Defensive Parenting

The Young Mother by Charles West Cope (Attribution: Valerie McGlinchey [CC BY-SA 2.0 uk (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/uk/deed.en)%5D)

This probably doesn’t come as any surprise to those who’ve been reading my last several posts about “happy marriage” books I’ve encountered recently, but I’m finding I get very defensive when someone gives me advice about marriage or about taking care of myself vis-à-vis my role as a mother.

I recognize that I’ve chosen a parenting path that’s pretty intense. I embrace what’s referred to as “Attachment Parenting.” That is something of a misleading moniker. I think it conjures images of a child permanently physically attached to her mother. While this is kind of what it looks like for the first year, after that it just means devoting oneself to being the primary attachment figure in your child’s life. It implies a non-violent, non-authoritarian, respectful parenting style that focuses on the value of the relationship between the parent and her child rather than on trying to get a child to do whatever it is we want them to do.

In practice, this means I spend a lot of time with my kids. My husband and I talk things out with them rather than issuing commands. I make every effort to speak to them respectfully and lovingly, even when I’m telling them something they don’t want to hear (sometimes I actually succeed at this). I’m relatively strict, compared to a lot of attachment parents I know, but my daughter and I seem to have less trouble with power struggles than some of her peers and their mothers seem to have (compared to both the attachment parents and the more authoritarian parents, too). That’s not always been the case—we had some really big trouble after my son was born—and it’s taken a lot of work to get to this point.

Maybe this is why I get defensive. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am and to basically build a parenting relationship from the ground up. This is not how I was raised, and while I wholeheartedly embrace my style of parenting, it does not come naturally to me.

I can get a little hinky when people who don’t know me suggest that I need to spend less time with my kids because I need to hang out with my friends more or that I need to lock my kids out of the bedroom I share with my husband because our marriage is more important than the kids are.

In our family, it isn’t “kids” versus “grownups.” We try our best to run our family cooperatively and to value everyone’s needs equally. The grownups have the final say, but that’s not because our needs are more important. It’s because we’ve been around longer and we have a better ability to see the long-term ramifications of our decisions. It’s also because I think young kids need to feel protected by someone more powerful than they are. As our kids get older, they’ll gradually get to have more say in how things go.

It’s annoying to me that so many marriage and parenting books are set up in this adversarial “us or them” manner. I agree with the basic premise: I can’t provide for my children’s needs if I’ve not provided for my own first. But so many of the books I’ve read and the advice I’ve heard give rigid suggestions (like the weekly schedule I mentioned in my post the other day) for how to meet one’s needs. They don’t take into account that each individual’s needs are different from everyone else’s and that one’s needs today might be different from one’s needs tomorrow.

For example, in the book I’m reading now (Raising Happiness by Christine Carter, which is very good, by the way), the author talks about how it’s of the utmost importance to take ample time to hang out with your friends and strengthen those friendships, even if that means you don’t get to spend time with your kids.

Two things I don’t like about this. One, kids sleep. I can hang out with my friends while my children sleep and not lose out on time spent with my kids. Two, I don’t need that much time with my friends. I’m an introvert, for crying out loud. If I’m going to forgo spending time with my kids, I’m going to shut myself in a room by myself before I’m going to go out to a restaurant with the gals.

And this is how I react to a book I like. Other books are much, much worse.

They ignore the fact that some needs, like those of an infant, are more immediate than those of the grownups. If my baby needs to nurse more often than some expert says he ought to, I’m going to listen to my baby and meet his needs, even if that means trading a trip to the gym for a walk around the park (with the baby in the carrier nursing the whole time). I’m an adult. If I can’t compromise on how and when I meet my needs, I probably shouldn’t have gotten into this parenthood biz.

Even as I write this, though, I wonder if I’ve gotten the wrong impression. Before my first child was born, I was worried about postpartum depression, and I wanted to do everything I could to avoid trouble with it. A friend who’d been there said, “The most important thing for me was to get out of bed and get dressed every morning, even if I wasn’t planning to go anywhere.”

So, every morning of the first week of my daughter’s life, I got out of bed and got dressed in my now-baggy maternity clothes. When I mentioned this to my friend a few weeks later and said how hard it had been for me, she said quietly, contritely, “Oh. I didn’t mean to do it the first week. Later. You do that later. The first week you stay in bed.”

I wonder if I’m reading books that say they’re geared towards “parents” in general when they’re actually geared towards parents of school-aged children. Maybe they’re not speaking to me at all, and here I am getting all up-in-arms.

Wouldn’t that be embarrassing.

