On refusing to let your kids take over your life

Guest post by Carly Lockman
kid pile
By: Laura BittnerCC BY 2.0

I live in Chicago. Like most metropolitan areas, it has a lively population of over-educated, upper middle class parents. They wheel and deal Bugaboos and Maclarens with the deftness of seasoned car salesmen. They have read absolutely every book ever written on parenting and subscribe to a specific philosophy. They are exhausted.

When my daughter was born I couldn’t stand to hear her cry. Not for a second. I imagined her feeling terrified and alone if she whimpered for more than thirty seconds before I tended to her. At first I thought I was creating a healthy bond between mother and child. I thought I was making sure she knew I was reliable. By her two-month birthday, however, I started to worry that my behavior was extreme. I imagined her turning into a totally dysfunctional adult. Living in my basement, even.

It didn’t take long for a therapist to connect the dots and determine that I was over-correcting for the failure of my own mother to create a secure environment for me. She’s an alcoholic. Still, I couldn’t help but note all of the other urban mothers and fathers around me parenting with a particular franticness.

When these parents would visit my husband and me when our daughter was a newborn, they had no encouragement to offer. Not sleeping? Get used to it. Breastfeeding your baby around the clock? It doesn’t get much better. Missing your adult time? Try to carve out some in five years.

It became clear that their primary goal was to excel at parenting, where good parenting is defined by the impossible standards of contemporary, American books on the subject. Their secondary goal was to dismiss their perfect children from their care in eighteen years and “get their life back.”

By their definition, parenting was going to be nearly two decades of waiting for the weekend — in the process of which I may or may not lose every ounce of self-respect and signs of a waistline.

In a desperate search for another way, I consulted Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bébé. It confirmed much of what I had already intuited about parenting but ignored while trying not to be my mother. Its premise is that children should not have every one of their needs met immediately. It suggests that kids must experience some struggle in order to gain coping skills.

The book claims that many French parents don’t tell their children to “stop.” Instead, they say “wait.” For example, if a child interrupts an adult speaking, he is told to wait for the parent to finish. Some parents believe that to be a successful adult you must be able to wait without getting rattled.

It makes sense. So much of the way we feel and act day-to-day hinges on our ability — or lack thereof — to wait for things. We wait for public transportation. We wait for job advancements. We wait for relationships to progress. Those who can’t wait while maintaining a certain amount of decorum are chastised. And rightly so — they’re probably assholes. Like the guy who shoved you out of the way to get on the train this morning.

Unlike many of their American contemporaries, some French parents don’t give in to their children. They don’t bargain or negotiate. They don’t pose idle threats. The result is that many French children clearly understand and respect boundaries for behavior.

This is not to suggest that these French parents are heartless authoritarians. On the contrary, they lavish their kids in love and a healthy amount of praise. They just insist on raising them within a “cadre,” a term referring to a strict framework of limits, within which there can be a certain amount of freedom. By insisting a child wait, you remove him from a constant state of want and allow him to adopt a peaceful existence.

An example of the cadre at work is giving a child the choice of chicken or fish for dinner, versus open-endedly asking him what he wants to eat.

Doesn’t this sound great? It does to me, too. It resonates with my instincts about parenting on a very basic level. However, implementing strict boundaries and teaching my child to wait is tough in urban America, where I recently read an article suggesting that it’s cruel to face your child out while wearing him in a carrier because it prevents you from responding to his needs quickly enough. (Are you effing kidding me? How much faster can your response time get when your kid is strapped to your chest?!)

I still question myself when I tell them that, while I don’t leave the room when she’s crying at bedtime, I don’t pick her up either.

I am not yet adept at brushing off the disapproving looks I receive from other parents when I don’t instantly respond to every disgruntled noise my baby makes. I still question myself when I tell them that, while I don’t leave the room when she’s crying at bedtime, I don’t pick her up either.

Druckerman suggests that the overparenting Americans are doing now is a backlash to eighties divorce culture. We want to be less selfish than our parents were. The trouble is, in our vehemence to be available to our children, we’re smothering them. We’re depriving them of the autonomy necessary to function effectively as adults later in life — a success that is arguably the endgame of parenting.

In the process of inadvertently rendering our kids incapable, we’re exhausting ourselves so completely that the rewarding moments of parenting are made obsolete.

Can I just tell you something?

I can’t stand to live my life dog tired anymore. I’m twenty-six years old and I have spent a good deal of my time as an adult being miserable for the sake of some distant, unsure payoff. I can’t treat parenting as yet another string of herculean tasks that may or may not result in future satisfaction.

I won’t.

I want my daughter to see that I am happy with my life now. I want her to understand on a fundamental level that she deserves happiness, too. And, I want her to be able to handle life’s obstacles as a confident and capable individual… Preferably one who doesn’t grow up to live in my basement.

Comments on On refusing to let your kids take over your life

    • I agree– I love the idea that we shouldn’t parent in a state of constantly waiting for the “weekend,” and I agree that we need to teach our kids that our needs matter, too. I sometimes think about what I would wish for my daughter when she is a mother, and I’d want her to still enjoy her life– if I martyr myself, I feel like I’d be setting her up for future pain on so many levels!

      While this might pin me as one of those moms who ascribe to a specific “philosophy,” I highly recommend that you check out the RIE approach as described by Janet Lansbury– http://www.janetlansbury.com. Everything you describe here seems so in tune with RIE ideas!

