Achievement parenting

iStock_000016596076XSmall

I just finished reading a raw, brutally honest account of parenting a disabled child. The piece, Waiting to love my child, by Heather Kirn Lanier, is about being afraid to love a subsequent unborn child, but has startling insights into how we approach parenting of all children in the US.

Lanier’s daughter Fiona has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome:

I learned what that missing bit of her fourth chromosome could mean. Developmental delays and cognitive disabilities, yes. But also life-threatening seizures. Potential kidney failure. And a 1-in-3 chance of dying before age 2.

She gains a great deal of comfort and insight by reading Emily Rapp’s book, The Still Point of the Turning World, about parenting her son Ronan, afflicted with Tay-Sachs disease and fated to die in early childhood.

the experience of loving Ronan teaches Rapp lessons, many of which I’m slowly learning myself. For example: “It took this experience to help me see clearly, to understand that the bulk of the popular parenting advice champions an approach to living that completely complies with achieving bogus standards of success.”…

Rapp mentions the mothers who make “products” of their kids, the moms for whom parenting becomes yet another venture at which to succeed. In such a case, the child is not a person but a measurement of one’s success. But the limits of Ronan’s body refuse to offer Rapp the back-patting moments of typical modern parenting. Walked before age 1! Started signing at 9 months! Breast-fed immediately after delivery, that’s how smart he is!

The most startling insight is this:

And the only way to survive this, at least with any joy, was to see what Rapp also had to see: that the desire to approach parenting as a race, as a series of achievements measured by the output of one’s kid, is a cultural sickness…

It’s easy to see how this “cultural sickness” has overtaken parenting of the older child: the endless “enrichment” activities, the travel sports teams, the desperation to have one’s child accepted to an elite college. It’s far harder to recognize that this cultural sickness is the basis of contemporary natural childbirth philosophy, lactivism and attachment parenting.

All are embodiments of the cultural sickness of viewing parenting as a series of achievements to be met, instead of an experience to be had, and a child to be loved for who he or she is.

Childbirth has been transmuted from the emergence of the child from the womb to a race. Did you have an epidural? Did you have a C-section? Did your baby breastfeed immediately after birth? If not, you are a loser.

Why endure excruciating pain without pain relief? Why risk your child’s life in an effort to avoid a C-section? Why shove your breast into the face of a newborn still gasping to fully expand his or her lungs, before the baby could possibly be interested in nursing? Because parenting is a race and if you haven’t done those things, you’ve already been left in the dust before your baby is an hour old.

Advocates of natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting insist that they are “better for the baby.” Leaving aside for the moment that there is no evidence to support those claims, let’s ask a more basic question: What do advocates mean by “better for the baby”? The ugly truth is that they believe the prescriptions and proscriptions to be a wind at the child’s back in the ongoing race in which the mother is competing against her peers.

Why are women “traumatized” after “giving in” and accepting an epidural in labor? Why are they devastated by a C-section? In what way are they “healed” by having a subsequent vaginal birth? Because they have imbibed the cultural sickness that views mothering as a competition, with signal moments that seem to exhaust the story of mothering.

Why are many women wracked with guilt about being unable to breastfeed? Because they believe that they have failed to give their children the edge in the competition.

Why did a woman pose for a Time Magazine cover photo breastfeeding her 3 year old, violating his privacy and exposing him to ridicule among his peers? Because she wanted to show the whole world that she is winning the race of contemporary parenting!

This obsession with competition forms an interesting subtext to Nicholas Day’s delightful series on Slate, How Babies Work. As Day explains in No Big Deal, but This Researcher’s Theory Explains Everything About How Americans Parent:

Every society has what it intuitively believes to be the right way to raise a child, what Harkness calls parental ethnotheories. (It is your mother-in-law, enlarged to the size of a country.) These are the choices we make without realizing that we’re making choices. Not surprisingly, it is almost impossible to see your own parental ethnotheory: As I write in Baby Meets World, when you’re under water, you can’t tell that you’re wet.

What is the “right way” in the US in 2013? American parents believe that maximizing opportunities for achievement.

… Interestingly, even the attachment parents, who were very adamant about being different in a lot of ways—they still gave the same answer.” And all the parents meant a very particular sort of stimulation. The parents talked about themselves in almost curatorial terms: They’d create a setting for intellectual growth…

Unlike Day, I’m not surprised that attachment parents felt the same way. Attachment parenting, and the related philosophies of natural childbirth and lactivism, are really about achievement and not about parenting.

As Kirn Lanier points out in her Salon piece, “there is a deeper, more transformative way to parent.”

I think it’s to be brought to our knees with a love we have no choice over. To surrender to that love. To say, Yes, yes, yes, I will love whomever we find ourselves holding…

Simply put: love a child for who he or she is, not for how many achievements he or she can garner in your competition with other parents.

  • Karen

    ‘Why did a woman pose for a Time Magazine cover photo breastfeeding her 3 year old, violating his privacy and exposing him to ridicule among his peers? Because she wanted to show the whole world that she is winning the race of contemporary parenting!”

    Why would she need to worry about her son being ridiculed by his peers? Perhaps because we have imbibed the cultural sickness that breastfeeding is acceptable, but only to a certain point…and certainly not at his age.

    I highly doubt that your interpretation of her intent is accurate. But then again, if you didn’t exaggerate, your egocentric self/readers would have little to bond over.

    You cannot win your fight by being as extreme as those you oppose. You lose credibility, and your peers start to think you incompetent. There should be no question of a physician’s competence, especially if her voice is public.

