A couple of interesting things happened this week. First, I got a wonderful email from a reader who said, “I was surprised to see that you gave a positive review to The Happiest Toddler on the Block. It didn’t seem like a child-friendly approach to me!” Secondly, Erica Jong published a controversial essay about Attachment Parenting and how it is shackling women to the home after everything that feminists have fought for. Both of these events caught my attention, because while I believe in what I write and how I live, I’m usually quite open to a healthy debate. I like to take out my beliefs and have a good look at them under the microscope every now and then.
At the core of both my reader’s specific critique of The Happiest Toddler and Erica Jong’s more general critique of Attachment Parenting is the assumption that parents who read a parenting book or identify with a parenting philosophy are going to go straight to their children and implement that parenting advice in full. This is part of why I tend to resist parenting labels in general and prefer to rely more heavily on my own powers of intuition and reasoning when evaluating parenting advice and philosophies. Yes, I do believe that Attachment and Natural Parenting has benefits for most parents and children. However, I don’t believe that every parent can or should be a “by the book” attachment parent. Plenty of parents take the parts of Attachment Parenting that work for them and leave the rest. There is no one-size-fits-all parenting decree, except perhaps, “Do your best and show your children that you love them.”
Everything is relative to everything else. The Happiest Toddler on the Block may be manipulative and behaviourist compared to Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, but more attachment friendly than 1-2-3 Magic. All of the techniques in those books are better for parents and toddlers than angry screaming and spanking.
As for Erica Jong, I think that it’s easy to paint stay-at-home moms as shackled or trapped when you are looking only at the value in career advancement and financial independence. In my early days as a parent I read The Feminine Mistake and was deeply depressed about my choice to be a stay at home mom for a week or two, until I remembered that I really hated the experience I had in the business world. Not everyone needs to be a high-powered career woman, and not everyone needs to be a deeply attached homeschooling family. What everyone does need is a basic foundation of financial and emotional stability. The rest is a matter of personal choice.
I experience a great deal of joy and pleasure from trying to live simply and in tune with my intrinsic values of interdependence, emotional stability and environmental sustainability. In a world that is constantly telling us to be bigger, better, faster and more powerful, staying home and baking bread with Beatrice feels like a radical act. I want to buy less and live more. I most certainly don’t feel trapped or shackled, I feel like I have a choice about how I want to live my life.
Whether you get parenting advice from my blog or someone else’s blog, from the American Academy of Pediatrics or Dr. Sears, from your mother-in-law or the girl working the checkout at the grocery store, I hope you listen to that advice and take it with a giant grain of salt. What works for one family might not work for another. Check for hidden assumptions, look for research and experience to back up any claims. Critically evaluate your own beliefs. Choose to implement the parts of that parenting advice that benefit your family, and leave the parts that don’t. Listen to your intuition, and listen to your child.