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Thursday Paragraph(s)*: I’m Taking Gentle Back.

[*The Thursday Paragraph started as a way to inspire me to write a single paragraph about a simple idea on Thursdays (duh). You can see how well that has gone. I have learned that I am pretty much incapable of writing just one paragraph, and I’ve decided that I don’t care. I always start with a single paragraph, thinking, “oh, that’s a manageable little idea.” But then, I want to write more, so I do. Oh well. We’re calling them Thursday Paragraph(s) now.]

{Today’s Thursday Paragraph(s) were inspired in part by Squintmom’s post on Mom-dating and the struggle to find other moms to share our parenting adventures. I wish I could mom-date Squintmom. I’m pretty sure we are long-lost sisters or something.}

Somehow, I survived my pregnancy and BabyC’s first 8 months without seeking mothering advice from blogs and online parenting forums. How on earth did I figure out breastfeeding and how to get my baby to sleep? I read a few books (even some journal articles, but that was just to appease the nerd in me), talked to my friends who were having babies around the same time, and consulted with my #1 mothering expert – my own mother.

My mother and I, February 1980. I love this photo.

I count myself as very lucky to have a mother who is both experienced and well-educated when it comes to breastfeeding and other baby basics. My other mama friends gave great advice, too, and were a nice sounding board when I was trying to sort out the latest nap mystery. Also, I trusted my instinct. I was totally new to this mothering thing and felt like I was blindly feeling my way most of the time, but I did know my own baby, and I figured out a lot just by respecting who she was.

Anyway, Husband, BabyC, and I moved to a new town when BabyC was about 8 months old, and I started blogging (and spending a lot more time online) around the same time. I discovered this whole new world of moms, and most of it was wonderful. Through blogging, I could stay in touch with high school and college friends who were also having babies, and I could meet mothers from around the world with whom I had a lot in common. I also discovered that in the online world of moms, there are an increasing number of labels that mothers use to describe themselves and their parenting philosophies.

There are natural mamas, crunchy mamas, and alternative mamas. There are lactivists and attached mamas. There are hip mamas and mamas who like to call themselves “bad mothers” though everyone knows they aren’t. Oh, and then there are my favorites: the peaceful parents and the gentle mamas. Those ladies are really radical.

Each of these labels, I learned, comes with a fairly specific set of parenting beliefs. If I ignorantly called myself an attached mama, because, you know, my child is really attached to me and I’m attached to her, that puts me into a convenient slot reserved for mothers who co-sleep, breastfeed, babywear, and discipline gently. But wait, I might say, let’s talk about sleep, because I did things a bit differently, and it has worked great. Oh, you’re saying that I can’t call myself an attached parent? And I should find another forum if I want to talk frankly about sleep? Um, OK.

Maybe I can be a natural mama, since I breastfeed, baby-led-wean, use cloth diapers, and feed my baby organic vegetables. But does having an epidural during my labor mean I can’t belong to the natural mama club? Or feeding my baby fortified cereals and a vitamin D supplement? And oh, yeah – vaccinating my child? Yeah, I’m probably not natural enough.

I’m confused. Where do I fit?

I get that the labels are useful. As mothers, labeling ourselves helps us find other like-minded mothers. When we stick to discussions with like-minded people, we don’t have to constantly defend our practices, something that can be downright exhausting. On the down-side – we might miss out on some pretty great perspectives by limiting our conversations to like-minded people. I have learned a lot from the myriad types of mothers that I have found online, but learning requires listening. It also requires the confidence in myself as a mother to choose to ignore some advice. No need to argue about it – we all have different approaches. However, I am glad that I was pretty naive about all of these parenting styles when BabyC was born. I think I would have felt overwhelmed and confused and second-guessed myself a lot more. I’m glad that I allowed myself the simplicity of trusting friends and family and following my instinct.

Of course, I know I’m not the only mama who uses a little bit of this philosophy and a little bit of that – whatever works best for me and my family – and leaves the rest. In fact, I think I am probably in the majority, but we are often a silent majority. The loudest voices are often the most divisive. But no matter, all of us, the quiet and loud, go home and struggle as parents every day, regardless of how confident we are in our parenting philosophies.

I’m OK with the fact that none of the labels seem to describe the kind of mother I am. My real beef with all of this is that I want to be able to use the words gentle, attached, and natural as they are defined in the dictionary and by my grandmother, not as they are defined by the complex online world of moms.

I am Alice, mother to BabyC.

I am a gentle mother.

My daughter and I have the strongest bond – you might even say that we are attached.

And nothing feels more natural to me than being a mother.

What kind of parent are you? Do you think the labels are helpful or hurtful as we try to find our way as parents?

20 Comments
  1. Beautifully written, Mama Alice! Todd was reading this over my shoulder and said “That’s you!” refering to your paragraph of decifering what type of mother you are. I took it as the utmost compliment. You are a wonderful Mama and genuine friend. Keep these blogs coming 🙂

    Like

    November 11, 2011
    • And this is one of the the things I am loving about blogging… I get to share my mothering moments with you:)

      Like

      November 13, 2011
  2. Joanna #

    Hi Alice! I definitely agree with you! I’ve found in my short time as a mom so far that I like to take ideas from here and there. I think we’re pretty lucky that my husband and I are blessed with what seems to be, dare I write it and hope with fingers & toes crossed that this doesn’t change, a pretty easy, laid back baby…

    As with most things, I’m not into labels. I’m more like what you see is what you get. 🙂

    Like

    November 11, 2011
    • I’m so glad to hear that you have a laid back baby! They aren’t all like that – mine wasn’t (but is more so now) – so you are lucky! Thanks for reading. Like I said, it is so nice to connect with friends from my past who are sharing the parenting adventure right now!