    • ratiomom

      Is it really that ‘sick’ to have the opinion that breastfeeding is not something that should normally continue past the point where the kid is eating pbj sandwiches? That is not the cultural norm in our society now, and hasn’t been in the past few centuries. The only reason that picture ever made it to the cover is that it is so far from the mainstream as to become sensational.
      Maybe extended breastfeeding is the norm in certain social strata of certain African and Asian societies, but so are many other customs that we have no interest in copying. I don’t see the ‘sickness’ in sticking with the good old western way of raising kids.

    • Wren

      Look, I breastfed my daughter to 35 months, stopping when I decided I wanted to. I don’t object to nursing toddlers or even pre-schoolers. I don’t think it’s necessary in public generally past about 2 with certain exceptions (long-haul flights, for example) and I really don’t see the need to flaunt it on the cover of a magazine.
      It only made it to a magazine because it is out of the mainstream, and that cover did nothing to “normalise” breastfeeding bigger children. It did, however, give mom a great boost on her mommy cred and yes, I do think it potentially set her kid up to be teased.
      Just for the record, I sure do think there is a point beyond which a child should not be breastfed, not because I think it’s sick or incestuous or whatever, but because I think normal development should move a child past the need, both physiologically and psychologically, to breastfeed.

  • I appreciate the article. As an expecting mom, I’m drowning in advice and have seen enough mother-drive-by wrecks to know that the worst hasn’t started yet. It seems like a good idea not to get too crazed.

    But I’m going to have to disagree on some of your motivational characterizations for medical decisions. For instance, I’m hoping I don’t end up with a c-section because it’s major abdominal surgery. I’ve had major abdominal surgery 2x before, for appendicitis that turned into widespread abdominal infection, and later for a very large ovarian cyst. Both times it was an extremely painful and long recovery that made day-to-day basic movements difficult and tiring. I don’t want to do that again if it can be avoided without risking anyone’s health. So I really don’t care for the blanket assertion that if someone doesn’t want major abdominal surgery, it’s just some cultural hangup. It really shouldn’t be taken casually.

    And as far as breastfeeding, my mom listened to doctors who’d decided that everything modern was better because it was new and she fed my older sister formula. My older sister was sick all the time as a baby. She breast fed me and my younger sister, and we were very healthy babies. It’s not data, as such, and no one should be made to feel guilty if they just can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, but breastfeeding sure isn’t bad for kids.

    I’m sure some people are a little over-achieving about the whole thing. But a lot of the sentiment you’re covering with that criticism also sets aside the feelings of many women that birth and baby care has become over-medicalized, that their experiences and understandings are routinely swept aside, and that they’ve been denied access to, or discouraged from, more traditional ways of doing things in situations where it would harm no one and might have been the better option.

    As glad as I am that I’m registering to deliver in a hospital that has the very best in emergency care if something should go very wrong, I’m open to considering that if I can actually feel what’s going on during the birth and can move around, it might go a little easier and with less likelihood of injury. Maybe I’ll decide that’s bollocks & go for the drugs, and I won’t beat myself up over it, but I’m also not going to automatically assume that the more medicalized experience is going to be the best in every case because that just isn’t true.

    • AmyP

      “But a lot of the sentiment you’re covering with that criticism also sets aside the feelings of many women that birth and baby care has become over-medicalized, that their experiences and understandings are routinely swept aside, and that they’ve been denied access to, or discouraged from, more traditional ways of doing things in situations where it would harm no one and might have been the better option.”

      The “more traditional way of doing things” is screaming agony.

      • Bombshellrisa

        Or tearing more severely because you can’t stop yourself from pushing because you are in agony.

      • I’m certainly not saying that the past was some kind of paradise from which we’ve fallen, where everything was much, much better. Nor that people who think a low-tech birth sounds terrible should have to do it that way. I know lots of women without access to modern medicine still die in childbirth at alarming rates and it’s good something can be done about that. I’m just saying that there are other ways to look at trends towards the spectrum of ‘natural’ childbirth and rearing options than as being motivated some kind of personal achievement metric.

        People have different experiences with these things, different opinions. It can be verified that this is the case without having to also believe that it’s either a right or wrong way to do things, or right or wrong for a given individual who disagrees.

        And when I think screaming agony, I think about recovering from my last abdominal surgery, for which i had to set alarms at night to wake me up to take pain medication on an every 4-hour schedule for weeks. Because otherwise, the pain would wake me up instead and I’d have to wait until the next pills kicked in before I could relax at all. Barring a serious health or life threat, I’m willing to consider making the tradeoff of agony for a day and faster recovery with a painless procedure followed by prolonged torment and a lot of heavy medication.

        Major surgery can be a legitimately traumatic event on its own, posing greater risks of post-procedure infection and other complications. It’s not something to take lightly.

        • Wren

          “Major abdominal surgery” is really not the way to describe a C-section here. We have a lot of actual doctors who comment regularly here who will make the observation that it isn’t a particularly major surgery. I’m fairly certain your appendix op is not comparable to a C-section, in that recovery would be worse from the former.

          I’ve had one C-section, completely unexpected, and one VBAC, at a hospital with full support of the OBs and midwives I saw. I’m in the UK, if that matters. Yes, the C-section did involve more painkillers and was a longer recovery, but I also had a fairly small baby when I had my VBAC and got lucky with positioning and labour in general. I have friends who would never, ever consider a second vaginal delivery after a first that went very badly for them, despite a healthy baby. I totally support a woman’s right to choose which risks she wants to accept, as does pretty much everyone else here.

          Plenty of the women who comment regularly here have had “natural” births. You’re planning to be in a hospital and appear to be open to the idea of changing your plans for the birth if needed. I think that’s pretty much what most people here would support.