9 comments

  1. Jessica · February 24, 2011

    My first baby is six and a half weeks old and I spend nearly 24 hours a day cuddling him in an armchair in my bedroom. During this time I read lots of blogs – and various parenting books when I can. I’ve enjoyed your parenting posts for their level headedness and critical thought. I am a lot like you when it comes to reading and blogging it seems – I get lots of different books from the library and even the ones I like, I’m very critical of. I think it’s important to evaluate all information critically and take things “with a grain of salt.” there are truly a lot of whack-job “experts” out there. I think it’s important to go wig your gut when something doesn’t ring true for you.
    I think you have made a great point that some of those marriage books aren’t really talking about young children. I’ll certainly keep that I’m mind as I’m learning about this parenting thing through books and other people. Sorry you had to learn that the hard way, but good for you for taking that experience and applying what it taught you to another situation.
    The truth is one parenting style does not work for everyone and even our dearest friends may have very different views. Anyway, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog – found it through Zoie’s Tweet.
    Oh- and it’s so nice to hear from Emily Frogley’s comment that the baby goes on date night, and from you that it’s possible to exercise with the baby nursing in a carrier! It’s good to hear other views than those of my local peers who couldn’t wait to leave the baby with a sitter for date nights and exercise.
    Cheers!

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    • CJ · February 24, 2011

      Jessica- Congratulations on your little one! I’m honored that your spending some of your valuable awake time reading my blog.

      Like Emily, I’m also a big fan of taking the baby on date nights. When they’re young enough, most people don’t even notice them (well, with my second. With my first, it took me a long time to get the hang of the nursing thing, even at home, let alone out in public. But even then, it seemed like most people didn’t notice, even when I put nursing pads on the restaurant table in front of me).

      It’s an ongoing project of mine to avoid judging others, especially other mothers. I’m happy to offer my personal experience, but I’m trying to let go of the idea that anyone else will necessarily change what they’re doing to match my opinions. I’d rather not have that much power anyway, and like you say, there is no one-size-fits-all parenting method. If there’s one rule that serves me fairly well, though, it’s that if getting advice that’s rigid and specific regardless of the source, is often worthy of an extra amount of skepticism. Anyone that says they have the answer for everyone is not someone I trust. I don’t want to act like those people I don’t trust. What would be the point?

      Enjoy your little baby boy. My baby is 18 months old now, and while I love every new adventure we have together, I really miss that tiny baby time. *sigh*

      Oh, and if there’s a La Leche League group that meets in your area, you might want to check it out. I’ve found most of my closest friends through LLL. The meetings are wonderful and the moms who go there are just incredible. I always come away feeling like I’m a part of something bigger than just the little “trying to get through the day” world I fall so easily into.

      -CJ

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  3. TouchstoneZ · February 20, 2011

    Thank you for writing this. I resonate with this post so much. Here I am, confident in how attachment parenting, & all the other crunchy granola stuff we do, works for our family, but have some “expert” write down their advice and I question. I’m not sure if this is necessarily a bad thing because it means I’m constantly readjusting to the changing family needs, but it’s the doubt/guilt combo that’s my killer

    Like

    • CJ · February 20, 2011

      I think it’s hard to buck the norm. There’s not solid backing and when someone gives us a shove, it can feel like we’ve got nothing there to catch us.

      But then, on the “good” days, I welcome the criticism because it helps me to strengthen my convictions.

      This is, I think, why it’s helpful to have a community (even if it’s just a virtual community) of like-minded folks to buoy us up. It’s kind of a stand-in for the support that others (I assume…I could be totally off on this) feel by virtue of going along with what our culture dictates.

      Strange that not following the Babies R Us list of recommended items for expectant mothers is a radical act.

      At any rate, I’m grateful that you and so many other wonderful mamas have got my back.

      Like

  4. Jenny · February 19, 2011

    In response to the blog buddy thing, rather than the parenting thing (as I have very little experience with parenting actual human children), sure, let’s make it official. Let the motivating begin!

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    • CJ · February 20, 2011

      Woo-hoo! I’m on it!

      Like

  5. Emily Frogley · February 18, 2011

    I think you’re absolutely right. I think most of these marriage/parenting books that talk about getting “away” from your children and “having your own life”, etc, are geared more to people like my parents… who still have a couple of teenage kids at home, but really NEED to cultivate relationships outside of their now tiny family. This is why my mom finally got a part-time job… when her youngest child entered school.

    On the other hand, I think WAY TOO MANY parents these days misinterpret these books exactly as you have done… they assume that this means they must leave their children with strangers (even if their baby is screaming the entire time), just to “get away” and “have a life.” These poor parents are completely missing out on the infancy & childhood of their children. We need more people pointing out that when babies are little, we need to stay with them, or take them with us.

    Personally, I do enjoy a semi-private date night with my husband when we get a chance. I have no problem leaving my older children with sitters or family, while my husband and I go out to eat, or possibly out to a movie. However, I don’t leave young babies… if they’re less than a year, they come with us. Period. Even if they can go long enough without nursing to be left behind, they still come. I don’t regularly leave the babies behind until closer to a year & a half, and even then it depends on the caregiver I’m leaving them with, how long I will be gone, and the temperament of the child. And at this point… a break from all the older kids is still a break. A young baby (especially one who nurses completely through dinner, then sleeps through a movie) doesn’t put any damper on date-night, or adult conversation. 🙂

    We all need to stay in bed that first week, and stay with our children for the first year (or six 🙂 ), and LATER, get out and cultivate good friendships.

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    • CJ · February 18, 2011

      Oh, Emily! I so appreciate your thoughtful and supportive comments (and the fact that you read my blog!). Thank you so much!

      Like

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