Let's ditch the "one size fits all" model of parenting

August 23 | Guest post by addyeB
Wrong way
Nope, hey, you're doing it wrong. Photo by Crystal.

I caught a segment on the TODAY show a few weeks ago that discussed co-sleeping and a recent study that advocates for it. I personally don't have an issue — I've co-slept in some form with both of my sons. With my oldest son, Brennan, our living arrangement necessitated sharing a sleeping space, and with my youngest it simply made breastfeeding easier.

Of course, just because I've co-slept with my children it doesn't mean that I'm a proponent or advocate of sharing a sleeping space with your children — I'm also not an advocate of baby-wearing, breastfeeding, eating au natural or organic, attachment parenting, or… anything else. I'm also not against any of this. Like many, my parenting style is a kind of mash-up of what I find helpful.

For example, I have a Moby Wrap and a fly stroller. I fed my children with bottles and with breast, depending on what my circumstances called for or what my body was able to do. We eat organic if I can find it on sale (sometimes paying $5-6 for milk that disappears as soon as it goes in my fridge is a budget buster), and other times I'm fine with regular brands. I prefer to cook as much as possible, but I also have a lot of days where fast food saves my sanity and worn-out self.

What I do advocate for is the idea that every parent and family is doing what works best for them. I'm a big believer in trying to not judge other families and parents for their choices — and that's what bothered me about the TODAY show segment. Advocates from both sides (one a doctor and the other a parenting "expert") agreed with the host that the stigma surrounding the decision to co-sleep in the United States keeps parents "in the closet" about their choice to do so. The doctor said that a parents who make the decision to co-sleep is viewed by some as being "weak parent or not having control over your own kids."

Here's my question: why do we attach such ridiculous and harmful stigmas to things that don't call for it? Why are parents taking "sides" and why do they judge each other on things like sleeping arrangements?

Like life, parenting is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Maybe it's the idealist in me, but on this front I'm pretty much middle of the road on the stuff that seems to make parents pull out knives on each other. I don't understand the obsession we seem to have, or at least that the media thrusts upon us, with tar and feathering one another.

My motto is: make sure you're educated and informed, evaluate your life and circumstances, and then get to the business of doing what works best for you and yours.

Whether you go the traditional route or implement an approach that's unconventional shouldn't be what matters — what should matter is whether or not we, as parents, are getting and giving the encouragement, support, and advice that we need to be the best parents to our kids.

What we don't need to worry about is whether or not a parent is tweeting too much instead of spending her time elbow-deep in Play-doh, bottle vs. breastfeeding, baby-wearing vs. using a stroller, dads who stay at home, or about parents who choose to circumcise their boys.

I get it. We all have opinions, and we're entitled to having them. But having the right to our own opinions doesn't always give us the right to voice those opinions — much less judge others because their parenting style doesn't fit into the boxes we've constructed for our own lives and the lives of our children.

So, let's put away the pitchforks and torches — let's stop bullying each other and putting one another on trial. Let's face it: parenting is not for the faint of heart, and kids will often make you want to lose your sanity. Wouldn't it feel better to know that instead of making the currents we find ourselves in rockier, we had a community of supportive parents in our boat, picking up an oar, and helping us row?

I know it would feel a lot better to me. I couldn't care less whether you're breastfeeding your baby, letting him cry it out, or feeding her just-pulled-out of the ground carrots — I just need you to help me keep afloat.

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  1. The best article I have read on this site. Yes I love this site and almost all it's contents but this was right on par with where parents should be. Catering to a child's needs over the parents needs and doing what works best for the whole family is perfect.

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  2. Well said! I have often wondered, when hearing my parent-friends bitch about how so-and-so parents, if they've actually taken the time to talk to so-and-so. Perhaps the "evil parent" actually has reasons for making those choices that make perfect sense – to them – and even if they don't, unless they're actually harming their child in some way, it's their decision to make. I don't agree with everything that my parent-friends do with their kids but hey, it's their life and their children. I'll get to test out my philosophies when I have offspring, and I'm sure that there will also be people clucking their tongues and whispering "I'd NEVER let my child ______!"

    Thank you for refusing to buy into the "parenting is a competition" mindset and letting us see that others out there feel the same way we do.

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  3. Nicely said! We are all unique individuals as are our families. I think the key is when you said 'make sure you're educated and informed, evaluate your life and circumstances, and then get to the business of doing what works best for you and yours.'

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  4. Thank you for writing this. These are thoughts that I've had frequently, and I've seen a sort of "push" towards these attitudes on the internet lately, and I think that with a little more effort, perhaps the "climate" will change.

    We're all just trying to do the best with what we have. And we all need to have a little compassion and acceptance for mothers who don't "do like we do".

  5. I love your perspective and completely agree. I do lots of different things that work for MY family, but don't give a crap how other people parent in THEIR family!

    I work with children, and it really upsets me when I hear other parents and coworkers whispering about what somebody else is doing to their kid (it could be related to food, clothing, sleeping, potty training, etc). Why does it matter so much? I can't even imagine spending so much time obsessing about what other people are doing.