        • Major surgery can be a traumatic event, but isn’t always, and a natural birth can be delightful, but isn’t always.

          Not wanting to have interventions if they can be avoided is a perfectly reasonable aim – shared by most of us, I imagine.. But the question then becomes how far you, and your care givers, will go to avoid them, and the consequences of avoiding them, given that the decisions to be made are not all that clear cut.

          You suffered some unusual complications from your surgeries. How do you manage to be so confident that a vaginal birth will be entirely complication free? If you choose the care of a midwife equally committed to the ideal of natural, what are the chances that an iffy heartbeat, or some other indeterminate signal, will be chalked up to “variation of normal” and ignored past the point of common sense?

          I find the idea that unnecessary interventions are forced on unwilling victims a bit hard to buy into. I also can’t quite accept that efficient pain relief is “over-medicalising” – most of us are glad of it. Interventions are precautionary, as opposed to the dreamy gamble that is, in a first time mother, a commitment to natural. Pays off often enough, I suppose – but what exactly is the big gain?

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      I hope this comes off as reassuring and not dismissive, and apologize if I’m reading you wrong, but…A routine c-section, even an urgent one, is unlikely to be as difficult as the two surgeries you describe. Appendicitis with secondary peritonitis is nasty. Large ovarian cysts can be too. Both situations are much worse in terms of the surgery required and the recovery than a routine c-section.

      A c-section is “major” surgery because it involves surgery on the abdomen. It’s extremely low risk in terms of absolute mortality and low risk for morbidity. It’s a much simpler surgery than either of the two you described. FWIW, I was essentially out of pain a day after mine and really didn’t feel significant pain even before that with the help of a good PCA pump. I’m afraid prior abdominal surgery does make any subsequent surgery harder, but there’s no reason to believe that your recovery will be as bad as recovery from your prior surgeries. If you even need a c-section, which you probably won’t, unless there’s something you haven’t said here, like malpositioning of the fetus or other problems.

      Your last paragraph strikes me as quite sensible. Try for an unmedicated birth because that’s what you think would do best for you now, but be prepared to be flexible if things don’t go well, including being in a place where you can get emergency care quickly. Best of luck to you. May you be one of the women who has a not very painful 10 hour labor, delivers a baby with 9/10 apgars, and departs the hospital thinking, “What was all the fuss about?”

  • C H

    “Why are they devastated by a C-section? In what way are they “healed” by having a subsequent vaginal birth?”

    Have you talked to people who were devastated by C-sections and are hoping for VBACs? I was devastated by my C-section — a surgery that was the capstone of an entire week of doctors treating me like shit. The callous disregard they had for me — joking about how much fun the surgery was as I lay, fully conscious on the table while the anesthesiologist pumped me full of emergency morphine to compensate for my insufficient epidural, unable to protest any further — was the most profoundly dehumanizing experience of my life. I am attempting a VBAC with my current pregnancy, but have accepted the possibility of another C-section with another doctor, in another practice, in an environment where I am treated like a person and not a walking womb. My experience is not unusual and it’s not about achievement. It’s about basic respect for laboring women as people and patients, not inanimate objects who should submit cheerfully to any pain (such as the chronic pain associated with my C-section scar) and any indignity at the hands of doctors who threaten and abuse their patients.

    • FormerPhysicist

      I think, and devoutly hope, that your experience *is* unusual. I am sorry you went through that. My experience with c/s was completely different.

      • VeritasLiberat

        So was mine. I was the one cracking the jokes. That’s what I do when I’m nervous. The anesthesia made me throw up spectacularly and so I said, “now I know what I missed not joining a sorority in college.” I wanted to know if they could give me a flat stomach while they were at it. (They said no.) But it would really suck to have your epidural not work.

        • GiddyUpGo123

          That’s so funny. I asked my doc for a tummy tuck during my CS too, and he rolled his eyes. I’m pretty sure 9 out of 10 of his c-section patients make the same joke; he’d clearly heard it a million times. LOL

          But seriously I agree, neither of my CS experiences were either worse or better than my two vaginal deliveries. I was treated with respect and I had a profound feeling that I was being cared for by people who were competent and invested in making sure both me and my baby were healthy. And there was some light-heartedness in the room too (everyone took “bets” on my baby’s gender), which I did not interpret as callousness but as proof that even those experienced doctors and nurses were celebrating the birth of a brand-new person.

    • theNormalDistribution

      There must be more to this story. Were you devastated by having a c-section, or “a week of doctors treating [you] like shit”?
      If I were having a c-section I would very be happy to hear my doctors joking about how fun c-sections are. It would be reassuring to know that they are emotionally invested in the healthy birth of my baby.

    • suchende

      I don’t think you need to avoid surgery to be treated humanely, and can certainly be treated inhumanely during a vaginal birth at home. With a midwife. With a doula. IME birth and pregnancy was inherently dehumanizing. It’s all very animalistic.

    • How much fun it was for who? Could it just have been an inappropriate and failed attempt to relief your anxieties?

      When a pregnancy turns unexpectedly complicated it is pretty devastating, and high drama for the person in the middle of it – but not for the care providers. Did EVERYONE treat you like shit? And if they did, was the CS itself the source of your distress? If they were that insensitive and horrible, would a vaginal birth at their hands automatically have been better?

      I spent weeks in hospital and not everyone was lovely. But their social skills were not at the forefront of my mind. We shouldn’t be de-humanised, and it is reasonable to want better. Hope you get better this time around.

