Maybe it's because it is an election year, or perhaps I've just watched too many old episodes of Survivor online recently, but as a new mom it can feel like society wants you to choose a side, to cast your vote for one of two parenting styles at the hospital and then obediently fall into party lines for the rest of your kid's childhood.
If you believe only what you read in parenting books and online forums it can feel like there really are only two "parties":
Party A aka Attachment/Hippie/Hipster/Brooklyn based parenting. If you are in this group then you:
1. You absolutely breastfeed (preferably until your child can legally drink). And you most certainly EBF (exclusively breastfeed for those unfamiliar with the online forum parenting acronyms). Formula = arsenic. If you are having issues with breastfeeding the answer is ALWAYS keep breastfeeding. Cracked nipples. Breastfeed. Mastitis. Breastfeed. Baby is intolerant of your milk. Keep breastfeeding and tell them to suck it up. Your nipples got cut off in a freak accident. Keep breastfeeding. Your baby is losing weight and jaundiced and begging for formula. Keep breastfeeding! The only acceptable reason to stop breastfeeding is if you die. Even then it's questionable.
2. You co-sleep/have a family bed (also until your child is ready to go to college).
3. You baby-wear. Strollers are for sadists.
4. You think sleep training is along the lines of water-boarding, particularly Cry It Out (aka baby torture that will turn children into soulless Wall Street types who don't know how to feel).
5. You use cloth diapers. If you have to use disposables they are eco-friendly, ideally made from recycled kale.
6. You use only organic products on your child. Johnson and Johnson is like lubing your kid up with straight gasoline.
7. You dress your child only in clothing made from a mixture of bamboo, organic viscose, and the tears of endangered sea turtles.
8.The only toys/baby gear in your house are minimalist, dye free, paint free, battery free, color free, and joy free. They absolutely do not light up or play music. They were carved by monks out of foraged tree trunks in the remote mountains of Nepal. Your baby doesn't really know what to do with these stark, wooden objects other than gnaw at them a little bit or accidentally hit themselves in the head.
9. When your child is allowed solid food (no earlier than one year, before that it is EXCLUSIVELY BREASTMILK) it will be homemade organic purees. They will never eat sugar, dairy, soy, wheat, gluten of any kind, meat, potatoes, corn, or anything that isn't in the quinoa or beet family. Goldfish are for Nazis.
10. TV/iPads, computers/screens of any kind are forbidden. You won't even take your kid to Best Buy because their virgin eyes might accidentally take in a screen and be ruined forever.
11. Acceptable baby outings include museums, foreign art films, and Whole Foods. Maybe Trader Joe's if you're feeling fun.
12. You don't believe in vaccines, or antibiotics, or really modern medicine of any kind. If your kid gets sick you use herbs or roots. But your kid never gets sick, because they are EBF, and not allowed on playgrounds or toy stores or gym day cares or anywhere where there are lots of other children or laughter present.
13. You had a natural childbirth. Vaginal. Obviously. Epidurals are for weenies who hate their babies. You also labored at home, in a birth tub, alone, in the dark. You pulled your baby out yourself, cut the cord and then went about your day like it was any other.
14. You saved your child's placenta, had it dried, and every morning sprinkle a little bit of it on top of your daily acai bowl.
15. You breastfeed openly in public and give dirty looks to women who use covers, because they are smothering their children.
16. The only class/formal education your baby receives are mommy and me yoga classes. After that it's homeschooling. Grades make kids feel less than, and you only want them to receive positive encouragement, even if it means they will live at home with you in your basement until you die.
Type B aka Straightlaced/Uptight/Traditional/WASPy
1. You formula feed and did so from day 1. You think breastfeeding is for hippies and poor people. Also you rely on your once (or four times) a day gin and tonic and xanax, and didn't want to stop those for something as pesky as breastfeeding.
2. Your baby was in the crib in their nursery (ideally in a different wing of the house or in a guest house of some kind) from the moment you came home from the hospital. You have a monitor, but turn it off nightly from 10pm until 7am, because civilized people sleep.
3. You do not own a sling and don't understand people who do. That's why car-seats and strollers and sherpas were invented.
4. Sleep training is one of the few parenting topics you are passionate about. And in your mind Cry It Out is the only option, preferably started when your baby is in the hospital.
5. When it comes to diapers it's Pampers or Huggies or whatever can be bought in bulk through Amazon.
6. Ditto for any kind of baby soap/lotion. You have it on auto ship once a month and don't think about it.
7. You care much less about whether your baby's clothes are organic and more about the label. Bonpoint is ideal. If you are feeling thrifty you might shop at Janie and Jack.
8. Your house is full of a healthy mix of Fisher Price (so mommy can have free time while the baby bounces) and Pottery Barn kids (to keep out when guests come over while you hide all the cheap plastic stuff).
9. You start giving your baby solids at 4 months. You also shop at Whole Foods for pre-jarred baby food but have no qualms about feeding your kid goldfish and frozen chicken nuggets when they are a little older. Plus the nanny prepares most of their meals anyway.
10. The sooner your kid is able to watch TV the better. Mama needs her free time. They will have a personal iPad, TV, laptop, and desktop computer by the time they are 3.
11. Your baby's most frequent outing is to the mall while you shop. They also spend a lot of time at wine bars.
12. You are perfectly okay with anything having to do with modern medicine and encourage your pediatrician to prescribe anything that will make your baby calmer. Your pediatrician has to constantly tell you babies can't take benzos.
