how to raise our own flesh and blood, our adopted children, the children placed in our care – be respected? After all any caring, loving parent makes these choices with the child’s best interests at heart. Isn’t that what matters most? That a child is loved. That a child is cared for… the best way the parent knows how. Since when did something so natural, so loving and so truly wonderful as parenting become some sort of sordid competition?
Parenting choices spur heated debates all over the internet… and even nastier ones in playgrounds all around the western world. I do wonder, do they have these problems in the east? Women (and Men) feel they have the right to comment, nay judge, other women (and Men) on their parenting. It’s outlandish really. I guess the only thing I will say about that is that often the people that yell the loudest, and the people who are the fastest to judge – are the people who are most insecure about their own choices.
Let’s get rid of the labels I’d bet my life savings that we would ALL feel better for it.