  • Lynn

    This race of motherly achievement has nothing to do with the millennial generation or new styles of parenting. I was born in 1955, and reading the baby book my mother kept was eye opening. First solid food (3 weeks), and holding the just-fed baby (me) over the toilet and calling that “potty-training” at 3 months. Sleeping through the night, first words and all those other milestones were pushed, pushed, pushed. What comes through in what my mother wrote is the fear and tension that if I didn’t do these things as quickly as possible, she was a failure as a mother.

    It’s not new. Every mother wants to see tangible evidence that she’s doing things “right.” That her baby is thriving, progressing, and justifying the overwhelming amount of investment the mother is making. It used to be a mother would compare herself to the community around her, where there was always a good chance her baby would be first or best at something. Now the community is world-wide, and there’s always some baby that’s better, faster, younger at a milestone, whatever.

    • suchende

      Huh. Well, I don’t agree. It’s like saying, “millennials aren’t any more addicted to media than previous generations. Critics have been complaining about people watching too much TV for years.” While parents have always been preoccupied with milestones, it seems clear to me that the current intensive parenting trend is more time-intensive than previous parenting trends, from baby-wearing to extended breastfeeding.

    • SkepticalGuest

      Interesting…having a baby that sleeps through the night is one of the hallmarks of success in modern parenting. So much so that even the MDs won’t listen if you tell them you think there is a medical problem preventing it. My MDs and my friends all blamed me for not trying hard enough with sleep training, but it turned out my son DID have an undiagnosed medical condition. Fixed it, but only after 2.5 years. Made all the difference in the world.

      I wish this blog post would talk about the pressure to sleep train and have a baby who sleeps through the night as much as they talk about the pressure to breast feed.

      • AmyM

        From whom did you experience pressure for your baby to STTN? I wanted my babies sleeping through the night asap, not because of pressure but because the sleep deprivation was wrecking me. I was heading toward PPD, and definitely was irritable, emotional, foggy and less productive. Sleep dep of new parents isn’t taken very seriously in the US (I don’t know about elsewhere) and it can be dangerous. A friend of mine got in a car accident because of sleep dep–it was minor luckily, no one hurt, but I have heard that driving while sleep deprived is pretty close to driving drunk.

        However, I can see where you are coming from: something like this?–“Hey, is your baby STTN yet? No? Well, why don’t you sleep train. It’s your fault that child isn’t because you aren’t doing it right/trying hard enough/etc.” I wholeheartedly believe that you (and others) can WANT their children to STTN, and for any number of reasons (medical issue in your case,some kids just don’t tolerate sleep training, etc), it doesn’t work. Some kids just don’t sleep well. I think it is awful that doctors wouldn’t believe you that something was wrong, and that anyone blamed YOU for your child having difficulty STTN. But I know from my POV, I always hope my friends’ new babies STTN asap, not as a developmental milestone, but because a baby that doesn’t STTN, especially for years, SUCKS. I am glad your son eventually got the help he needed.

  • I always tell my kids that I don’t care what grades they get as long as they do their best. I also don’t care what type of job they do as long as they are happy, and as long as they have thought long and hard about the decisions they make. They have one parents who went to college and did well and one that did not and did well, so they have good examples of success from both sides. I’ll be happy if they are.

    • AmyP

      “I also don’t care what type of job they do as long as they are happy…”

      …and don’t plan on living with me.

  • Amy (T)

    Sorry for being late, and sorry if this was mentioned, but I don’t think parenting is just about loving your child. For most parents, I hope love is unquestionable, but I hope one of the top priorities is to raise a child that will be a functional part of society. This is why I’m not a fan of extreme attachment parenting, I don’t think the kids often end up being a great benefit to society, they’re spoiled brats who are difficult to deal with. As for children with disabilities, this varies and parenting should change based on each child. If it’s a mild disability, there should be as much intervention as possible to allow the child to grow and function within society as much as possible (which likely is completely with all of today’s opportunities). Similar for those with severe physical disabilities but no cognitive impairment, parents (and society) should make everyone as integrated into to society, we want as much productivity as possible, with as few barriers as possible. As for the severely disabled who need constant everything to live and most of which will have a much diminished life expectancy ( if only a few years or less), we should spoil the shit out of those kids. Why it’s important to have as many people working in society, so we have the money and effort to take care of those who cannot.

    • Amy (T)

      Btw, I say sorry if mentioned because, for some reason, the site doesn’t load properly on my phone and I can’t see many of the comments.

  • suchende

    It’s really very unsurprising that as millenials become parents, they have become hyperintensive, achievement-oriented parents. When I think of my cohort of young women, I see ladies who were groomed for success and achievement and need above all else praise and feedback to be sure they’re on track. Now take that woman out of the workforce to raise children. The milestones, the online mommy circles, the lofty goals to work towards… I couldn’t be less surprised that this is appealing. And not just SAHMs of course. For women who thought they would be the youngest female senator ever by now, achievement parenting can make up for professional inadequacies. As a millenial myself, it’s a little hard to avoid getting sucked in.

  • Janet Dubac

    Thank you for sharing this! I love my kids for who they are and not because of what they can do. They are not the brightest or the cutest kids out there but for me, they are my angels and I love them with all my heart. 🙂

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      They are not the brightest or the cutest kids out there

      Of course not, because my kids are the cutest. That is a given. However, your kids are tied for 2nd cutest.

