Parenting 101

Before I get labeled a hypocrite — which, granted, it may be too late — I want to make one thing absolutely and completely clear: I have no issues, problems, judgements, or bad things to say about the way that phdinparenting (PHDIP) chooses to parent, raise, school, feed, diaper/potty train, and/or otherwise bring up her children. She has opinions and positions that I do not share, but I don’t have a problem with that. I know many people — even many people whom I love dearly — who don’t share my opinions and/or positions — parenting, politically, spiritually, laundry- and otherwise.

I’m hardly a radical.

I did get a bit snappish and territorial over the rather lengthy comment she left on my Down with the Mommy Wars post, leaving me in a quite ironic position, of course. I’ll put the question out there: was the length of her comment out-of-bounds? A bit long for usual blog etiquette? Or am I talking out of my ear? I did, it is true, ask her the questions, in a private email response to her original comment.

She deems her reply not suitable for her own blog. *Ahem.* So she left it here.

Phdinparenting, as she terms herself online, has a rather interesting blog. I’ve looked around a bit. She seems to have a good following of like-minded parents too. It’s also quite well-written, which coming from me as a professional writer, may (or may not) be a big compliment.

I am curious about something, though, and I’ve been mulling it over. Have I ever!

It’s the idea that parenting is a science, or that one can parent scientifically. For the record, PHDIP also talks about it being an art. Please, please, please, for her whole take on the parenting gig, go visit her site (you can get there via the comments on the Down with Mommy Wars post). I am not providing a summary of her ideas here — I’m not telling both sides of the story. I am writing about my feelings, opinions, and positions. These ruminations are in response to reading some of PHDIP’s stuff.

This, combined with that Atlantic article by Hanna Rosin, have gotten me … stewing. Thinking. Mulling. Bubbling. And then some.

I used the term squishy science in my emails with PHDIP. There is, of course, non-squishy science out there too. The “Back to Sleep” campaign and carseats are the two that immediately come to mind. The Back to Sleep campaign was started in 1992, so it’s 17 years old. Before Back to Sleep, putting infants on their backs to sleep was considered dangerous. Seventeen years ago, the science changed. Carseats for children and infants can only be some 35 to 40 years old. I was not put in a carseat as an infant or toddler; nor was DearDR. (Were you?) I guess we got lucky. In the meantime, there’s no arguing that infant mortality rates from car accidents dropped dramatically.

I’m not about to undertake a point-by-point “scientific” smackdown, though. If you have questions and want to do research, well, that’s why Google was invented. (That’s a joke, son.) (Kind of.)

My point is that I never thought about or adopted a certain philosophy about raising my children. I mean, I thought about having kids, of course, I just never thought that hard about it. And I certainly didn’t set out to raise them based on any certain something — philosophy, science, chemistry, whatever.

I guess one exception is that I do want to raise them in the Catholic faith. But that’s not, in my view, a parenting philosophy.

Oh, I read the books: What to Expect…, Your Pregnancy/Baby Week by Week, some Dr. Sears, Dr. Spock. I talked to people; I listened to people. I went to midwives; I wanted to have a natural childbirth; I wanted to (and did) breastfeed. But I never sat down and said, “Well, I’m basing my parenting decisions on XYZ.” I felt that the reading and listening I did was more a matter of information gathering to know my options — more like guidelines than any hard or fast rules. And I certainly never thought to myself, “Well, I’ll do this scientifically.” I never would have thought that was an option.

All that science out there now, it’s not really that old. Humans have been parenting for tens of thousands of years. The first edition of What to Expect… came out in 1984; the venerable Dr. Spock started publishing in 1946; Dr. Sears’ first book, The Baby Book, was published in 1993.

Once the girls got here, I followed my guts, used what my instincts told me were right. I checked sources, read more, talked to my pediatricians. Discovered what the range of normal was, if my girls fell or fall into it, constantly checked in with myself about what and how I was doing. Cried on the phone to my mom. You know, the usual.

The way my mom probably parented. Was my mom perfect? Yes of course! (Hi, mom. Look away now, please.) Seriously, depending on who you ask, she did a bang-up job or utterly screwed me up (it’s okay, mom, that’s probably dad’s fault. It depends on who’s reading this). Perfect? Probably not. For example, she didn’t buy organic; she didn’t raise me a vegetarian; she spanked me (but she spanked my brother more!). (Actually, my dad probably spanked us.)