    1 agrees
  6. Thank you for this… I have a 3-month old who was a preemie, and my milk had pretty much dried up by the time she was out of the hospital, despite all my efforts and a lot of work with LCs–and I live in dread of some smarta$$ coming up to me in the supermarket when I've got preemie formula in my cart. We shouldn't have to be like this!

    (I suppose it's just another way to subjugate women by pitting us against each other, right?)

    3 agree
    • Hi Jennifer . . .both my children were preemies. My son was born at 34 weeks and never latched on. I supplemented pumped breast milk with formula just so he would grow. My daughter was born at 30 weeks and latched on. After 6 months, she had not gained a healthy amount of weight. It turns out she was allergic to my breast milk and I had to buy a special broken down protein, preemie formula for her to thrive! Don't fret about what other people say or when they give you funny looks. They have not walked in your shoes. They do not know . . . . .
      All the best
      Nita

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  7. I agree totally. We are very traditional in some ways (homeschooling, I stay home and do virtually all the childcare and homemaking, no soft drinks) and not in others (we don't care about *curse* words, I have piercings and dye my hair, my man and I like to drink occasionally after the kids are in bed, we're Christian but not into churches), so we're not ever fully in one camp or the other. People find it very odd to talk about homeschooling or spiritual convictions over a stiff drink and a cigarette I guess =P

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  8. Thank you for having the courage to say doing what is best for your family is ok as long as everyone is happy and healthy.

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  9. Great article! Each kid has a different personality and each parent has a different personality and "one size fits all" "this is the best parenting advice for everyone" just doesn't work and creates division, judgement, guilt and stress and parenting is such a tough job already.

    I will say it's hard for me to practice what I believe (live and let live) on certain issues (circumcision is a rough one – I personally really disagree with circumcision) but I keep my lip buttoned and try not to get into discussions where I feel I'm going to blast someone. Because after all it is none of my business, it's their child, they get to decide…

    • If you truly believe someone is violating the rights of another human being (i.e. circumcision without the child's consent) or endangering their newborn (by sleeping in the same bed as them for example (not sure if co-sleeping refers to same room or same bed in this context)) then you're under no obligation to keep your thoughts to yourself. Just because it's a mainstream choice that they can legally make doesn't make it ethically right. Of course, you can try to phrase things in the least antagonistic, most compassionate way possible and you still might lose some friends. I much prefer people to stand up for what they believe in rather than silently judge.

  10. I feel validated for reading this and emboldened to stand up to the jackasses who think they need to teach me the "right way" to parent. Thank you.

    also…what is a fly stroller?

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    • I'm guessing she means the slang "fly" as in "awesome" or "cool".

      Unless there is a type of stroller called a "fly stroller" that I am unaware of!

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  11. This just brings tears to my eyes. I lost friends because of our differences in parenting styles and the things they would say about how I'm a horrible parent or how I think it's disgusting to make your child's placenta into a pill and then EAT IT…. I wish I could share this with them.

    It's soooooo true. *tear*

    1 agrees
    • um.. I think the point of this article is that even if we think it's gross to eat the placenta, we DON'T judge others for doing it.. unless I'm misunderstanding your point?

      • I think you and Angela are on the same page — from what I understand, she's saying that while she personally thinks it's gross to eat the placenta, she wishes that she hadn't lost friends over expressing her opinion about doing so. To me, this is totally in line with how I read the article — we should be able to agree and disagree about parenting styles and tactics, and able to discuss our opinions and ideas without fear of judgement or arguments.

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  12. Any breast feeding is a victory, 1 feeding, 1 day anything. Feeding and supplementing should get extra points because its just one more level of complication and dedication. I think its hard to BF but mine hasn't taken to the bottle. If i always had a bottle available would i have made it this far? and kudos to parents that do formula, that is a LOT of bottles!(to make and to wash …) every issue has its pros and cons, when you look across the fence think about both pros and cons.

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    • Rather than saying "Any breast feeding is a victory…" can we just say "Feeding your child by any means necessary is a victory"?

      While I formula fed both my children from the start, I don't want to think that I failed at breastfeeding (never tried for many reasons) nor do I want extra points because I put water and powder in a bottle and shook it. Besides, I think breastfeeding and formula feeding BOTH have their difficulties and as long as we are feeding our children (often times at the sacrifice of our own eating levels) then we all deserve those points.

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    • thank you for acknowledging that bottle feeding is NOT a failure and comes with it's own trials and challenges! and i agree that any breastfeeding is a victory because it is proven that "breast is best". but not having "the best" doesn't mean deficient either, and it's great to have that acknowledged.

  13. Loved the article, very true. To each his own, do what works for you & quit judging others! We need to help and encourage each other, be there for one another!

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  14. What an awesome article! I always feel this way when it comes to a pretty small issue: Babywearing. I totally plan on "wearing" my baby… it seems super convenient for around the house and hiking and such. On the other hand, my husband and I don't own a car and we are trying to avoid buying one for as long as possible. Basically, grocery store runs would be sooo much easier with one of those huge SUV-style strollers because I can throw my 4-5 bags of groceries in there instead of breaking my bag hauling them home! Heck, I don't have a kid yet and I still want the stroller for this purpose!