13. You were so heavily medicated during childbirth that you didn't wake up for 2 days. And you had a scheduled c-section. Obviously.
14. You think people who eat placentas are animals.
15. You don't breastfeed so you don't have to worry about nursing in public. But you think women who do nurse in public are exhibitionists.
16. Your baby is scheduled to within an inch of their lives by the time they are 2. Piano, Mandarin lessons, calculus. It is never to early to give them an edge. You started applying for preschools when you found out you were pregnant. The only acceptable education comes from private schools.
Do those lists make you feel mad/frustrated/annoyed? Are you nothing like either of those groups? Are those gross stereotypes and exaggerations? Pretty much every parent I know would answer yes.
And yet it can feel like we're supposed to fit into one of those two camps, that instead of being exaggerated caricatures, those types of parents actually exist. I certainly don't know anyone like that. And I'm definitely not one of those two types of parents.
Here's what kind of parent I am.
-I breastfeed but also supplement with formula. I will probably stop breastfeeding sometime in the near future, because I just don't have a big supply and my baby has to feed pretty darn frequently even at 4 months to get enough. I know I could start pumping 8x a day to increase my supply, but I just don't have it in me to do that. Free time is a rarity with a baby, and I just don't want to use my free time being a literal cow. Maybe that makes me a terrible human, but my baby seems to love formula and I think she will do okay in life if I stop breastfeeding before she is 10.
-I have co-slept the last 4 months, but I also have started sleep training and plan to get her in the nursery within the next month. I think a little Crying it Out is not just okay, but kind of necessary. I didn't co-sleep to make some kind of grand statement, but because it was just the only way any of us were going to sleep the first few months, and mama needs her sleep. But now mama needs her space.
-I care about organic for some things, but not for things like diapers or clothing. I use Johnson and Johnson shampoo (psst, that's the only product surgeons allow nurses to use on patients with fresh incisions, not exactly a sign that it is poison). I use fancy, organic bottle soap and laundry detergent but I also use bleach cleaner in my house because really nasty bacteria will laugh in the face of Jessica Alba and all of her Honest products.I will try to feed my kid mostly organic fruits and veggies, but she will also eat goldfish and oreos and occasional Happy Meals and I don't think that will ruin her life.
-Fisher Price products are my jam right now. They are bright and colorful and light up and keep the baby happy for long enough for me to get things done. They are also ugly as crap, but I don't really care about that if it keeps the baby entertained.
-I own not one but two slings, and think baby wearing is logical and great, especially the first few months when some babies will not allow their moms and dads to put them down. I think it probably can single handedly keep new parents sane. But I also put my baby in the stroller and car seat and think it's fine if people aren't into slings.
-I don't like to breastfeed in public, because I am neurotic and shy, but I think women totally have the right to do so, and if they don't want to wear a cover it might be because it's too hot or the baby tears it off or any other number of reasons that are her business and her business alone. It most certainly isn't because they want to show off their boobs, and people who think that need to get over it.
-I think Western medicine is a privilege and I don't ever take it for granted, but I also am incredibly mindful about what medicines my baby gets and don't take her getting medicine lightly. She had to have an antibiotic after her bout with campylobacter and there was serious angst involved because of her age, but I also know that sometimes, antibiotics are necessary. And don't even get me started on vaccines. Actually I will get started and finished in one sentence. If you don't vaccinate you are a moron. The end.
-I tried to have a natural birth but ended up with an epidural. I will always be eternally grateful to the magic of that epidural. With another baby I would probably also try for natural (unless they have to use pitocin, if that happens again I will be getting that epidural at registration), but I would be totally okay if I need an epidural again. Childbirth is not a competition. No seriously. It really isn't.We have to stop treating it like one. This isn't Survivor (wow, two Survivor references in one post, I really have a problem). A woman isn't weak because she needs medication during childbirth. There is no gold medal to be won in suffering. Do what you need to do to BIRTH A BABY. It's the hardest thing in the world. Any way it happens is A-Okay.
So can all of us who don't fit into the current parenting molds just step to the side? Let's invent our own party, an independent party who sometimes act like hippies and sometimes act like uptight traditionalists, who care about organic but also don't think that giving a kid a french fry is going to destroy their lives. Raising kids is hard. And in the process of doing so we are all going to contradict ourselves and break promises and do things we swore we would never do. Some days we are going to be intellectual and perfect and our kids will be fed only homemade organic purees and listen to classical music and then the next day it's going to be cheetos and apple juice and Scooby Doo on the TV.
As a pediatric nurse, I have seen a thing or two about "parenting styles." I know what true abuse and neglect look like. Sleep training is not neglect. Feeding formula is not abuse. We are all above the curve already. We all love our kids. There's no need to pick a side or choose a tribe. And if you do, then it's also perfectly okay to flip flop and contradict yourself.
So anyone else who doesn't fit in one of two molds, join me in the third party of parenting. We're open minded and non- judgmental over here (unless you choose not to vaccinate, then I am going to judge the ever living hell out of you, other than that we're non- judgmental though). We accept all types and creeds. As long as you love your kid and want what's best for them, then you're in.
I'm a thirty-something mom of two, wife, pediatric RN, and writer with a passion for all the big and little things in life.