Now-a-days, you can look at all those resources above, plus popular magazines and on-line communities and resources, and so on, and you can exclaim, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

And we have. But I’m not 100% sure that the current onslaught of information can be considered hard science, in any sense of the word. Science itself is a squishy word — as DearDR puts it, “What does science mean as a way of knowledge? Why isn’t science the best way to approach Mozart’s 40th symphony or Starry Starry Night?” Why does science, why should science, take priority?

What do you think? Do you have a parenting philosophy? Did you decide before you had children what kind of parent(s) you were going to be? Has that changed since actually having children? How?

My philosophy, if I had to put a name to it? Fly-by-the-Seat-of-my-Pants Parenting. I’m-making-this-up-as-I-go-along-How-am-I-doing-so-far Parenting. Somedays: Really?-I’m-a-Parent? Parenting. I have a lot of those.

As always, I warmly welcome comments — say, between 300 and 500 words long. 😉

19 thoughts on “Parenting 101

  1. I think a parenting philosophy begins with how you view a child. The day care we used for Oliver’s first two years, and where Eleanor is now, has a view of the child we agree with. Children are powerful and capable just as they are, not empty vessels to be filled. They are entitled to be involved in decisions and to our respect. Since we’re trying to keep this to a novelette, I will refer readers to wikipedia, for more info.

    In many ways, we got lucky to have this school available to us. They engage parents and view them as part of a triad of educators, along with the teachers and the environment. I don’t know that we would have thought this through otherwise. They are concerned with the whole life of the child, not just the hours spent in care.

    When all else fails, I just try not to repeat my mistakes!

  2. My philosophy is that I want to be the best parent that I can be. Period. I recognize that I am not perfect and I never will be. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t keep learning. I learn by reading about the “science” and by experimenting with the “art” of parenting. I also learn by reading and observing other people as they parent their children. That is what I love so much about blogging, twitter, etc. I get an opportunity to exchange ideas with others.

    I happen to love learning and I’ve extended my general love of learning to a love of learning about parenting issues.

    (107 words)

  3. This made me realize I have no philosophy. Now I’m scared!

    I agree with you on everything though. You do the research on everything and do the best you can. There is no one way to raise a child. I’ve spoken with my mom about this and what she did with my sister didn’t work for me and visa versa. Each child is an individual and needs to be parented as such.

  4. Two quotes come to mind when reading this, apologies for not remembering who said them.

    ~ There are three sides to every story. Yours, mine and the truth

    ~ There is no fact, only human opinion.

    I agree with both of them even though they totally contradict each other.

    To use your example of the ‘Back to Sleep’ Campaign, it is argued that it has not effective at all, but created a whole new set of problems. Perhaps that makes it what you would term as ‘squishy science’ after all? The campaign was originally known as ‘back to sleep, front to play’ but only the first half of it’s title was really remembered by the majority. The result is reports that babies are more frequently diagnosed with plagiocephaly (flat-head syndrome) and delayed development associated of infant muscular-skeletal systems which helps sitting, crawling etc. The same has been highlighted by some as a result of the over-use of car seats.

    I think as parents, all we can do is listen to the experiences of other mums and the results or critiques of scientific studies then form our own opinions on how we best raise our children. To that end, I love reading the variety of opinions in the comments of parenting blogs such as this. My philosophy is so personal to me that it doesn’t have a proper name, but that said I guess I share it with many mothers and fathers, try-to-find-out-as-much-information-as-I-can-and-use-it-along-with-my-own-maternal-instincts-to-do-the-best-for-my-children.

    (I haven’t done a word count as I have used the number of words I felt I needed to use to get my point across.)

  5. The problem that I see is not with science. Science is great, but the problem with following a “strictly scientific” parenting philosophy (or subscribing to one) is that it does not exist. Science provides the best answers to questions available at a specific point in time. It’s useful, necessary even, but not something to follow as one would a philosophy or religion. Philosophies and religions have texts that are written down and stay the same. Science is constantly evolving and improving upon itself. How do you “follow” something that constantly changes?
    I think we all make the best choices we can based on the information we have available to us. Science can give us some great information, but it can not, should not teach us how to parent. (And I think we’d be hard pressed to find a scientist who believes that science should even have that purpose!)
    I guess I take a more rational approach. I read all I can and try to make informed decisions for my child. I think that’s the best that I can do for her.

