Just tools?

During my many years of observing parenting practices in real life and on the Web, one of the most marked differences between the two style of parenting (AP/NP vs. mainstream) seems to be to be the emphasis many AP/NP have on process, sometimes (though not often) even at the expense of the outcome. For example, some AP women are so invested in the process of birthing, they take unnecessary risks upon themselves and their babies to achieve their “perfect birth experience”. Dr. Amy lists a number of such instances, some gone horribly wrong. Whereas mainstream parents usually see their parenting practices as means to an end – having a healthy baby dictates their birth choices, having a well-behaved child dictates their discipline choices, etc. Namely, they are result- oriented.

I wonder of this is why, despite the protests of many prominent APers (including Dr. Sears) that AP is a frame of mind and should not be taken as a laundry list, you can see siggies like the following on messageboards all across the Internet:

“XXXXX, Unassisted birthing, homeschooling, non-vaxxing, non-circ’ing, cloth diapering, sleep-sharing, babywearing vegan sahm* to XXXX and XXX”

This is a real signature culled from a Google search, by the way. You can Google any combination of these terms and find literally thousands of these kind of siggies…and they’re not exclusive to parenting messageboards, either.

Mainstream mothers, in contrast, will usually have a siggy that goes something like this: “XXXX, Mommy to XXX and XXXX”, maybe listing their respective ages/birthdates, or adding a photo. What matters first and foremost is not how their children came into this world, what they eat or where they sleep, but who they are. These women are proud of their role as mothers, and most likely invest a lot of time and love their children as well. Chances are they don’t stick their children to be entertained in front of the TV all day long, or let them cry in their cribs all night without checking on them. To wit, they practice what is known as “responsive, sensitive parenting”…the way most loving parents of my acquaintance do.

But there lies the rub…if AP is, at its core, merely “responsive, sensitive parenting”, how are those APers going to feel special? You can hardly feel like a member of an exclusive club if just about any parent can apply. Hence the tendency of more than a few APers to brag about their adherence to the “laundry list”, exhibiting their “AP” parenting practices like so many jewels in a crown. That’s not to say you need to actually practice the whole kit and caboodle, but if you don’t, you better have a good excuse ready:

“I really wanted to have a natural birth, but I developed pre-eclampsia and had to be induced.”

“I really tried so hard to breastfeed, but wasn’t making enough milk…I’ll try harder next time”.

Of course, for some, those excuses aren’t just good enough either. And heaven forfend you might actually want to forgo breastfeeding, have an elective C-section, or use a stroller…how could you possibly be a “sensitive, responsive” APer?

Well, at least regarding the breastfeeding, according to Katherine Dettwyler, anthropology professor and lactofanatic, you can’t:

It is unlikely that parents who consciously choose to bottle feed — knowing that formula increases their child’s risk for many diseases during childhood and later life, and knowing that formula decreases average I.Q.** — will choose to take the time and energy to embrace the other practices that make up attachment parenting. Not to mention that a mother who is bottle feeding won’t have the critical “mothering” hormones in her bloodstream (prolactin and oxytocin) that automatically predispose her to attachment-parenting practices. These hormones are released from a mother’s pituitary only in response to her child suckling at her breast**.

So next time you read or hear an APer claiming their practices are “just tools” to a loving, attached relationship, ask her (it’s usually a her) with the straightest face you can muster if she’d be welcome at your average AP board boasting a siggy like this: “XXXXX, C-seccing, bottlefeeding, stroller-using, disposable-diapering, WOHM*, AP mama to…“. After all, all those practices are just tools, aren’t they?

______________________________________________________________

*SAHM = Stay-at-home mother; WOHM = work-out-of-home mother.
**Dettwyler is factually wrong on both these points. But we’ll be taking her – and her biological determinism – on in a future post.

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8 Responses

  1. I am a pretty “mainstream” parent, although I was open to
    a lot of the AP style choices. They just didn’t work out for
    our family, for many reasons. I can’t say that I was focused on
    results over process. I just did what worked for me,
    my husband and my child.

    I have no objection to co-sleeping, slings, cloth diapers,
    extended breastfeeding, etc….etc…etc…but they are all
    just choices that may or may not work for you. It bugs me
    that some women will feel like bad mothers if these choices
    don’t work out for them because some experts tell them
    their children will not be “securely attached.”

    I also see AP as being VERY hard on the mother. I know that
    proponents will say that dad can participate too, but I think
    that’s a bit of malarkey. Primary childrearing responsibilities
    tend to fall to the woman and being attached 24/7 to your
    child/ren is simply not emotionally healthy for some women.
    I’m sure some women love it–but if you don’t I don’t think
    it’s healthy to feel like you HAVE to do it for a good
    relationship with your child.

