I read a lot of parenting blogs, and I have to say that while the actual text of the posts are usually very interesting it is the comments that really get me going. Yes, more often than not the comments are simply people agreeing with or adding to the topic of the post, since people who frequent the blog are usually of similar mind with the author. But sometimes, and especially on the "bigger" blogs, the comments can get really interesting. And never more interesting that when it comes to an issue of parenting style.
Don't get me wrong- I judge other parents sometimes, too. I consider it one of my major flaws and I am working on it, but there are a few things I will always be a least a little judgmental about- elective c-sections, quitting breastfeeding (or not even trying it) because "it was too hard" or, worse, because "it's gross," giving kids soda and junk food, speaking to a child in a derogatory or humiliating way (I once heard a mom in a grocery store line tell her two year old, who was whining for a snack, that she should just give him up for adoption... I cried), and not putting kids in car seats. But I feel warranted in these judgments- each and every one of these actions can (and probably will) affect the health and/or well being of the child. These are things that have been scientifically proven beyond the shadow of a doubt.
But there are many issues in parenting that are much less cut and dry, and I don't judge other parents on these issues (I either really truly don't, or I try really hard not to). Many of these issues simply have no right answer. Also, many of these issues will differ slightly from one family to the next in it's particulars and applications. Let me give you some examples.
First of all let's look at co-sleeping, or the family bed. Let me first state that I believe that co-sleeping is as safe (or safer according to some studies) as using a crib, especially when done intentionally and by a mom who breastfeeds. And I believe that all the benefits listed by pro-family bed moms are valid. However, there are other elements to the equation that must be considered by the parents. Here are a few:
- The needs and preferences of the child- some kids, even from birth, don't sleep well with others. Oliver was this way- he would doze a little while nursing at night, but within 15 or 20 minutes would begin to squirm and thrash until I moved him back to the co-sleeper, where he would sleep peacefully. Unfortunately some who are determined to attachment parent from the start may consider themselves a failure in this case, or would try to continue despite the child's needs.
- The needs and preferences of the parents... both parents. One or both parents may not sleep well with the baby in bed. It may be worth giving it a trial period of three or four weeks because you may get used to it. But if it continues to be an issue I don't think the benefits of co-sleeping are worth one or both parents being sleep deprived or sleeping in separate beds.
- The needs of the family unit- I believe that, in almost all cases, the needs of the family unit should be at least equal to the needs of the child. So when one of the above factors or any other factor makes co-sleeping affect the family unit detrimentally, it may not be a feasible option for the family.
And whatever your parenting style of choice, the important things to remember are 1) don't judge other parents on these issues that are simply a reflection of parenting style, most particularly within your own community (ex. attachment parents who only co-sleep for a few months), and 2) don't let your parenting style define you. You don't HAVE to be the stereotypical attachment parent, or whatever parenting style you choose. And you shouldn't feel guilty when you don't fit into a particular stereotype or do everything as a mom that you feel you should do. As I like to say, "you can only do what you can do."
We all know how I feel about guilt, so I'm going to leave you with a personal anecdote to show how this applies in my own life. When I had my first child I had "ideas" about how I would and wouldn't parent- to stick with the co-sleeping example, I swore my child would never sleep in my own bed (ah, the things we say before we have kids...). Fast forward to Izzy five weeks old and in the throes of the worst colic on the face of the planet. She screamed from 4pm until 10 or 11pm every day and slept fitfully all night. Then I read The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (I know many don't care for that book, but I took the info in the book and applied it in a very different way than the author intended and it totally worked for me). From THBotB I learned the truth about colic and how to deal with it, which was invaluable in those first weeks. And from both books I learned about over-stimulation, which I think was a large part of her problem in retrospect. So I learned to make sure she was getting enough sleep, was swaddled, and wasn't exposed to a lot of visual, auditory, and tactile (this was a big one for her) stimulation. And in a particular mental breakthrough, I realized that if she slept with me and was in a more "womb like" environment- swaddled, dark, warm, near my heartbeat- that she would sleep much better (and I would sleep much better). And we did. I still hadn't heard of attachment parenting, I was just doing what was best for us.
Then, at this same time, I started attending a group called Moms Joining Moms, which I think was instrumental in forming the mom I eventually evolved into- it was at this class I learned about the toxic chemicals in most baby products, about infant massage, and about better baby carriers. Again, I had never heard of baby wearing and had only seen the infant carriers that are widely available at Target and Babies R Us- Baby Bjorn, Snugli, etc. I had a Baby Bjorn and HATED it- it was uncomfortable for me and I always had this feeling that it wasn't good for the baby. An online retailer, a local mom who had also been a part of Moms Joining Moms when her daughter was born (and who still runs Mom4life, which sells a variety of mostly parent designed products), came to demonstrate various carriers in person. Soon after I bought a peanut shell (a sling), and it became the only carrier I used for my daughter.
Even then, these actions didn't define me as a parent. I used a carrier regularly instead of the carseat, but I stopped co-sleeping when Izzy was just over 3 months old. We value levels of independence that some AP families may not value. Home schooling isn't even on my radar (maybe just a tiny bit on the edge of the radar, just in case public school is a nightmare). I had my kids vaccinated (and yes, I did research it). I reject the term "potty learning," at least when applied to the method I use (which worked fantastically for both of my kids and caused little/no stress).
The lesson is this- you don't have to follow the majority of whatever community you relate to. Only you can make the best decisions for your family. It is great to take into account the experiences and knowledge of others in order to make said decision, but you have to take that information in the context of your own family- what worked for your friends may or may not work as well for you. And no one should ever make you feel guilty for the choices you make... most particularly you.