I am not a better mother than you!

Best Gold text

I did six radio interviews yesterday to promote my new book, PUSH BACK: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting.

Most of them were for drive time radio so it was very important that I condense my message to as short a time as possible. I had my spiel prepared:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]There’s no “right way” to raise a child just like there is no “right way” to have sex. It depends completely on the two people involved.[/pullquote]

  1. Natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting aren’t based on science.
  2. All three are promoted by industries that want to sell you goods and services.
  3. All three are profoundly anti-feminist because they aim to force women back into the home.

But as I gave the interviews, I found that I could condense my message into one sentence:

I had four vaginal births, two with epidurals and two without, breastfed all four and enjoyed it, and practiced attachment parenting … BUT that doesn’t make me a better mother than you!

Why can my message be shortened so drastically?

Because at its heart that’s what the “mommy wars” are about: who is entitled to bragging rights?

It’s not about parenting, and it’s certainly not about babies and what is good for them. There’s no simple answer to what’s good for each family or even what’s good for each baby within a particular family. That’s because each baby is a person with his or her own distinct personality and individual needs. There’s no “right way” to raise a child just like there is no “right way” to have sex. It depends completely on the two people involved.

How did I figure that out? It wasn’t rocket science even though it stems in part from my ability to read the scientific literature.

I figured it out because one of my dearest friends is an adoptive mother and she loves her children every bit as fiercely as I love mine … and I love mine pretty fiercely.

I figured it out because another close friend didn’t breastfeed her children and it hasn’t made one bit of difference. Both are spectacularly accomplished adults.

I figured it out because I’ve spent nearly 30 years as a mother and even more years as a doctor and I learned that individual parenting methods and philosophies might differ but one factor seemed most important regardless of culture, ethnicity or natural origin: all children thrive on parental love. The details of childbirth, infant feeding and parenting during the toddler years don’t seem to matter much at all.

Yes, my reading of the scientific literature confirms that natural childbirth, breastfeeding and attachment parenting don’t produce more successful children or even children who are more attached. Yes, my investigations into the origins of these movements reveal that they were started by people who wanted to force women back into the home. Yes, these movements are profoundly anti-feminist, always recommending more suffering and more work for mothers, and not much of anything for fathers. But that’s not how I figured out that I’m not a better mother than you.

On Monday I did a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) and ultimately got nearly 2000 questions and comments. One question appeared over and over again: what method do you recommend for raising children? I answered the question over and over again: There is no method that is right for every family or even every child within the same family. There is no recipe for raising a successful child.

I realize that for some that is a deeply unsatisfying answer. They want a foolproof recipe not merely because they are anxious to raise successful children, though that is deeply motivating. They want a recipe so that can be sure they are doing it right, and in the case of many mothers, they want a recipe so they can be sure that they are better mothers than all the rest.

That’s not how it works. As a freshman in college I took a course from the sociologist and future Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He said something that has stayed with me ever since: “There is no theory of human causation.” By that he meant that there is no theory that can reliably tell us that specific inputs can create specific outputs in an individual or even in a group. What might motivate one person to do A could motivate another person to do B. We can make some educated guesses, but even educated guesses are often wide of the mark. That’s why the very idea that natural childbirth, breastfeeding and attachment parenting create better, more accomplished, more successful children and adults is ludicrous on its face.

I had natural childbirth with half of my children, and I don’t see a discernible difference between those two groups of two.

I breastfed all four children and I don’t see a discernible difference between them and their college classmates, friends and fellow professionals.

I practiced attachment parenting and when presented with a classroom of children I can’t distinguish those raised with attachment parenting and those raised without.

I did those things because they worked for me and for my family. That doesn’t make me a better mother than you.

“We’re both doing our best even when we do things differently” is not a sexy slogan. It doesn’t get hearts pumping and emotions engaged like “I’m a better mother than you.” But unlike the natural parenting industry, I’m not trying to sell goods and services. And unlike the Sanctimommies I’m not trying to boost my self esteem.

My goal is to offer comfort to women who are struggling to meet demands that ignore their own needs and don’t even reliably meet the needs of their babies.

I did all the things that are supposed to make you a superior mother and it doesn’t make me a better mother than you.

You don’t need to feel guilty about childbirth choices, infant feeding choices or parenting philosophy.

That’s not to say that you aren’t going to end up feeling guilty, but it shouldn’t be about those things.

What should you feel guilty about?

As the mother of four former teenagers, I can assure you that in the years ahead your children will endlessly complain about your many faults and parenting mistakes. Save your strength for those battles and enjoy your babies now.