Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why Parenting Controversies Don't Bother Me Anymore

Have you ever checked your blog feed reader and it's all a rehashing of the polarizing parenting controversies?  The post titles look something like this: 

The Reasons Why I Tandem Breastfeed in Public and You Should Too 
- or-
The Top 17 Reasons the Great Christian Literary Geniuses of the Past Say You Should Encourage Your Children to Believe in Santa Claus 
- or - 
Only the Cruel Let Their Babies Cry Themselves to Sleep :: Our Pediatrician Told us So
- or - 
Thriving Babies Should Eat Pureed Homegrown Organic Barley Grass before Prunes and Oatmeal
- or - 
Homeschooled Children are Socially Stunted Awkward Oafs (and How to Keep Them at Arms Length)
- or -
Halloween is From the Devil.  Are You Really Willing to Lead Your Children Down That Path?? 
- or -
To Vaccinate or Not?  The Myth of Polio. 

and on and on and on.  

A few years ago I probably would have wound myself into a tizzy reading stuff like this.  All the back and forth - attack, defend, quote your favorite doctor-author with a book on child rearing, etc...  But as my cumulative years of parenting have multiplied (and granted there have not been that many, and there are still many, many more to go) and I've gotten more comfortable and confident in many of the parenting decisions my husband and I have made, the hullabaloo has affected me less.  A few years back I finally decided it didn't matter what other parents did because they weren't raising my children.  It only mattered that I made the right decision.  Ashamedly, it wasn't until this past year that I truly, truly could take an even more important concept to heart: when it comes to those "controversies" parents love to attack and defend, I have more respect for the mature discernment of such decisions, and less concern about the eventual decisions themselves. 

There are so many parenting controversies.  And understandably so.  Parenting is HUGE - a monumental task that everyone wants to get right. And yet there's no rule book.  (Well, the Bible has some gems to offer - especially important are those nuggets on the obedience of children! - but modern-day parents aren't turning to Sacred Scripture for info on sleep training and baby wearing.)  

I think this may be felt more keenly by new parents, (it was by me when I was a newbie mom) but often it seems like when it comes to those big parenting decisions that get everyone riled up, it's black and white and you have to choose sides. Choosing sides. That can be a pretty intimidating concept because in effect, when you choose one method/philosophy/practice you've rejected the alternative.  There were times for me in early parenthood after we had carefully chosen our sides, that those who had chosen that alternative which we had intentionally snubbed seemed the ill-informed parents who did things "differently," and were even "wrong." 

Even though I'm a certifiable introvert with reclusive tendencies ;) I've been blessed enough to make a few new friends in recent years.  These are women who have many similarities to me - they are married to men they are devoted to, they have children whom they love unconditionally and serve with fervor, they are Catholic and are striving to live the Faith fully in their family life.  And among these friends, I have encountered many different styles of parenting, opinions on child care and discipline, and varieties of education, indoctrination, values, and priorities. Parenting magazines and Facebook statuses and blog posts (and lordy, the com boxes!)would have me believe that I'm at odds with these women - a real Western-style showdown of moms whose hip holsters are loaded with near-explosive parenting philosophies. But finally, in my journey as a parent and friend, I know that I am not at odds with these fine women.  On the contrary, the very fact that we have each poured so much of ourselves into researching and thoughtfully making controversial child-rearing decisions unites us far more than the fact that choosing opposing methods divides us.  (For example, my husband and I feel strongly about excluding Santa from our family's Christmas traditions, but I'll never forget how impressed I was with the well thought out reasons some friends gave us for choosing to encourage the belief in Santa in their children.  It was obviously not what we had chosen for our family, but I absolutely respect the fact that someone who had come to a completely different decision had done so with the same amount of thoughtful consideration that we had also put into it.)

Parents invest so much time, reading and research, and personal beliefs and preferences into making each decision, into choosing which "side" they fall on. No wonder we can be so passionate about our decisions.  Sometimes passionate parents butt heads. Unfortunately, sometimes they attack, even unwittingly, those who have chosen the "other side." But most of the time, in my experience, mature, confident, passionate parents spend less time attacking the opposition, and instead focus their energy on the decisions that are right for their children and family.  We put a lot of ourselves into choosing what works for us, what will be best for our family, and what will be best for the well-being and development of our children. Not your children.  Not our neighbor's children.  Not the Catholic blogger across the country's children.  Not even my best friend's children. Our children.  And while it's important to be confident in the choices we've made for our own families, it would be wrong to ignore or discount the multitudes of good parents who have chosen differently.  I give my unreserved respect to all other mature and conscientious parents who have pondered and decided on the big issues - even if they have chosen the "other side."  My ways are not, and should not, be the ways of other parents.  As I have poured my efforts into determining what I want for my own children, so have they, and that is more significant to me than the actual decision itself.  

(So, that was one of my big revelations this past year.  And I wish I could say it more clearly and succinctly than I have here, but if I don't publish this now it will never, ever be!)  It's not enough to spout "I do what's best for my family," and "everyone does things differently."  We have to appreciate, even love, the differences because we respect the women (and men) that made them out of love for their children.   Each of us parents according to our personality, strengths, abilities, beliefs, and even limitations, and it's all good parenting.  I believe in nursing my babies, sleep training them, vaccinating them, homeschooling them, I don't care for baby wearing that much and only ever do so out of convenience, and I allow my kids to eat non-organic food.  The mother who has carefully chosen bottle-feeding, co-sleeping, not vaccinating, traditional schooling, baby-wearing, and natural whole foods, is, in my mind, the same kind of mother as me. Though it may appear that she cares for her child in a way that is entirely different from me, she actually cares for her child in the same way - with the best she has to offer - a heart full of love and a head that did an awful lot of work navigating those controversial topics :)  

Here's to women who put a lot of effort into making tough decisions out of the purest love for their children and still come out on "opposite sides."  We are the same.  And we are only belittling the hard work we've done if we let blog posts and Facebook arguments convince us otherwise.  


  1. Amen Sister!! That was THE BEST!

  2. Totally totally understand what you are saying. My friend you have arrived:) You are totally confident in your choices:) though I hesitate to share, whilst I was always very happy to support and respect friends choices, as our children grew into teenage years our differences were harder to bridge, ambiguous i know;)

  3. Great post, truly great! Many paths lead to great kids, I find that consistency and love are key no matter what path a parent takes.

  4. Great post - I do truly believe that most parents are just doing their best for their kids, and are therefore *good* parents, despite which "side" they fall on for many of these issues.

    The one thing that does bug me, though, is when someone becomes so attached to a particular philosophy that *sounds* great, but ends up not actually working well for them. I've known a few women who are often at wit's end over their continuous problems with some child-rearing "method" (say, co-sleeping), and yet can't accept that maybe it isn't what's actually best for their family!


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