  2. Thanks for your comment 🙂 .

    I don’t have any objection to most of the AP practices either, as individual practices (with the exception of certain forms of cosleeping and childbirth). I don’t like the hard sell these practices are being given as *ideals* we should all strive for, or else our children will suffer.

    I think “results over process” really is a way of saying “what works, with no overreaching ideology attached”. For example, when I used a sling, I was thinking about getting from point A to point B with my baby in the most unencumbered way. Not how my African counterparts use the very same sling, or how my baby is re-experiencing the womb, or even what the crunchy Earth-mothers will be saying about me at the next LLL meeting 😀 … it ws just a method of transportation that worked at the moment, to be discarded when it no longer did. In contrast, when some APer (I think it was Katie Allison Granju, but don’t quote me) writes about how sorry she feels for all the babies she sees carried about in their “plastic buckets”… she’s attaching more importance to the transportation process.

  3. About that Dettwyler quote:

    “Not to mention that a mother who is bottle feeding won’t have the critical “mothering” hormones in her bloodstream (prolactin and oxytocin) that automatically predispose her to attachment-parenting practices. These hormones are released from a mother’s pituitary only in response to her child suckling at her breast”

    What if you DID breastfeed and you STILL thought AP was a bunch of hooey? ‘Cause that’s what happened to me. Automatically predisposed, my foot.

  4. I totally stumbled across this post in the midst of a decidedly non-mainstream google search. 🙂 Do you think that the focus on “process” as seen in AP message board signatures is more a result of the fact that those decisions–not vaccinating, homebirthing, babywearing–are “marked” forms in our society? The unmarked (or default) parenting choices would be hospital birth, public school, vaccinating, omnivore, disposable diapering, etc. so there would be no need to “mark” them in your signature. Unless you say “unassisted home birth,” people are going to default to the very assisted hospital birth. Unless you say vegan, we’re going to assume your toddler lives on mac and cheese like mine does. 🙂 I mean, if you said hospital birthing, it would be kind of a “DUH!” statement since 99% of US births are in hospitals. I have personally never been a fan of 15 icons in my signature declaring my parenting practices, but I can certainly see the value of stating “I’m nursing a three year old” or ” I want to have a VBAC.” Those moms, who are in teeny tiny minorities despite their LOUD message boards, are looking for support from those who are doing similar things. Only 16% of US women breastfeed for even 1 year, right? I think they declare these things not to score another jewel for their AP crown, but because, like all moms, they’re trying to make the best decisions they can in a society that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on mothers and, again, like all moms, they need a little more support and a little less judging. And, BTW, there are plenty of AP-friendly message boards with moms who disposable diaper, vaccinate, circ, use cribs, etc—the babywearer is one of my faves!–with not a whole lot of controversy. Are there AP message boards where mentioning you let your baby sleep in the “bucket” is heresy? Totally! But I would wager that there are at least as many mainstream sites where mentioning you let your baby sleep in your bed is met with the same response. So, I’ll sign this:

    angela

    c/s hospital birthing; extended breastfeeding; occasional co-sleeping; cloth diapering; disposable diapering; babywearing fanatic who owns 3 strollers; vaxxing; circing; vegetarian with a meat-eating family WOHM to an almost 3 year old who has taught me that there is no perfect way to parent, people, so, in the meantime, let’s ALL advocate for 1-year paid parental leave!!!

  5. I loved your comment, Angela, and hope you come back for the response.

    Do you think that the focus on “process” as seen in AP message board signatures is more a result of the fact that those decisions–not vaccinating, homebirthing, babywearing–are “marked” forms in our society?

    I think it’s more than that. Lots of people do unusual things – some may hang-glide for a hobby, others may keep 5 dogs, 15 cats and 12 parakeets in their home. Unless you choose to advertise these facts about yourself, the default would be to assume you don’t do them. Certainly for some women who brag about their parenting practices, there is an element of seeking validation within a group – though if you’re AP and the essence of AP is “listening to your baby’s cues”, why do you never see “I listen to my baby’s cues” in these siggies? It’s always about the practices. Which, again, are supposed to be secondary to the main goal…

    But – there is also the (IMO) more disturbing element of missionary zeal – these women are not only screaming their defiance at mainstream society, they want other moms to join them. It’s every bit as obnoxious as putting “Jesus Saves” or “I’m going to Heaven and you’re not…unless you do XYZ” in a siggy.

    Also, I’ve been searching for years for these “mainstream parenting board” which supposedly disparage APers or AP practices. What I’ve found, almost always, are boards with mainstream parents which also have APers on them, and the disparaging is mainly one-way …AP is seen even by some mainstreamers-in-practice as “the ideal, but something I can’t do for various reasons”. This blog is an attempt to undermine this assumption.

    ETA: I can totally get behind the “1-year maternity leave for all”, though 🙂 .

