A Response from a Not-So-Natural Parent
So, by now we’ve all heard about Attachment Parenting (referred to as AP to save my poor, tired fingers). If we hadn’t before, we did last week when the Time cover came splashing across every Internet news source available. And even if you don’t know much about it, I’m sure you’ve heard of its claims to produce children who are more attached to their mother–and therefore more socially and emotionally capable–through attachment practices like co-sleeping, baby wearing and extended breastfeeding.
Recently I came across another kind of parenting: natural parenting (NP). From what I can tell from their blog, natural parenting is very similar to AP, which is funny because the natural parenting bible is called The Other Baby Book (The AP bible is called The Baby Book) which suggests that they are somehow different than the Sears’ bible. This is how the author of a recent post on the NP blog describes a natural parent:
What is a natural parent? While there are many ways to define a natural parent, it’s essentially one who takes care of his or her child using traditional, time-tested practices that help to enhance happiness, health and the bond between parent and child, with a consciousness of others and the environment.
The post is titled Why “Natural Parents” Are Richer and goes on to display a very design-friendly image comparing the “New Basics” (of NP) with the “Old Necessities” (of “mainstream parenting”). While the “New Basics” tout many free or cheap must-haves, like breast milk ($0), “your arms” ($0), your bed ($0), your food ($120) and carriers ($60) the “Old Necessities”side is chalk full of incredibly expensive frivolity like a crib ($1000 – where are they buying that?), bouncy swing or chair ($200), strollers ($400), baby food ($720) and bottles and formula ($1,300). My favorite discrepancy is the $1,160 for diapers and wipes versus the $25 for a plastic potty and reusable wipes. What, not even cloth diapers are allowed?! The grand total price for the rest-us-parenting is a whopping $4,900 compared to the NP total of only $220. Under the comparison chart is the following declaration:
My goal in this post is not to add kindling to the supposed “Mommy Wars,” but to provide some frugal, fun, and baby-friendly alternatives to mainstream parenting practices
Not adding kindling, eh?
From what I can tell, NP is pretty much identical to AP: they both espouse “traditional” and “time-tested” methods of parenting that are still used by the majority of the people on the planet. The fact that they’ve been around forever and are still used by so many families is one of the big reasons why us mainstream parents should be convinced they are better; because as AP/NPs are reticent to admit, there is no conclusive research that their practices actually produce more secure and emotionally responsive human beings.
One of the things that really gets me about Natural Parenting isn’t its cool graphics and its ridiculous assertion that NPs can get away with spending $220 on the first year of a child’s life. It’s not even the undeclared truth that to be an NP you have to be a stay at home mom (and if you’re not, I can promise you breastfeeding doesn’t cost $0 – it’s more like $600+ for the pump and bottles and flanges and soaps and medicines to treat thrush and mastitis – oh wait, that could happen to anyone!), or that its tenants are practically impossible to practice (in this country) for anyone who isn’t incredibly financially secure. What bothers me is that by calling it “Natural Parenting” they are implying that what the rest of us do is not natural parenting. That we are some how bringing our children up in some mutated, misguided attempt at parenting. That we are getting it wrong.
I’m sure NPers would argue that implying such a thing is not their intent and I can imagine all the reasons they’d list for coining the term “Natural Parenting” but at the end of the day, if you use the word “natural” to distinguish your way from the other way, you are implying the other way is not natural. Just as Attachment Parenting implies that other methods of parenting result in inferior attachment (except that AP gurus actually say that, they don’t just imply it), Natural Parenting implies that “mainstream parenting” as they refer to it, is not natural.
I want to make clear that I have nothing against attachment parenters or natural parenters or any specific practice they espouse. I don’t care if anyone co-sleeps or uses a sling or breastfeeds until their kids can talk. I tried to use a sling—many types of slings, which collectively cost me a couple hundred dollars–but my daughter hated them all. I also breastfed until my daughter was six months old and probably would have continued doing so if I hadn’t had to return to work (again, we can’t all afford to stay at home, despite what the strident recommendations on how to do so in Sears’ book might suggest). What bothers me about attachment parenting and natural parenting are the subtle (and sometimes not-so subtle) claims that their way is better, that their way is superior, that their way produces better kids, that by not following their guidelines we are doing our children a disservice, that the rest of us are “other” and not as good.
I know not everyone who follows these parenting guidelines feels this way, or says these things or even implies them. Many, many of them don’t. Many of them are just doing what feels right for them and urging others to do the same. Many of them don’t dole out judgment or try to belittle other parents. But many of the gurus do, in books, in articles, in the comment sections of articles. The gurus do make declarations and implications and judgments. And it’s hard to be the person on the other end of all that without having a negative assumption about their teachings. And it’s hard not to let those negative assumptions transfer to those who are espousing their practices.
Natural parenting may be the “time tested” way to parent, but it’s also been the only way to parent. People didn’t use strollers and formula and baby food 100 years ago because those things didn’t exist. Women carried their babies on their back while they worked because they didn’t have anyone to care for those babies or any way to safely feed them while they were being cared for. I’m not saying that they wouldn’t have chosen to parent that way if they had the choice, I’m just pointing out that they didn’t have a choice, and neither do mothers in most of the communities around the world that parent that way. It’s not fair to say, “this what everyone did, that makes it better,” when you neglect to mention that they didn’t–or don’t–have a choice.
Not everything in the past was better. Small pox wasn’t better. Maternal and fetal death rates weren’t better. Acknowledgement and treatment of post-partum depression wasn’t better. Not having antibiotics wasn’t better. The availability of clean water wasn’t better. Most people’s quality of life wasn’t better. Just because parents did things a certain way, out of necessity, doesn’t necessarily mean that way is better.
I wish I could make my own nifty graph (oh how I wish I could use Illustrator) showing the ways in which I, a not-so-natural parent, feel “richer” than I would have if I, personally, had followed AP or NP guidelines. I felt richer when my daughter slept for two five-hours stretches at a mere four weeks old and I was able to get some much needed (and natural) sleep. I felt richer when I had to go back to work and I knew my daughter would be fed safe, nutritious food, whether or not my breasts pumped enough milk. I felt richer when once a day my daughter played happily in her bouncy chair and I got to take a much needed (and very natural) shower. I felt richer when I had somewhere safe, and entertaining, to place my daughter while I trudged through graduate schoolwork during her first six months (because she would not tolerate snuggling sweetly in my lap—I tried).
I feel richer when my daughter sleeps a straight 10-12 hours a night every night, allowing my partner and I to get much needed (and totally natural) full nights of sleep. I feel richer when I can take my daughter jogging with me, assuring I get necessary (and natural) exercise. And I also feel richer when my daughter happily spends a full night or two with her grandparents, allowing my partner and I to reconnect on an intimate level. Heck, I feel richer to have a chance to connect with him intimately on any night that we feel so inclined (when that rarity occurs, we certainly don’t want to miss it!).
My point is not that my way is better, but that both ways offer positives and negatives, that no way of parenting is perfect. My daughter is a very happy, well-adjusted, appropriately attached little girl. I have no doubt that she feels secure in my love for her and that she knows her needs will be met at all times. I truly do not believe any other way of parenting would have “enhanced happiness, health and the bond between” my daughter and me. Our relationship is already as wonderful as I could ever hope it would be and I’m sick of people implying that it’s not, by saying their more natural style would have made it better. Everyone is parenting the best way they know how, the best way their circumstances permit, the way that is most natural to them.
So please, stop trying to co-op “natural” parenting and make it some exclusive thing that only a few people can claim they practice. We all are parenting naturally–the way that is natural for us. Stop trying to convince us otherwise.