      Like

      November 13, 2011
  3. the labels make me a bit crazy, i must admit. especially “natural” — was there ever a more loaded term? i have a post percolating on that one.

    it’s funny, but i think being part of the infertility and lesbian mothering circles online is a real help at avoiding some of this for me. those of us who “belong” to one or both of those groups have something in common to feel bonded over, which allows some diversity of opinion on the “types” of parenting that seem to otherwise be the choice for tribe-finding among mothers.

    Like

    November 11, 2011
    • Oh, I can’t wait to read what you have to say about “natural” mamas! I think it makes complete sense that the infertility and lesbian circles have become your tribes and give you a common bond + diversity of opinion. That seems really healthy to me. When you have the common bond, you are less likely to get nasty with each other – something we all see far too often on the parenting forums. Same thing in real life – if you meet another mom in person, you probably already have something to bond over – living in the same neighborhood, having a kid the same age, etc, and even that small bond helps to keep the conversation respectful and more open-minded.

      Like

      November 13, 2011
  4. Alice…why, oh, WHY aren’t you still in AZ!? 😦

    Well said, and I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t like these labels, partly because they’re divisive, and partly because they imply that one *should* take a parenting philosophy whole, rather than picking and choosing the parts that work best.

    On a side note, feel like a little research project? I have an idea. I’ll send you an email.

    Like

    November 11, 2011
    • Yes! I think you are so right that mothers feel pressured to adopt an entire philosophy so that they can belong to a circle of like-minded mothers, even when the entire philosophy might not be the best fit for the family.

      Like

      November 13, 2011
  5. So funny that you changed the name of Thursday Paragraph. I was just thinking I would change the name on my site, too, because (like you) I often have trouble sticking to just a paragraph. Sometimes I cheat and write multiple paragraphs without splitting them appropriately, such that it would be more accurate for me to call what I write the “Thursday (inappropriately undivided) Paragraphs.” But I’ve got something more fun in mind. Come see!

    Like

    November 11, 2011
  6. Refreshing and well said. I’ve struggled with this from feeling like a “bad” Waldorf parent, or a not well-enough attached parent, etc. I really appreciate your affirmation of taking what works for your family from the approaches out there and leaving the rest. Not every family fits into a pre-set group of practices, and not every set works for each child. We all have to parent the kids we get the best way we can.

    Like

    November 12, 2011
    • Glad you can relate! I think most of us can, in one way or another… I’m really looking forward to following your blog!

      Like

      November 13, 2011
  7. Lori #

    So beautifully written. It seems like there should be enough of us mom’s that don’t fit a label that this shouldn’t be such an issue. Geesh. Sometimes I think all this labeling is a way for moms to deal with the inherent insecurity one feels in parenting. Like, if you have a label and you stick to it, this whole parenting thing will turn out alright… prearranged answers to every parental question! If only it worked that way. Thanks for the thoughtful post. And I think you should move back to AZ too, by the way 🙂 Miss you and your gentle ways.

    Like

    November 14, 2011
    • I think you are on to something, Lori. That – and if you latch on to one particular philosophy, you can find specific support for it. If you want to attachment parent, you can find books, support groups, and online forums. If you do a little of this and a little of that, you are left to wade through oceans of parenting advice trying to figure out what will work for you. We miss you too. And I miss seeing you be an amazing mother to O, because as you know, that’s how I prepare myself for the coming stages with BabyC.

      Like

      November 14, 2011
  8. Robin #

    Lol, Great post, I’m an un-lable-able momma too, a little of this, a little of that, a sprinkle of dirt and a vow to never take myself too seriously. Perhaps we should do that ‘mom-date’ now, perhaps my BabyC and yours can play… while we talk ruminant nutrition.

    Like

    November 26, 2011
    • YES on the not taking yourself too seriously (or anyone else for that matter)! Let’s finally make the mom-date happen! I’ll send you a message. Just don’t expect me to be too eloquent on ruminant nutrition – it has been a few years:)

      Like

      November 27, 2011
  9. I feel the same way! Similarly… I breastfeed, am in the process of baby-led-weaning, use cloth diapers, carry my baby in Bjorn and used sleep training and never co-slept. I also had an epidural during my labor and feed my baby fortified cereals… It seems like every item on this list automatically boots me out of somebody’s club!

    Like

    June 21, 2012
  10. July #

    I find the labels pretty helpful. Not everyone has the same relationship with their parents you do; some of us are trying to find our way to parent in a totally different way than we grew up with. Attachment parenting principles, and my AP support group, have been helpful and uplifting to me in my parenting journey.

    Also — bonus — when I meet another AP mama, I know I’m not going to see her smack her kid. Which, you know, is something I can’t count on with 90% of the parents I know (including many who I love dearly and think are outstanding parents, even if I don’t agree with that particular choice). That’s worth something to me (especially given the aforementioned history).

    I do have friends with very different parenting styles than me. Friends who don’t vaccinate. Friends who *do* smack their kids. Friends who let their kids cry it out. Friends who think babywearing is kind of weird. But the labels are helpful to me in terms of finding people who form a safe, supportive space, and yeah, that’s worth something.

    Like

    August 29, 2013

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