Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Hey, baby, what's your ideology?

Since my academic research (well, what I can remember of it between readings of Guess How Much I Love You and Everywhere Babies) is about ideologies, I am intrigued by what I have come to call the competing Parenting Ideologies I've run across in my attempt to get educated about this new job of mine. I'm not going to wax all academician on ya or anything, but let me give you the definition of ideology I'm working with here: your ideology about something is the set dominant beliefs you hold about it, and these beliefs usually seem like common sense to you but may not to others.

Let me give you an example of what I mean: I found a picture of me in my baby book, sleeping peacefully on my tummy at about 2 weeks old.

Okay, those of you who have had children in the last half a decade or so kinda stopped breathing a little bit when I said "sleeping peacefully on my tummy at 2 weeks," right? And the rest of you--those kid-less or whose kids are older--are like "what? I sleep on my stomach all the time." This demonstrates a decided difference of ideologies. For those of us with kids preschool-aged and under, the SIDs-fighting Back to Sleep campaign has so effectivelydemonized tummy-sleeping for little babies that we find it a miracle of Lourdes proportions that so many of us who were put to sleep on our tummies in the 70s and 80s made it to adulthood. The rest of you, functioning outside of the scope of the Back to Sleep ideology, don't have these same associations. I'm not saying Back to Sleep is a bad thing--far from it. I am simply noting how effective it's been in supplanting the dominant ideology of my childhood, which was that babies should sleep on their tummies.

So, moving on to parenting ideologies: as best I can tell, most of the books/essays/message boards I've read tend to separate out into two distinct ideological camps: the attachment-parenting/Dr. Sears-lovin'/baby-centric camp and the independence-fostering/Babywise lovin'/parent and family-centric camp. I can usually tell which camp an author falls into by examining his or her comments on the following situations:
1. co-sleeping/family beds versus cribs-in-a-separate-room
2. the importance (or lack therof) of parents maintaining a schedule
3. the damaging effects (or lack therof) of "crying it out"
4. their comments on what will happen if one follows the 'other' style of parenting.

#4 has to be my favorite. I think I've actually read things like "well, if you can't stand to let your baby cry it out, by all means, pick him up--and then get used to people calling him a spoiled brat freeloader hippie scum, because he will be just that if you indulge him." To be fair, though, the other side is just as shameless: "Some parents may decide to allow their child to 'cry it out' without understanding the ramifications of this policy; our neighbor's daughter, who was left to cry it out, could explain its dangers... if she weren't in a maximum security prison."

All of this left me pretty puzzled, as I have never been good at following any one party line. Heck, I am the only person I know who can have a day that starts out decidedly carboholic and ends up seriously Atkins. I am just a chronic half-stepper, I guess: I want to have a family bed, but my son The Thrasher makes that difficult (as I believe I've mentioned). I like keeping a schedule because I tend to overthink things if I don't know what to do next ("so if I feed him now, that means he'll be ready for a nap in one hour and 26 minutes, but the grocery shopping will take a solid hour and a half, so maybe we should take one 27-minute walk, read for 16 minutes..."you see what I mean? Half my daylight is gone by the time I decide what to do!), and I can't bear the idea of not trying to comfort my kid when he cries. So when people ask, "So, which are you?" I really think the only answer is that, well, I'm Bi. I like parts of both camps. My dirty little secret is that I'm ruled more by the moment than by philosophy.

I have become adept at discussing my hybrid ideology. I simply am selective about which parts I discuss. Par example, my attachment-parent friends all know how much I love my sling and how I want to breastfeed my son until his wedding day, and my schedule-advocating, crib-lovin' friends all hear my confessions about how much I really, really want a good night's sleep.

It's been interesting, living this double life. Sometimes my friends from one camp will rage about something they don't know that I do: "She tried to get him to sleep through the night at five months! As if the pacifier wasn't enough--why not just kick him out in the snow with a sandwich board saying 'will work for developmentally inappropriate food!'" Or I'll catch myself editing or omitting a funny story because I know they won't understand. I don't know what I'm afraid of--that they'll figure out I'm a phony and don't really fit in to all the assumptions they've made about me as a parent? That they'll revoke my Attachment Parent certificate or make me go to Cry It Out without passing GO? That they will finally confirm what they've suspected all along: that I'm a lousy mother.

It occurs to me that those who spend the time and breath spent defending, explaining and advocating parenting ideologies/philosophies are driven by the same fears that I hold: that people will think they're frauds and a terrible people and will refuse to nominate them for the Mother of the Year award. As my wise-beyond-her-years friend Kathleen recently reminded me: other people's nasty comments and observations "are so NOT about me."

Really, this is the eternal lesson of parenthood, isn't it? That no matter how much you'd like it to be about you, it just ain't.

Which is why I still don't get why I was picked for this position. But that's another entry for another time.