  • notahomebirthlactivist

    I loved this. I can’t help but feel sad, as I read the Kellymom support page and some poor mother who has returned to work 6 weeks post partum is bombarded with information about how to pump as much as possible.. questioned “is there any way you can extend your leave” and reminded of the golden rule “NO formula.” This mother is almost always the same.. “I can’t pump enough for them to get through the day, should I sit up late at night pumping more? I can’t return to work later but I want to give my child the best start in life.” I just want to scream “You have done a fucking fantastic job, and no you do not have to sit up all night pumping milk for work tomorrow. Go to bed, get some sleep, cuddle your baby, breastfeed if you enjoy it for as long as you like and YES you can send some formula to daycare.” BUT you get banned for things like that..

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      My response on the going back to work at 6 weeks is more of, what a fucked up country we live in that only requires that we allow 6 weeks of time off after a child. How is that in any way sane? This has got to change.

      • suchende

        If you want women to breastfeed, unlock the formula cabinet and start pressuring Congress for sane maternity policies.

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          But “locking up formula” is so much easier, because it only imposes on women and not the almighty businesses. I mean, sane maternity policies will have an effect on employers, and we can’t expect them to be inconvenienced.

    • moto_librarian

      I have a coworker who has a 10 month old baby. We were chatting the other day and I complimented her on managing to lose her baby weight so well (I am still trying to lose weight from both the first and second child, lol), and she said she attributes it to still nursing. She then confided that nursing required a lot of commitment, and that she wasn’t sure that she would do it with a second child. We had a brief discussion about how, as a working mom, do you balance this. Is your time best-served taking breaks to pump, or is it better to get home an hour earlier and spend more time with your baby? In a developed country with a term infant, there just aren’t that many demonstrable benefits of breastfeeding over formula, yet we persist in pressuring ourselves.

      • Wren

        I didn’t even get the weight loss benefit. My sister, who did return to work and pumped, at least lost 70 lbs doing it (baby weight and then some).

    • Squillo

      I’m very glad I didn’t have “support” like that when I was in the same boat (12 weeks post-partum.) And I had every possible support–best breastpump I could buy, an office with a door, and almost total control over my time during the workday, and I still couldn’t pump enough to get my son through a day at daycare. So it was formula during the day and the breast at night, and we were both happy. And he’s a healthy 11-year-old.

  • Sue

    “It is your mother-in-law, enlarged to the size of a country.”

    What a gem!

    • Petanque

      What a nightmare!

      • Mom of a bunch

        Now, now, not all mothers-in-law are like that! :))) I’m speaking as a mom of eight (yes, eight, all from my own body) and grandmother of three so far. I *never* give parenting advice (to anybody, let alone my grown offspring and their spouses) unless very specifically asked, and even then they kind of have to pry it out of me because I’m very conscious that what works/worked for me may not be right for someone else. Personally, I also find it fascinating to hear about the medical advances and changes in procedure from when I had my kids. After all, I wouldn’t want a doctor to go consult a 20- or 30-year old resource before treating me! I’d hope my doctors are up to speed on all the latest info.

        • KarenJJ

          ” I’m very conscious that what works/worked for me may not be right for someone else.”

          Now this is sensible and helpful and the basis of the best advice I’ve received when I’ve asked for it.

    • Dr Kitty

      I love my MIL, but it would be fair to say that she and my parents have RADICALLY different parenting styles and tolerance levels.

      My MIL gave me a Gina Ford baby book, complete with rigid 4hr feeding schedules, as a present.
      My mother told me “you’ll work it out for yourself”.

      My MIL bottlefed all her children and thought I would be “more comfortable” in another room any time the baby needed fed.
      My mother breast fed all of us and thinks breast feeding covers are a tool of patriarchal oppression.
      You get the idea.

      Mothers and MILs are great, but at the end of the day, neither of them are YOU, raising YOUR kid.

  • JenniferG

    This is a really beautiful piece Dr. Amy. Thanks.

  • Dr Kitty

    I’ll tell you what, you stop being proud of your child being an early talker right around the time they start sharing embarrassing details of your home life, or explaining simple biological processes, to complete strangers.

    There are only so many times you can say “sweetie, I think the waitress knows what happens to food after it goes into your tummy,” while smiling apologetically.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      An actual conversation in Target last weekend

      Greg (4 yo,loudly): Dad, I have to go poopy
      Me (inside voice): Yes dear, we’ll get to the bathroom right after I put this box in the cart
      Joe (2 yo): mumbles something about poopy
      Me: Do you have to go potty, too?
      Greg (loudly): Is Joe going to go poopy, too?
      Me: I don’t think so
      Greg: But I have to go poopy.

      Man, if I had any shame, that could have been embarrassing. Instead, I just laughed, and so did the people walking by.

  • Eddie

    Too many people act like life itself is a competition. These folks will find a way to turn everything into a competition, whether it’s parenting, their yard, their BBQ, the birth experience, their job, their car, the books they read, the shows or movies they watch (or don’t watch if they don’t have a television)….

    I feel sad for these people because they are missing so much of life in their race to “win” the competition. I want the best for my kids, and I have some strong ideas on what that means … but I also know that my kids ultimately get to make that decision for themselves.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      I’m less competitive than everyone else.

      • Bomb

        Best response ever.

  • Heidi

    Just recently, I was talking with a counselor about being a parent and how there is all of this pressure to make sure you do the best for your child, ensure that they have everything they need to be successful and happy and healthy (aka, high-achieving). The counselor said this, “Yeah, but you’re not responsible for your child’s ultimate happiness and success- your child is”. The truth is that all of these attempts in the name of being “best for baby” are irrelevant when, for the majority of their lives, their health, happiness and well-being are solely their responsibility. We have a responsibility to keep them safe and nurtured and loved as children. That does not translate to ensuring their success and happiness in life. Freeing.