  6. I’ve noticed the same thing on the mothers’ networking site I frequent. I joined a breastfeeding group because I’d like to breastfeed my daughter for a year, but with my son I had problems at about 5 months and ended up giving up.

    I decided to leave the group because it wasn’t really a “breastfeeding support group” it was an “attack non-AP” group. They gave some breastfeeding advice, but it was mostly people trying to “save misguided women” who were going to scar their children for life by giving them formula, or putting them in cribs, or not baby-wearing. It was disgusting.

    I have seen a few non-AP signatures, but I think they are more to stir up controversy than just talking about themselves.

  7. I think it’s weird that I was mostly unaware of this whole cultural phenomenon of the mommy wars until recently, when I began reading Dr. Amy’s blog. Since then my eyes were really opened to the issue, as I have visited those message boards and other AP websites, and read Mothering magazine (a friend gave my a bunch of them she’d already read, and I thought they were the equivalent of a magazine like Parents, which I think is an okay bathroom read, but whoa! wasn’t expected all that crunchy goodness). So now that I have become aware of this issue, I am having real-life encounters with other women in which these issues come up in conversation (and I did not bring them up). Sometimes I learn a new word, and then I see the word in books and other things I read all the time, and this seems to be the same sort of thing.

    I made some small talk about with a woman at a cook-out recently, a woman I’d never met, and since she was pregnant, I asked her due date, how she was feeling, whatever. And then she launched into this long sort of diatribe about empowering childbirth and natural this and that, and her conflicted feeling about whether to VBAC with this baby or not. She confessed that she was leaning toward scheduling her section vs. attempting to VBAC because she didn’t want to go through labor and still end up with a c-section. She seemed to be ashamed of this almost, That’s what this “natural parenting” propaganda does, it makes women feel guilty over perfectly reasonable choices.

    So I gave birth to my 3 children before I was aware of the AP/NP thing at all, and I find that many choices I made in birth and parenting are APer-approved ones–natural birth (in the hospital), co-sleeping, breastfeeding, used a sling with my first and a front pack with the last 2, didn’t circ my son, have stayed home with the kids as long as was feasible, etc. Obviously, I didn’t choose those practices because I bought into the AP/NP philosophies, those are just the things that we found worked best for our family.

    That said, I have been aware, from the time my first child was born, that some of my parenting practices are not approved of by other parents, and there have been times where people who learned about my practices then offered unsolicited advice, or suggested that these practices were not the best ones. It annoyed me, especially when I got slack for breastfeeding–there are a few in my family who say things like, “oh, you’re still doing that” *as they make a yecch! face* or, “you’re spoiling them, letting them in your bed” or “cousin so-and-so’s 2 week old already sleeps through the night in his own crib, isn’t that wonderful?” so I do think a wee bit of the siggy advertising and like is backlash because some of these practices do draw negative attention.

    Standing up for your beliefs and choices in the face of critics is fine, it’s admirable and understandable. But what I see a lot more of amongst the AP/NP crowd is that they are even more likely to be judgmental of mainstream parenting choices that mainstream moms are to be of them. And they’re very vocal about it. They may not attack anyone to her face, but they often do condescend and make it known in some passive-aggressive way that they feel her parenting style is inferior, and usually they insinuate that she is a selfish and ignorant mother. And I have been privy to some incredible nastiness on those message boards (once I learned not to jump in with my defenses of the mainstream practices, because that got me swiftly booted from the forum) where they are always going on about how some selfish dumb woman they know from the neighborhood had an unnecessary cesarean because her unindicated induction didn’t work and then she didn’t breastfeed because she didn’t want to, and she circed her poor baby and vaxes all her kids and was seen at the park letting her kids eat lunchables…they are unbelievably mean. Women come on to tell their birth stories and the other posters pick it apart and point out all the things she did wrong. And the are always smugly congratulating themselves on their natural parenting practices.

    They do not seem to think that being a bitter, judgmental, sanctimonious bee-yotch is a poor parenting practice, but I feel sorry for their kids. (Even more so if the are only allowed wooden toys).

  8. Alex:”I made some small talk about with a woman at a cook-out recently, a woman I’d never met, and since she was pregnant, I asked her due date, how she was feeling, whatever. And then she launched into this long sort of diatribe about empowering childbirth and natural this and that, and her conflicted feeling about whether to VBAC with this baby or not. She confessed that she was leaning toward scheduling her section vs. attempting to VBAC because she didn’t want to go through labor and still end up with a c-section.”

    Would you believe I was that woman too before my first VBAC? OK, not to a complete stranger at a cookout and not quite to that extent, but pretty darn uncomfortably close. I’m really glad I grew up 😆 …

    And while maybe the original APers online were reacting in a sort of backlash, I think that now (certainly since siggies became more common) it’s almost certainly more of a crunchier-than-thou, one-up-womanship kind of thing.

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