A Parent By Any Other Name

You can chart your own path because, and this is important, no one else has ever raised your kids before.
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Blank nametag on girl's clothes close up
Blank nametag on girl's clothes close up

Seems everyone has a label these days. We've got tiger moms, attachment parents, and detachment parents, helicopter parents, permissive parents and free-rangers. You can be a working parent or a stay at home parent. There are French mamans bringing up their bébés properly and over-scheduled American soccer parents. You can practice heart-led parenting or simply call yourself a Sh*tty Mom. You may have friends who are simplicity parents, duct tape parents, grace-based parents, playful parents, crappy parents, scary parents, peaceful parents, fearless parents, or scream-free-positive-pushing-happiest-baby-on-the-block-unconditional-oh-dear-God-I-don't-have-a-label parents.

Whatever happened to just being a middle-of-the-road mom? Can you try to feed your kid organic food, but still let them have a Nutter Butter? Can you insist on bedtime routines, but occasionally let your kids stay up late and or let them sleep in their superhero costumes? When did the rules become so rigid and extreme? I'd like to start a new club called the "I think I'm doing this ok but I might be wrong, but that's ok too and maybe you'd like to join me group." We meet every Wednesday night after the kids are asleep. And if you're late because your kid was on a sugar high and you caved and read her 10 stories instead of two because you didn't have the strength to argue, that's ok. We'll save some wine for you.

Sometimes I wonder how our parents and grandparents survived without a clearly defined parenting philosophy. We are all lucky to be alive.

It isn't that I dislike labels. I find them really useful when I'm shopping for the right size clothes, the shampoo that won't dry out my hair and my favorite tomato soup. I'm less comfortable clumping parents together into groups based on "parenting style." I have always thought people were different than groceries. Maybe I'm buying the wrong soup.

Labels can be handy. I occasionally call myself a "working mom." It's easy, accurate, and helps people understand why I'm frustrated when yet another lacrosse game is scheduled for four in the afternoon. But I also think labels are simplistic and reductionist. Sure, they give us a way to categorize, evaluate and choose among various options. At the same time, they make it easier to judge or criticize or demean another person for choosing a different path. I think that does all parents a disservice.

Parenting is complicated -- labels are easy.

Labels also change. They fade and tear and fall off. They become obsolete. They are replaced by newer, brighter, shinier logos. The product gets rebranded and gets a new celebrity spokesperson. This is as true for parenting as it is for anything we buy in a store. French parenting is all the rage this week -- next month something new will be on the shelves to tempt us.

I understand the desire to adopt a label that says, "I am this type of parent. I do these types of things." Who doesn't want to belong? Wouldn't it be easier to use someone else's perfected techniques to raise our kids rather than struggling through each day trying to figure out sleep routines, feeding, and activities on our own? There are plenty of reasons to buy a parenting book, take a seminar (did you know there are seminars!?), find a support group or adopt a particular parenting strategy. I used to have a shelf of books designed to help me decide how to vaccinate my son and how to make babyfood. I wanted information and I wanted a lot of it. Now, I know more about vaccines than I ever imagined and I make a mean vanilla applesauce.

If you find yourself concerned, confused, scared or uncertain, get yourself a parenting book and read it from cover to cover. Before you become overwhelmed and overtired and overworked, pick up the phone and call your most fervent parenting acquaintances. If you have questions -- ask. If you don't like the answers you get, ask again. There is a wealth of information out there on everything from colic to breastfeeding to tantrums to teenage rebellion. We should use it. But use what you need and feel free to leave the rest behind. Just because a certain parenting method says it is imperative to breastfeed or co-sleep or let your kids cry it out or set firm boundaries or let your kids walk to school when they're five or never let them see you cry does not mean you have to do it. You can chart your own path because, and this is important, no one else has ever raised your kids before.

You know when your parents told you to stand out from the crowd -- to challenge conformity and be your own person? It was true when you were 13 and it's more important now. Refuse to be constrained by someone else's idea of how you should parent. Reject the idea that someone else is doing it better just because they have a philosophy or plan. Remember that long before there were labels, there were parents raising generations of kids.

There are two things that most parenting styles have in common. The first is that every single one of them has the same goal -- to raise happy, healthy children. We all want the same thing, no matter the label we choose -- or don't choose. The second is that no matter what type of parent you decide to be, you're still a parent first. No label can change that.

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