    • thepragmatist

      You know, I realized this when my son was weaning, and I was grieving the change. He weaned relatively early for our group of intense attachment parents– 16 months– and it was hard. I missed him. And I realize in that moment that I could not build my life AROUND him: that we would have to share a life TOGETHER and that his journey here was not my journey, but his own. I could not make him nurse. To force him to nurse (like some people suggested– by starving him onto the boob)– would be abusive. But it was then that I appreciate that my job was to render myself obsolete, eventually. I know a bit fatalistic, but I found it really freeing, because I lost a lot of the anxiety around mothering during that process.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        like some people suggested– by starving him onto the boob

        Who in the blazes has suggested that? It’s horrid!

        • Karen in SC

          the official name is “nursing strike”, not self-wean. Let’s get that right. Maybe a problem to solve in an infant but not so much in a toddler.

          • Sue

            “Nursing Strike”! Of course? Because weaning can only seen in the negative, not as a positive milestone.

          • VeritasLiberat

            I *wish* my babies had self weaned.

      • Box of Salt

        “But it was then that I appreciate that my job was to render myself obsolete, eventually.”
        Yes! This!

        • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

          Yes this, when my daughter was little I was a bit of a hoverer but I learned to pull back and let her explore and try new things. I was still there in the back ground but I didn’t want to make her afraid of everything like i am. So when she wanted to go to Nature’s Classroom(6th grade science thing where they take the kids t a Y camp in the Berkshires for a week and do classes in the woods) I let her go, She LOVED it! And when she was 16 and her exchange student friend from Germany invited her there for a month, I let her go, she had to raise some of the airfare herself and she was fine with that. She and 3 of her friends traveled around Germany taking trains everywhere. She had a great time, but for me it was the hardest thing I ever did. But I think for her it was a great learning experience. I try to be there when she needs me, but hope I have given her the tools to deal with whatever the world throws at her, because I won’t always be there.

  • PoopDoc

    I am grateful for the fact that my kids are mostly healthy, pretty well adjusted, and relatively normal. They are not the most speshulest snowflakes but they are my snowflakes and I will love them and try to do right by them.

  • suchende

    I figured I did all I could when I procreated with a rocket scientist, so I skipped all the parenting books. Doing it wrong?

    • VeritasLiberat

      I read parenting books. Of course, my baby didn’t act like the ones in the books. Maybe the books would have done more good if SHE had read them too, so she would know what she was supposed to do.

      • Klain

        My daughter had bad cradle cap as a baby. The baby book I had said it would all be gone by 12 months. I should have got her to read it as she is now 9 years old and still has it.

        • fiftyfifty1

          My husband had cradle cap well into adulthood.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            And now I am older, I have “inverted cradle cap”

        • Squillo

          My six-year old has it still. She also has super-sensitive, super-reactive skin, and I sometimes wonder if the two are related.

          • Sue

            They are related, Squillo. “Cradle cap” is essentially the same skin condition as seborrhoeic dermatitis. The scaling is more pronounced and lasts longer because of hair shafts stopping the scales from rubbing or falling off, as they do on bare skin.

          • Squillo

            Thanks for the info.

            At the moment, she’s sporting an impressive perioral dermatitis to go with the cradle cap. I foresee many dermatologist visits in her future.

          • Squillo

            I should also add that this was my “natural” birth, 100% breastfed baby. My epiduralized, partially FF son has perfect skin.

      • anon

        when my oldest daughter was born extreeeemely fussy and stayed that way for six months, I furiously read parenting book after parenting book, convinced I was just doing it wrong, someone would have the answer, and our lives could be happy again. They just made me feel shitty, and I read the full range, from Dr. Sears to Babywise. Because nobody wrote the book that every new parent needs: “Your baby is a month old. It’s actually not that bloody complicated. feed them, change them, keep them alive. Do what works. You can’t screw them up unless you do something really drastic like not feeding them. You’re doing great, keep up the good work.” I would write that book, but I’d feel guilty for taking peoples’ money for that.

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          “Your baby is a month old. It’s actually not that bloody complicated. feed them, change them, keep them alive. Do what works.

          Of course, here you can hear the question, “But how do I know what works?” And the answer is, of course, “You’ll figure it out.”

          When I do Dad’s Boot Camp, one thing we talk about is how there is no one answer that applies to every baby, so try a lot of things. And don’t worry, you will find something that works, and when you do, you will stick with it.

          Our older guy liked to be held sitting facing out and doing laps through the house. How did we know he liked that? Because someone (either my wife or me) tried that and it worked. So we did it again.

          It almost reminds me of City Slickers, where Billy Crystal asks Jack Palance the secret of life, and Palance says, “One thing. Stick to that and nothing else matters.” Billy Crystal asks, “But what is that one thing?” “That’s what you have figure out.”

          That’s what it’s like with a baby. What does it take to raise your baby? That’s what you have to figure out.

          (I have been remiss in my pop culture references lately, so I thought to add this one, although it is sappy)

          You can’t screw them up unless you do something really drastic like not feeding them. You’re doing great, keep up the good work.”

          Add in Dr Amy’s advice:
          1) Don’t sweat the small stuff
          2) Most of it’s small stuff

          It’s a short book, but it’s all right on

    • fiftyfifty1

      Yes you did it wrong. You should have focussed more on your own education and become a neurosurgeon. That way you could use the quote “Well, it’s not exactly brain surgery OR rocket science but even if it were, we would have it covered”. That would show everybody!

      • Eddie

        fiftyfifty1 FTW!

      • suchende

        Love it. Unfortunately we both ultimately decided to abandon our previous careers and become lawyers. We’ll need to achievement-parent her into neurosurgery I guess.

