Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Parental Civil War


This post was written as part of the Parenting In America Carnival hosted by Adventures in Mommyhood: Mommy Outnumbered. The Carnival is running from July 3-10, 2011.
  
When I became a mom, I instinctually sought out other moms.  I wanted advice, encouragement, and apathy.  I wanted to know I wasn’t alone.  As a stay-at-home-mom, I was definitely craving some adult conversation.  Since I am shy and kind of a homebody, I decided to jump on the internet and see what the world wide web had to offer.  This is when I first came across CafeMom. 

CafeWar!

At first, it seemed like a great find.  Moms supporting other moms in every single category your mind could imagine.  There really was something for everyone.  But then came my first experience with mom bullying.  It was horrible! When a mom would excitedly talk about how much she loved breastfeeding, the formula moms would jump on her for thinking she was superior to them.  When a mom talked about the fact that she liked formula feeding her baby, the breastfeeding moms would attack her for not doing what is best for her child.  Vaxers and anti-vaxers, circumcising moms and intactivists, the enemy lists go on and on.  After about a month on the site, I realized this was less a place for support and more a battleground for the ongoing parental civil war.  And CafeMom is certainly not the only parent chat site that has been sieged.  


 Now that I am attuned to the sounds of the parental civil war going on today in America, I hear the battle cries everywhere I go: the moms at the park afraid to breastfeed in public because they will be shelled with hurtful comments; the dads at the grocery store afraid to baby wear because their manhood could be amputated; the parents at daycare who are shunned as traitors for not vaccinating their children; the vaccinating parents shunned by the antivaxers for poisoning their children; the laboring woman who surrenders to her doctor and submits to an unnecessary cesarean section who is crucified by natural birth supporters.  No one is immune, neither side is showing signs of retreat, and everyone is suffering from heavy casualties.

As I have been watching the battles rage on for five years now, I often find myself torn, not sure on which side I should be fighting.  I certainly have strong convictions about all of these topics, but most of the time I just try to wave my little white prefold, signaling I don’t really want to fight at all.  I find myself defending everyone.  After all, this is America.  We all have a right to our opinions; we all have our individual freedoms to parent the best way we see fit, right?

On the other hand, what about the common good? If one way really is better than the other, shouldn’t we be trying our hardest to make sure most of America is practicing it? As parents, doesn’t the fact that we are responsible for the children of America mean that we are also responsible for the fate of the country?

I certainly don’t have all the answers.  Just as I could never tell you which of my children I love more, I cannot tell you which freedom is more important - the freedom of individual rights or the freedom to make a positive difference in your country no matter your race, creed, gender, or economic status.  But the more I look at the issue, the more I see I may not have to choose at all. 

A Gentler Approach

When I was a child, I was bullied into going on my first roller coaster by my family (Dad, aunts and uncles).  As we stood in line for an hour, I was terrified. I knew I wasn’t ready to go on this ride.  But my family dismissed my fears as childish (um duh, I was a child!) and said once I got on, I would be fine.  Well, I wasn’t fine.  I was frozen in fear through the entire ordeal and the minute the ride was over I broke into tears and was inconsolable for the next hour.  The experience traumatized me.  For years I refused to go on any kind of ride or water slide and I refused to listen to anyone’s opinion on the matter.

A few years later, my mom took me to the local street fair.  I rode the merry-go-round, jumped in the moon bounce, and ate cotton candy.  It was comforting because I knew what to expect.  It was fun because it was all things I had done before, things I knew would be fun.  Mom looked bored though.  I watched her eyes as she peered longingly up at the Rainbow.  That’s the ride where a big flat group of seats starts slowly swinging back and forth until at last it starts going all the way around in big circles.  It is by no means an extreme ride.


 “Would you like to try the Rainbow, Leah?” Mom asked excitedly.

“No way!” I cried, the fear of my last roller coaster experience already bubbling up in my sensitive gut.

Mom took a much different approach at convincing me to try out this new, terrifying ride.  We sat down on a bench and watched others go on the Rainbow.  We watched it make its passes back and forth and listened to the riders scream as it finally made its inevitable loop all the way around.  As we watched, Mom told me about her first experience with the Rainbow - how she had been frightened too.  But once she gathered the courage to go on, she experienced wonderful things: the butterflies in her stomach waiting for the ride to begin, the anticipation in her fingertips that gripped the safety bar as the ride floated up into the sky, and the feel of the wind lifting her hair away from her shoulders as she descended towards the ground.

After about 15 minutes, the ride looked different to my inexperienced eyes.  It was no longer new and unpredictable.  I could see exactly what was going to happen, I could count how many times it would swing back and forth before it finally plunged over, and I could hear the sheer delight in the shrieking voices that once had only sounded like petrified screams.  I could also see that nobody was walking off in tears.

I fixed my face with the bravest look I could muster and stood up. 

“Ok, let’s do it.”

And the rest is history, of course.  I went on the Rainbow at least 10 times that night.  The next night I went back to the fair and rode it another 20.  I’ve been on at least two dozen other new and thrilling roller coasters since that day.  And I will admit freely, that I am still terrified every time I’m standing in line.  But instead of trying to avoid the fear like I did as a child, I find that the fear is as thrilling and as useful as the new experience that follows it.  And every once in a while, I find the experience less than thrilling.  Some roller coasters really are no good - they hurt your neck, upset your stomach, or lead you down a path you realize you never wanted to go down.  But one bad ride doesn’t stop me from testing out others.  Every journey has a lesson to deliver.

You Do What?

The first time I heard of ideas like breastfeeding to four years old, elimination communication, and extended rear-facing car seats, I had the same terrified feeling I did the first time I looked at the Rainbow.  For one, these were brand new experiences I had never heard of, and the unknown can always be a little scary.  But even more, I was scared of what it meant if I considered these new ideas.  If I pondered these new and different paths, did that mean the mothering I had been doing up to now had been wrong? And if I actually decided to incorporate these ideas into my parenting style, did it mean I was somehow a better mother than I was before? If I changed the way I thought about parenting, would it change the way I loved my children?

Insert the best quote ever: “You did then what you knew how to do.  Now that you know better, you’ll do better.” - Maya Angelou

The very tools used in the “gentle parenting” method are the same ones we need to use on each other and ourselves.  If we don’t expect our children to always know the right thing to do, why do we expect it of ourselves? If we say its ok for our kids to make mistakes, why do we expect our fellow moms to be perfect? If we have to show patience to our children to teach our children patience, why are we so impatient with each other? Why can we be so tolerant of our children’s shortcomings and so demanding of ourselves? If we would never say it to our kids, we shouldn’t say it to each other or ourselves.  How much I love my children is not congruous to how much knowledge I have of different parenting techniques. 

So what’s the moral of my incredibly long blog? Parenting in America does not have to be some kind of civil war.  We don’t have to kill the other side in order to prove our side the victor.  And we don’t have to run away in fear.  Instead, we can all take a long hard look at each new and sometimes scary path presented to us and listen with anticipation to the exciting tales other parents have to tell us about those paths.  We can relate our own tales of our own paths to other parents with just as much excitement and compassion.  We can sit on benches and take our time pondering which new and exciting roller coaster we want to ride today.  Sometimes the journey other parents love will just not have the right fit.  Other times, we will find ourselves gleefully over the rainbow.




***This post was originally written under my previous blog name, Zen and the Art of Cloth Diaper Maintenance.***

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