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.