      • theNormalDistribution

        I have nothing witty to add, but I’d to say that my spouse is a mechanical engineer and my sister in law is a doctor (with a masters in neuroscience), so we use “brain science” and “rocket surgery”.

      • Sue

        If you do nothing else today, you MUST watch the Mitchell and Webb Youtube entitled “Brain Surgery vs Rocket Science”!

        (disqus won’t let me post the url, but it’s easy to find)

  • Antigonos CNM

    I just read an article, sorry, don’t have the link, that a study shows that children subjected to “tiger parenting” do NOT do as well as more laid-back parents. Another indication, if one were needed, that trying to dominate every aspect of childrearing doesn’t work even if the theory seems nice.

  • AmyM

    My impression is that some (most?) of the hardcore APers, the ones who insist everything MUST be done a certain way or else you’ve destroyed your child/ren’s chance for healthiness and happiness, seem to think very linearly. I mean, they think that doing whatever AP thing they are doing will guarantee a baby that never cries, never gets sick, does well in school, and always has healthy relationships with everyone. I think some of them are very shocked when they realize there is no surefire way to make your baby/child behave how you want it to. They seem to blame themselves for having done something wrong, which I guess is better than blaming the baby for being a baby, but it’s still not productive.

    Through my infertility struggle and continuing into a complicated pregnancy that led us to having twins, which we never expected, let alone planned for, I learned a lot about rolling with it. I learned just how little control we have over those things. And then, always having two children to deal with, we had to adopt a fairly laid-back parenting style, since neither child could ever have 100% parental attention like most oldest children get until their siblings come. I wasn’t the type to imagine my “perfect” children and how they would be, but between my own experience as well as that of watching other parents attempt to force their children to be a certain way (usually to the unhappiness of everyone involved), I always try to keep in mind that they are who they are, and no one can change that.

    I am also thankful that despite everything, they are healthy and developing normally. I am not religious, but I think about that all the time and thank….I don’t know, not god I guess, but it could have gone so much differently. I do not take my healthy children for granted, and my heart breaks for those like Lanier and Rapp whose children have a rough road.

  • auntbea

    Hmmm…I think by “American parenting”, they might mean American upper-middle-class-and-probably-white-and urban-as-well, parenting.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Well, if it’s based on what one reads in Parents magazine, then, yeah, that’s it.

      Although you would want to make that “…upper-middle-class-and-probably-white-women…parenting”

      • Jennifer2

        Alan might disagree with that. 🙂

        • Karen in SC

          Almost miss Alan, kinda.

          • theNormalDistribution

            Bite your tongue!

          • Cellist

            I wonder if he is still reading this?

          • Sue

            I doubt it – I don’t think he would be able to resist jumping in (I couldn’t!)

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          If Alan disagrees that reading Parents magazine would leave one with the impression that “American parenting” consists of upper-middle-class-and-probably-white-woman and -urban parenting” then he would be an idiot. Oh wait…

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Every society has what it intuitively believes to be the right way to raise a child, what Harkness calls parental ethnotheories. (It is your mother-in-law, enlarged to the size of a country.) These are the choices we make without realizing that we’re making choices.

    I came to that realization many years ago, when I was reading the “use your instincts, they are usually right” suggestions in parenting books. I realized that, in order for that to be true, there must be a LOT of “right ways” to do things. I’ve heard those who say they just don’t trust vaccines. That’s their instinct. Is it right? Clearly, I believe very strongly differently. But if we are both following our instincts, then clearly it’s not really “instinct” that is driving this, but about the choices we make. And given that, I have no problems saying anti-vax parents are absolutely wrong.

    When intuition and common sense can lead different people to different positions, the intuition isn’t really all that intuitive and the common sense isn’t all that common.

    There are a lot of examples like this I could provide, but the concept that when you are under water, you can’t tell that you are wet is really true.* So much of what we think is naturally ingrained in us is a product of where and when we are.

    *Whenever I hear this, I always think of my old thermo prof in grad school, who used to use the line, “The goal is to just keep your head below water…if you are a fish.”

  • Durango

    I love this so much. Thank you.

  • mollyb

    This is all so true. It took several years for my husband and I to have a successful pregnancy. So I had a lot of time to think about exactly the type of mother I would be (extended breastfeeding, babywearing, etc) and the type of baby my child would be once I finally was blessed with one (a good baby, a good sleeper, an early milestone hitter). Not because I really valued those things but because I knew people would think I was a superior mom if I did them. Then my daughter was born–low birth weight, scrawny, restless, cried non stop for days, rarely slept, refused to nurse. Instead of the bliss of being a high-achieving mom with a high-achieving baby, I was miserable, depressed and giving up my dreams for her infancy, one by one. And that was good. I was parenting my daughter as she was, as her needs were, not as my fantasies were. So she got bottles of formula and thrived. And she hated to be held close, so she chilled in the stroller on our walks. She’s amazing and perfect and I adore her–because she’s my baby to have and love and not the fantasy baby that only existed in my mind to flatter my vanity.

  • Comrade X

    A-freaking-men, Dr Amy.

    People are NOT things. That includes the people who grew in your womb. End of story.

  • trashbreakfast

    I think the hardest part of parenting for me right now hasn’t been the actual parenting… it’s been the justifying their existence to other people, how they came into the world and my decision not to breastfeed.. those looks of pity are getting sort of old. I’m working on it; it’s hard not to compare my kids to other kids I know, I’m even worried about my 2 month old hitting her marks when really I should just enjoy her. This race to perfection doesn’t help anyone. Good post.

