Attacking the minority

May 21, 2012

There have been a lot of annoying articles written about attachment parenting recently as part of the buzz created by TIME’s recent stunt.
But probably the most annoying article I’ve read is one published by the Guardian last Friday, written by Katha Pollitt. Her sub-heading claims that,

“The latest fashion in child-rearing is about regulating the behaviour of women, not benefiting children.”

That’s possibly the most twisted take on attachment parenting I’ve heard so far. Attachment parenting not about benefiting children? How did she arrive at that conclusion?

And clearly it is inconceivable that women could genuinely act out of love for their child, love of being a mother, and through natural instinct and informed choice. There must be some ulterior motive. Or they’re just fashion victims.

She accuses attachment parents of projecting their guilt ‘outward onto more relaxed mothers’. Strange. I’m not sure how I project something that I don’t feel, but if I make other mothers around me feel guilty then I’m very sorry, but I would gently suggest that the problem originates with their own perceptions and insecurities, none of which are within my control.

The article goes on to suggest that instead of practising attachment parenting our efforts would be better put into tackling child poverty, as this ‘affects children’s well-being more directly’ – a clear failure to grasp the whole concept of attachment parenting as a long term goal.

Sure, we need to tackle child poverty, but make no mistake, no matter how much we reduce poverty, social problems will not go away if we continue to fail to understand and take seriously the emotional needs of our children. And I’m not saying everyone must practise attachment parenting, but a little open-mindedness might help, a little more willingness to consider new ideas and information.

Ms Pollitt’s ignorant remarks are insulting, to say the least, and on more than one level. They are insulting to women who make this parenting choice, not just by dismissing the parenting style itself, but by suggesting that they are merely following a fad, are victims of some sort of social conspiracy to ‘regulate’ their behaviour, and furthermore, do not actually have the best interests of their children at heart.

As usual, the minority are an easy target for ridicule and attack. A typical social problem, and perhaps another example of our failure to raise human beings who are able to be respectful and empathetic towards each other.

Perceptions of pressure and blame.

April 4, 2012

One of the greatest challenges when writing about parenting is trying not to upset people.  Parenting seems to be a very touchy subject, an area where people will become fiercely defensive, easily offended.

In a recent article in the Guardian about the government’s proposals to provide free parenting classes for parents of under fives, a founder of one of the courses was reported to have said that “challenging someone’s parenting skills is one of the strongest challenges to their identity”. The article also talks about parents’ reluctance to sign up for courses due to a perception that they are being accused of being bad parents. “Providers have to avoid any suggestion that the courses are created to help bad parents; instead they need to persuade people it’s about “building on their good points”.”

Another article describes how parenting books “leave mothers feeling confused and inadequate.” Parenting authors are accused of “setting the bar too high”.

This perception, that too much is expected of parents, that parents are being accused of having poor parenting skills, was again apparent when I was reading, with some surprise, the comments made on Facebook in response to an article challenging the use of sticker charts, published as a guest post on the excellent Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond, and also shared by other bloggers who I follow, who in turn attracted some interesting comments.

I ‘m starting to see a bit of a theme here, but there’s something about it that bothers me. It somehow doesn’t ring quite true for me.  It seems (and here I’m going to risk upsetting people), to be a bit of a cop out.  It seems dismissive, a failure to take things on board.

“There are much worse things parents could do”, “Oh please, I’m doing my best”, “It’s unreasonable to expect parents to get everything right”, “There’s so much pressure on parents these days”, “It’s not fair to make parents feel guilty.” etc etc

All perfectly true, I’m sure, but is this an argument for using sticker charts, for example? I would have felt much better if readers had responded with comments as to why they think rewards are OK, pointed out evidence that disputes the research behind the case against rewards, or even, and here’s possibly the crux of it, simply said that they realised rewards were not OK, but that they still choose to use them for whatever reason. Fair enough.  Your choice. Just don’t play the ‘don’t make me feel guilty’ card.

I mean, really, where does it stop? At what point is a piece of writing acceptable and useful, and at what point is it “putting too much pressure on parents”? Where do we draw the line?

Articles and books about the negative effects of punishments, about the campaign against spanking, the campaign against the use of controlled crying, pressure groups seeking better childcare for under 3s, campaigns to promote breastfeeding – are these all to be dismissed as simply putting unreasonable amounts of pressure on parents and making them feel guilty?  It seems to me we can conveniently produce the “Don’t put pressure on me and make me feel guilty” defence whenever we find something too challenging.

But there’s another element here for me. We must all be mindful of accepting other people’s parenting choices, yet it sometimes seems to me that this acceptance is not always a two way thing. I once heard a parent comment about another parent’s use of a sling to carry her baby. “I always put my children in a pram and they’re not any less attached to me”. (How do you know? Have you done a comparison study?) But can you imagine the outcry if a sling-using parent made such a dismissive and disrespectful comment about a parent who chose a pram? There’s something kind of unfair to me here. Parents who choose to do things perceived to be ‘the hard way’ don’t seem to be getting their fair share of respect.

Parenting writers provide information and opinions, food for thought. Good ones provide evidence to back up their arguments, or have studied their subject extensively. But they don’t set out to call anyone a bad parent, anymore than mothers who use slings are calling  mothers with prams bad parents. Let’s not dismiss what writers and others have to offer. Let’s  make informed choices and be honest about our reasons for making them.

And so it is with the example of Kelly Bartlett’s article on sticker charts.  The information is there. It’s evidence based stuff. And yes, it challenges a popular parenting assumption, and probably makes life more difficult in the short term.  But if we’re really interested in being better parents, we need to take information such as this seriously, look further into it (there’s plenty more been written on the subject), think about, and not just dismiss it with the defensive “I’m doing my best, there’s too much pressure” stance. And OK, if we still feel unable or unwilling to change this aspect of our parenting that is our choice.

I’ll finish with a quote from Alfie Kohn. He writes in his book, “Unconditional Parenting”, about the different reactions he often gets from parents when he talks about the negative effects of too much praise.

“Some people…..brush off these criticisms, point out (with some justification) that in the larger scheme of things, we could do a lot worse to our kids than express enthusiasm about what they’ve done. Indeed, a lot worse is done to children every day. But that’s not a proper basis for comparison – at least, not for anyone who wants to be the best parent he or she can be. The point is that we can do better.”