  6. There’s so much to be said, but I’ll limit it to the fact that “scientific” parenting seems like an oxymoron. (That’s a word. I’m not calling anyone a moron.) Science says that something happens a certain way every time and can be predicted and planned. Anyone else getting the fact that parenthood is soooo not that? I have 4 kids. Not a one is anything like the other. And the baby? I feel like a new mom all over again with that child. Absolutely nothing is predictable with children. Not breastfeeding, not health issues, not sleep, not growth – nothing.

  7. I parent based on science and on art, much like the opinions expressed here and all over the internet by PHDIP. I am a firm believer in the SCIENCE behind the FACT that human babies are mammals and that in order to gestate a human baby long enough to be “full term” it would take FAR longer than the 40 weeks or so they spend in the uterus.
    Nine months in moms body and nine months on it. For me, that “scientific reality” meant wearing my baby, sleeping with my baby, breastfeeding my baby, responding to my baby when he needed it, being respectful about what I put in my body so that I was respectful of what went into my baby, not letting them CIO, etc., etc., etc.
    Anthropology may be a “squishy science” to some but it is the basis for our behaviours and needs as infants, children, teens and adults.
    I am glad you follow your heart when it comes to parenting. So few people do. Most read the books (including the REALLY SCARY and factually DANGEROUS book you mentioned: “What to Expect . . .”) and then parent the way someone else tells them to. Following some else’s path is never the best solution for figuring out what YOUR baby needs.

  8. There is a lot of science to support parenting your baby the way your motherly instincts tell you to. Many people follow the advice of the baby book “experts” even though it goes against what their guts tell them to do. How often do we hear people say they used CIO even though it was awful listening to their baby cry and they had to leave the room and cried themselves? Then when you actually look at the literature you see that science backs up what you already knew: the best kind of parenting is responsive parenting. I’m not really sure why this is a bad thing.

  9. Well, first, it’s an abuse of the term “science”. A science by definition is a discipline that makes falsifiable (testable) predictions. It should be obvious on its face that no such thing is possible with parenting. We can get statistical evidence that certain things are good, like giving the child plenty of play time; or that certain things are bad, such as throwing your empty whiskey bottles at them. But, since every child is *different*, there is no way to tell exactly what the best approach for any given child and situation will be.

    And that’s my second problem with any attempt to reduce parenting to a set of rules (I won’t say a science): it makes the provably incorrect assumption that all children are the same, or mostly the same. (Our gang of 4 was a perfect example. One is in the entertainment industry; one is a recovering (yay!) addict with great sales skills; one is a cop; and one is an enigma.)

    I do think that there is some value in learning what works for *most* children, and what doesn’t work for *most* children. (and what exhibits so much variation that you can’t properly draw conclusions; and what can’t be studied with sufficient statistical control to draw a valid conclusion.) And then you have to apply your necessarily imperfect knowledge of how *your* child is going to react.

    The good news is that children are much less breakable than many parents initially think. It takes an awful lot to break a kid that wasn’t born flawed in the first place.

  10. Wow. lots to think about here. I think my philosophy is based on answering a few questions:

    Are my children healthy and safe?

    Are my children happy?

    Are my children getting what they need to become the best people they can be?

    When I am having trouble deciding what to do, I come back to finding the answers to those questions. Often answers are not clear cut and you have to shift priorities based on the situation. As we have all said, no one is perfect, and we can all do only as much as we are capable of doing with the resources and support that we have.

    I would also like to say how grateful I am for all the resources and support I have in raising my children, especially my family and friends. I know some who are not so lucky.

    Science and research are very helpful, and valuable guideposts, but nothing fills my heart like hearing my children laugh and seeing them smile 🙂 I am sure that is true for all of you as well! I savor all the hugs and kisses!

  11. From N: “…it really is an interesting response that so many people (women?) feel so strongly about what makes a good Mom. [rpm note: she emailed before Karl weighed in.]

    “For the record: I breast AND formula fed both my kids, I let them cry it out so they would learn how to sleep, love the Montessori approach to early education, and I think that any woman who critizies another for their chosen mothering tactics (other than the Octomom who is a nut job) needs a slap on the head.

