Monday, January 31, 2011

Snow fatigue and parenting styles

Lord have mercy we have A LOT of snow here in Boston. Because of all of the snow blowing and drifting, the snow mounds in my front yard are as tall as I am (64 inches) and we have received officially a total of 60.7 inches of snow so far. We are due to get 5-6 more inches tomorrow, and a possible 12-20 inches on Wednesday, depending on where the snow/mix line falls. The entire metrowest area and downtown Boston has no where left to put the snow. Roads are down to one car width at most, and roofs are collapsing under the weight of the snow. It is getting tiresome.

So, in an effort to distract myself from all the blinding whiteness, the exhausting routine of boots and hats and coats and gloves and carrying all of our indoor shoes around from office and school to home, I have been catching up on some reading and found two articles on parenting styles that fascinated me.

I had been thinking I would just avoid talking about the first one, because it sort of caused a big stir and people got a bit hot and bothered about it. But it is such a stark contrast to a) my own personal parenting style and b) to the style discussed in the second article I want to talk about, that I decided it would be fun to compare them.

Article one is the much discussed Wall Street Journal article by Amy Chua, whose book on the same topic was just released. The article is an excerpt from the book. I read the article waiting for the punch line. The "Ha ha, just kidding" kind of comment. But she was serious. You need to read the article for the full effect. I won't be buying the book myself, and while I am all for parents parenting the way they feel is best and works for their kids, I will admit to being horrified and slightly nauseated by the description of her piano lesson episode with her daughter. I suppose if this is the parenting style you have always known, as a child it is not necessarily upsetting or disturbing. But I am fairly sure I will never take this approach to parenting. The short version is she has very high standards for her children, they must get all A's in school or she may resort to calling them garbage, and if one of them can't play a piano piece correctly, no one leaves the room until she learns it. There may be screaming, ranting, threats of donating all toys to charity, but the child will learn that piece, by God.

In contrast is the parenting style of Mayim Bailik, known to many as Blossom and as a recurring character on The Big Bang Theory one of my favorite shows. She is now writing a blog about her own experience as a parent. The short version is she is a huge fan of natural childbirth, breast feeding, co-sleeping or the family bed approach to sleeping, there is "gentle discipline" used in her family, they do not ever demand their children say please or thank you. Everyone sleeps together on the floor on two futon mattresses.

I see these two approaches as different points on the parenting spectrum. Both articles have caused a great deal of discussion, and some flat out hostile reactions. Some called Ms. Chua abusive, and some have said Ms. Bailik's decision to breast feed her child up through age 2 as disgusting.

They are extreme positions to be sure. To their credit, in both cases neither woman said "This is the way YOU should parent your child." They are simply sharing how they choose to parent. And making money doing so. Kudos to them for parlaying their world views into a paycheck.

No one is paying me to share this, but for what it is worth - I will take the categories that Ms. Bailik used in her first introductory blog and share our experience with them.

Birth. We planned on delivering the old fashioned way, in a hospital, probably with an eipdural, but nature intervened, I got sick and because continuing to be pregnant was going to kill me and my baby, we had an emergency c-section at 34 weeks. Fortunately it worked out in the end and Cooper is a healthy 4 year old.

We do NOT bed-share. I certainly appreciate why people do, but Cooper started out swaddled and in a bassinet in our room, and after one night was wheeled into his nursery because the kid was the noisiest sleeper I have ever shared a room with. Now, the fact I was not breast feeding helped make this possible. I know when you breast feed on demand, keeping the baby close by helps to facilitate that. Perhaps if we had gone full term and he had been able to breast feed we might have made different choices. But we did what worked for us.

Which leads to her next topic, Breast Milk. I would have loved to breast feed. I did pump for a month, but ultimately Cooper was so tiny he never had the energy to do it. He was very happy with being bottle fed, and eventually he became a formula baby. Again, we went with what worked, and he is a fully developed, happy, healthy 4 year old. We are OK with it.

Baby wearing. Ms. Bailik carries her children in a sling or carrier almost exclusively, and avoids strollers. Again, we gave that a try. I tried a bunch of different slings and carriers, and it worked for awhile, but Cooper was not a baby who really enjoyed being worn. Some kids don't. So we took our cues from him and all is well in the world.

Discipline. Ms. Bailik believes in gentle discipline. She does not negotiate with her children, there are no time outs, but they do set boundaries and have expectations for them. I have used a time out on occaision, but don't find them particularly effective, but I DO negotiate with Cooper. He is, if nothing else, highly motivated by rewards. And I don't think it is ever too early to find out that life is one big negotiation. Whether you are negotiating with your sibling or friend over a toy, or with yourself about how you will spend the next half hour (I can sit hear and read this book, or I can vaccuum the living room, if I don't vaccuum now, I will have to do it later) we are constantly making choices. Cooper is given options all the time. It offers him the opportunity to feel in control, and get something he would like, and I get him to do something I need him to do. Sometimes there really isn't a choice but still he gets to choose to either do what I am asking him to do, or he doesn't get to watch TV, play with that toy or he goes to bed.

I guess our approach has been to figure out what worked at the moment and then do that. We didn't go into this parenting gig with an expection for HOW we would do it, we just knew we HAD to. I appreciate when people have ideals and asipirations and then live them out. I just hope that when they do that, the first question they ask themselves is "What is the best choice for my child in this scenario" and not just do something because it is on the list of things you do when you are X kind of parent. I have seen plenty examples of people who make decisions based on some principle or set of rules they apply to their lives, without really considering if those rules or principles WORK. Are they functional? Do you really get the result you need? It really is okay to change things up if you need a new result.

There is no right or wrong way to parent, in my humble opinion. There may be right or wrong FOR YOU, in that moment, but really, we are all out here just trying to get through life. And find a place to put all the damn snow.


Chip said...

In many non-Western cultures, children rarely touch the ground before they can walk. Crawling is not a function of their development. Better? No. Just different.

Oh and Ms. Mayim Bialik is now a neuroscientist. She's got loads of smarts creds.

Oz said...

I just have to say that we negotiate, too. Sure, some boundaries are firm, but I'm open to negotiation. At about age 6 and 8, my brother and I presented a written, multiple point contract to convince my CFO father to raise our allowances in exchange for more chores. And, after some very tough negotiation and bowls of ice cream, it worked. That was my first lesson in asking for a raise, and I think it was well worth it. I'm with you - negotiation is not all bad.

I wore my babies all the time. But co-sleeping meant zero sleep for me, so we skipped it. Even when we've tried to coax our early risers into more sleep in our own bed, I end up fighting off flying elbows and knees to the nose.