    • Heidi

      I encourage you, when people ask about breastfeeding or childbirth, to simply say “that’s something personal that I’m not really interested in talking about”. Say it nicely and it shuts it down quick.

      • BeatlesFan

        I’m also a big fan of “If you can explain to me how it’s any of your business, then I’ll be happy to discuss it with you.” That one does come across as more rude, however. Which is probably why I like it.

        • Squillo

          That’s good. I also like a slighly less combative “Why are you interested?” It would be fun to see someone actually try to articulate what prompted the question.

          • Sue

            Good one, or even “why do you ask?”

    • Rebecca

      I am TTC my first baby and already dreading this. I’ve already made the decision that I will absolutely not be breastfeeding unless I have a baby that would be more at risk from formula for an actual medical reason (such as extreme prematurity). I want to go back on my medications immediately after birth and I’d rather my baby have formula than be exposed to five different medications, one of which is bad for supply anyway. My OBGYN completely gets why I decided that (I talked about it a bit when I discussed with her what medications I needed to stop for a pregnancy) but I am not looking forward to other people trying to force me to justify my decision instead of minding their own business.

    • moto_librarian

      When someone asks how your daughter was born, smile sweetly and say, “oh, I’m sorry – are you an obstetrician? Because I simply can’t imagine anyone asking such a personal question unless she had a true professional interest.”

      If someone asks if you’re breastfeeding, simply say, “I fail to see how that is any of your business.”

      Seriously, if somebody was talking about your breasts at work, it would be sexual harassment. Just because you have a child doesn’t entitle people to pry into your personal life. The best way to stop the culture of sanctimomminess is to start putting them in their place. I’m not tolerating it anymore, and neither should the rest of us!

  • Love the post. I like having a seriously disabled kid, because it gives me a “get out of jail free” card from all the competitive parenting nonsense. So you see my little guy signing and tell me you do baby signs with your baby to give him a head start on his SAT prep? Yeah, gold star for you. My kid has malformed vocal chords and may never speak. He was 2 before I heard him make a sound. Your kid made the best t-ball team? Well, my kid didn’t die today. No wonder I can’t make mom friends 🙂

    • If that’s your pool of friends to choose from, who needs enemies?

    • Squillo

      Amen.

      Even having a mildly disabled child took me out of the mommy Olympics, partly because other parents tend to distance themselves once they discover my kid’s “almost hidden” disability. I don’t think it’s intentional in most cases; it’s just a case of like us/not like us and the segregation that seems to occur. You can’t compete when the other competitors take the race elsewhere.

      But one of the benefits has been that I’m not so tempted to enter the competition with my typically developing kid.

      • Oh but it continues even in the moms of disabled kids circles. It’s a crazy game we play called “my sick kid is sicker than your sick kid.” It’s like the reverse version of the achievement game. And my sick kid is pretty sick. But I’m not that interested in winning that contest, because what exactly is the prize… a really, really sick kid? I’m kinda glad your sick kid is sicker than my sick kid.

        • guestmama

          omg I know exactly what you mean! My little guy has some mild disabilities (some related to being premature, some not), and I’ve noticed this in the online communities I’m a part of. It’s like this in the preemie communities too – it’s like some of the moms want to top each other with whose kid was the most premature, most ventilated, most medicated, etc. It’s really weird. Obviously not everyone is like that, but enough are that it’s noticeable.

          Personally, I think it’s an attention-getting thing. Kind of a munchausen’s (sp?) by proxy. When your kid has medical problems that consume much of your time so your life lacks a normal balance, I think maybe it’s easy to get wrapped up in that and not realize that you’ve started to turn it into a competition. I think that’s why some of these AP parents become competitive with who is the most attached – their lives become SO child-centered (baby/child’s wants and needs trump everyone elses’) that a normal balance is lost and the competitiveness begins. It’s sort of a martyr complex.

          Ok, I’m done being a CPP (certified professional psychologist) lol.

          • Bomb

            Exactly. Instead of the signatures reading ‘CD, family bed, EC, baby wearing, Intact, no vax, bf 5 yrs’ etc. they have a list of impairments and/or medications and procedures, so that everyone can see at a glance what incredible sick child cred you have.

          • KarenjJ

            Actually something that drives me nuts about those signatures is that it is your KID that has their issues plastered all over the internet. I’m not sure where I’m at with my daughter. I’d like to raise awareness and have nothing to hide, but I don’t want to put her details out there and then find out she’d rather I didn’t or find out that it makes life difficult for he in some way as an adult. She’s only one of a handfull of kids with her syndrome. If I name it, someone in the know could identify her and I don’t feel it’s fair to her.

        • Then in that case, my preemie was preemier than your preemie. Buahahahaha.

        • Squillo

          True. I get to bow out of that one too, though, as my kid isn’t sick, just autistic. I hear a lot of “my life is harder than your life” among parents of autistic kids. Fortunately, my friends and my son’s friends’ parents don’t seem to fall into that.

    • Karen in SC

      Jenny, I can tell from your blog that you are busy getting on with living – the pictures of your kids are so vibrant.

  • Awesomemom

    My eldest son has a heart defect and survived a stroke at nine months of age. Before he had the stroke I was obsessed with making sure he hit all his milestones. I was completely stressed by it but I wanted him to be as perfectly normal as I could get him to be. Then he had his stroke and I actually felt a sense of relief (once I knew he was safe and would not die from the stroke) because there was no way that he was going to be able to keep up with his peers. Of course that did not completely cure me of comparing him to other kids his age but it made me be kinder in the comparisons. I ended up tossing out all the baby and toddler books I had because none of them addressed my unique issues and they were just making me crazy. I think my younger kids were better for it.