    “Fo shizzle.”

    She’s got my back!

    I have a lot of people to respond to, and I will get around to that. All in all, I am pleased about the conversation here — as odd as I find some of the assertions. I hope no one feels put down or belittled or shamed.

    Thanks, everyone, for the comments. If you haven’t checked out the “Down with the Mommy Wars” post, I encourage you to. We all need to come together, agree to disagree, and respect and support each other as women (and man), as parents, as people.


  12. @clumberkim: That looks like a very interesting approach to early childhood education. I will look it over. Thank you so much for sharing.

    And, yes, we do stumble from time to time. That’s why we have more than one child, isn’t it?

    @TTG: Don’t be scared! You’ll be fine. I think the important thing is that there is community, and there are a lot of resources out there. Use what you can, and go with your gut. In parenting, I think it’s just as important as the brain.

    And as the brain is so fogged from sleep-deprivation from time to time, the gut is much better now and again.

    @PrettySprinkles: The word count was kind of a joke. PHDIP left an overly long comment on another post of mine instead of replying to an email I sent. No worries.

    And I like those quotes. Your point about the Back to Sleep campaign is part of the larger point: the “science” of parenting is so inexact, and so changing. I never thought of invoking it when talking about parenting.

    @Michelle: “Informed decisions!” Dang, that’s exactly what I meant. Those two words probably would have made this a much shorter post. And, yes, that is my point about science. Thank you for summing it up so neatly!

    @Karen: If oxymoron did mean really big moron, wouldn’t that just be great though? It’d be a polite word. As you know, I value your input highly as such an experienced mom with such awesome, special kids.

    @babyREADY, I must admit, I have never heard or read some of the assertions you make here. Which is not to say that I’m saying they are wrong, I just have never heard them, or if I have (some Dr. Sears in there, attachment parenting?), it’s in a different way. Thank you for weighing in. I must admit to being extremely curious about “What to Expect when you’re expecting” — probably one of the most popular and well read books about pregnancy — being dangerous. If you would care to reply, please email me privately. Thanks.

    @Hope: Thank you for asking those questions. And thank you for injecting some of the idea of the joy that is parenthood. Neither science nor art — just joy.

    I think I have a couple more people to reply to. I’ll get to you all. Thank you, again, for your time and your participation.


  13. What to Expect…is a scary scary book. Upon reading it I began to wonder how the world was even populated. Because there are so many negative things in that book. Scary stuff.

  14. @TTG, scary, yes, I agree. They don’t pull the “here’s another bad thing for you to freak out about” punch. I didn’t read it after my first pregnancy (the one gone wrong). But factually dangerous? That’s the question on the table.

    I think there is actually too much information out there for mothers and mothers-to-be. A little more ignorance would be just fine in some cases. IMHO.

    Thanks for commenting!


  15. For goodness sake, I am not going to list for you all of the reasons that there isn’t a health care facility that I am aware of (here in my part of Canada anyway) who will recommend “What to Expect” because of the dangerous guidelines it distributes, the fear-based “information” and scare tactics. If you don’t know then I understand that it can seem overwhelming to consider, especially if it is one of the books you read. As an educator and public speaker I hear over and over again (especially from MDs and midwives) how grateful they are that I recommend against the book.
    As for the reasons for wearing a baby and the length of full gestation for a mammal look at any of the work of anthropologists who focus on infants and pregnancy. Just take the work of Dr. Katherine Dettwyler as one example.
    I am glad that I have brought to light some issues that differ from what you have heard in the past. It’s all about learning and broadening our knowledge base, right?

  16. @babyREADY, please give me an example of one of What To Expect’s dangerous guidelines. Thank you. This book was even in my midwives’ library, and I really have never heard one health care professional recommend against it. There’s no need to be snippy about it.

    I agree that it, and the week by week books can be a little scary. I don’t think they MEAN to be; I think they mean to be helpful by giving moms all the information. But too much info can be a scary thing. See my reply to TTG.

    I will look at Dr. Dettwyler’s research; I haven’t heard of her yet. This is all very interesting. Thank you. And yes, absolutely, to your last question.


  17. […] is to raise well-adjusted, happy, responsible adults. I don’t propose to do that by parenting out of a book. I don’t propose to do that by being a helicopter parent. I don’t propose to do that by […]

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