    I guess the key is being informed about the pros and the cons of each choice. The only thing that annoys me is when people choose something because, "That is how everyone else does it"

  15. I think it's OK to disagree with someone, but you shouldn't go telling that person about it or talking about them to their friends or family. But it doesn't mean you can't have your opinions and think they are correct…..just that it's not always appropriate to share what you think.

    So while I don't think soda is an appropriate drink choice for ANY young child, I would never go up to another parent and tell them they shouldn't give their child a Coke. Mainly because I get really tired of comments about how I shouldn't give my kids spicy food, even though they like it lol

  16. "I just need you to help me keep afloat." LOVE this! I have this daydream where everyone helps to raise children. *sigh

  17. Thanks for this article! As a new mom still finding what works best for my family, this was exactly what I needed! I've been stressed by all the pressure to do everything a particular way and never divert from the "tried and true" method to babies. My son isn't just any baby – he's him!

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  18. Thank you so much for this post. I am expecting my first child in Jan. and have been keeping my mouth shut about alot of the things we plan to do. IE, breastfeed or not, co-sleep or not..things like that. I hate not being able to share what i plan to do with my child just because i don't want to have to listen to someone preach to me either for or against the subject. I plan on sending this post to all my close friends and relatives so maybe they will stop telling me what i should be doing and encourage my choices instead. thanks for uplifting my day full of craps and a sore belly bump. 🙂

  19. Right on! Even before I became a mom, I tried to practice this. As long as someone isn't neglecting or abusing a child, there are so many acceptable ways to parent. Everyone should take a look around them at their significant others/friends/co-workers. You know other people that turned out to be relatively healthy, successful human beings, right? They were probably raised differently than you. That in and of itself is evidence that children can be raised a variety of ways with good outcomes. (Although I acknowledge that some people turn out "good" by overcomin the way they were raised, not because of it.)

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  20. Bravo OBM, this is exactly why I read this website before all others. The biggest lesson I've learned with my 4 month old bundle is precisely this – do what works. If we can all commit to losing the judgement – and don't get me wrong, I too am all to quick to tut and sigh at others – then I think we'd all be happier Mamas with much happier babes. Thank you for this!

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  21. And this is why Offbeat Mama is a million times better than all other parenting blogs

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  22. Fantastic article! In a way it reminds me of the "Your wedding is tacky" article. All about doing what's right for YOU and letting others do what's right for THEM, leave the judgements and the snarky comments at the door.

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  23. This is beautiful. I very recently had a close friend tell me that they were unwilling to watch my son because they deemed him ill behaved and disrespectful. I am actually used to getting told how well behaved and sweet he is, so this was both shocking and hurtful. Thank you for reminding me that their opinions don't matter, having a happy family and a wonderful kiddo do!

  24. Yes yes and yes. I have been a mom for a mere five days and have already dealt with this somewhat. We're having latching issues, and while in the hospital we got advice from every nurse and two of the lactation consultants–all DIFFERENT advice. We decided to go to a specialist yesterday who helped us with many questions…only to see our pediatrician who inadvertently disagreed with our plan of action. I'm super weepy these days and my eyes welled up when she started in on that, so she immediately backtracked and acknowledged that what works, works. Big sigh of relief…as she put it, we have a healthy baby girl and that means we are being successful parents. Felt good to hear that 🙂

    2 agree
    • Hang in there! I had the same experience with advice from the professionals. It is frustrating, but in hindsight I can see that it just goes to show how many ways there are that have worked for different people. It might take a long while (about a month and a half for my little guy and me) but ultimately you know best what your body, your baby, and your sanity need to thrive. Good luck HollyG!

  25. AMEN to that! It's so sad that it appears where parents once supported and advised one another, people seem often to prefer to have a go at other parents for their decisions. People sometimes even throw around child protection terms like 'abuse' and 'neglect' when they actually mean 'doing things differently from how I do them'.

    The culture of fear and of needing 'expert advice' to so much as pick up a baby has led people to forget that kids are resilient. They're not going to be 'scarred for life' by having fast food sometimes/being vegetarian, being left to cry/being attended to on demand, co-sleeping/sleeping in a separate room. Kids have thrived for centuries without 'professional advice', because people trusted and advised one another.

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  26. I love this blog so much and this is exactly why. Thank you so much for providing a place to learn and grow without giving myself a complex. I swear, sometimes it's the last island of saneness in all of the internet.

  27. I really liked this article too. I have not given birth yet but people love to give me unsolicited advice already. As an example, I want to use cloth diapers. I have my reasons and I know they are not for everyone and that is OK. It is a personal choose that my husband and I made. Yet there were a few people who just could not accept that we were trying this method and tried to talk us out of it. What's crazy is they never tried doing it themselves so they have no basis of comparison. The way I see it is there are billions of ways to raise a child, unless you have tried them all you can't judge other people for doing something different from you. Pretty much everyone is trying to do their very best for their family. No one is choosing to do something because they think it is bad for their children.

    1 agrees
  28. This is perfect! The world would turn smoother if we all kept our noses out of everyones business and just lived life the way intend to do.

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