  1. When I was pregnant I went to a wedding. At our table was a couple who explained to my husband and I that this wedding was their first outing without their kid in THREE YEARS! I had already vowed that I would never ever let that happen to me. I need to read this book, it sounds right up my alley.

    • That is my NIGHTMARE. I can’t even imagine what kind of a shell of a human being I would be if I went through that. Jeez, it’s like a cheesy sitcom come to life! Lol.

  2. I read Pamela’s book, too, and I REALLY enjoyed it. I’m determined not to over-parent my baby boy (due in six weeks!), and this book really gave me a lot of tips and confidence. It’s a must read for any new parent, I think! 🙂

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more- I feel quite a lot of my friends are ‘over-parenting’. One in particular has a 1 year old and she hung up on me while talking phone because her daughter had woken up. She didn’t make any noise or cry or anything- she literally just woke up. That’s it. I’m going to get my hands on this book soon and have a good read 🙂

    • I have a friend that suggested we do a long weekend in Vegas (mind you, I’d have been fine going closer to her home…I’m really not a fan of Vegas) then bailed on me because she panicked leaving her 9 month old alone with her responsible husband for a few days. She’s the only close friend I have with a kid but I’m definitely determined not to be that mother, even though we’re still awhile from spawning.

      • Whoa there sister, do not diss your friend for panicking over leaving her 9 month old baby for several days. Believe me, it is not the same thing as leaving your dog. She’s a good mama who is doing the right thing by her baby – and could no doubt use the support of her friends in that.

        • I’m not sure how leaving a child with a responsible parent is not doing the right thing by her baby. Troubles was obviously hurt that her friend ditched her to stay home.

        • A weekend isn’t several days, and spending time with dad isn’t being left alone. It’s attitudes like THAT which make dads resentful and check out of the process. If dad is responsible enough to be a parent and life partner, then maybe he can be home alone with bebe without burning down the house.

          • Is it not at around the 9 month mark that babies often become incredibly attached to one parent, usually the mother, and nobody else will do? This happens even in families where both parents are actively involved in child-rearing. If baby’s at that stage, she may well feel too guilty to go for a shower without them, let alone to Vegas. It certainly doesn’t mean she’s ‘that’ mother.

        • I’ve left my 5 month old overnight, but wouldn’t feel ready to leave her for longer. I think a big thing to remember is balance, and smothering to one person might seem perfectly reasonable to another. All kids, parents, and families are different. Some kids and parents might be ready to separate for a few days at nine months, others may not. I think it’s important to recognize that one person’s parenting style is not necessarily wrong simply because they do it differently than we would. Empathy and allowing to let people just be people can reduce the stress we all feel.

      • Is she a breastfeeding mama? Maybe her ability to pump enough milk to feed the baby while she was away wasn’t as good as she thought it was, and she had to reconsider spending the time away?

  4. Excellent article. At first, I was concerned that it was going to be a manifesto on letting your children self-soothe or cry it out, which I’m not on board with, but I can absolutely see the benefits of delayed gratification. I mean, responding to an infant in a timely manner is necessary, but is it crucial to go running to a 2 year old the second she begins to make a sound, investigating what might be wrong? I don’t think so. And I think the idea of being told to wait a moment is great. Also, the idea of being present but not picking the child up at bedtime is a great option – the kiddo doesn’t feel abandoned or alone, but he or she isn’t being taught that crying = getting attention or getting out of bed. That’s in no way neglectful – I consider it very thoughtful, in fact.

    I’ve been discussing a similar issue with my husband – we’re having a baby in October, and while I have my few niggling issues with my in-laws, I want him to make it very clear to his parents that they will have ample time with the baby. That means that if they’re willing (and I’m about 99% sure they are), they can have a day or just an afternoon every single week with our daughter in addition to family visits. It’s very important to me that my husband and I get regular grownup time. But there are those parents who have somehow convinced themselves that they deserve no breaks, let alone regular weekly ones. I always picture them shouting at each other “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” a la Mad Eye Moody. 😛

    Maybe it’s just about keeping one’s sanity in the end, but shouldn’t that be the goal?

    • On the subject of running to the slightest noise, I remember my dad saying once, “We never worried about you [and your brother and sister] when you were noisy. We worried when we couldn’t hear anything.”

      Obviously this was us as older kids and ‘noisy’ wouldn’t have been ‘crying’ or ‘screaming in pain’ but it struck me as funny :-3

        • When my sister had children, I was always particularly vigilant to their cries when I was in the house- mostly because I didn’t have children so crying was a distress signal to me. By her second, she was a lot more relaxed about the cries- if you can hear a healthy cry, go towards it but there isn’t as much need to panic and run like she did with the first. I can only hope that I can be calm when I give birth in a few months, but I have a feeling that sense of rightness and relaxation about cries comes more with experience and time.

  5. This is spot on!! Love Druckerman’s book too. I think it brings up a lot of really interesting points, the biggest one I got from it was the whole “wait” thing. I’ve been doing it since I read the book (and my daughter was only 3 months old). She’s 1 now, and guess what? She’s a FANTASTIC baby. Ok, ok, I know it’s just her laid-back personality, but really, I feel like the “wait” has helped me immensely.
    I sleep great at night because she does. I place a lot of value on my marriage and getting time to ourselves as a couple. We are happy and don’t obsess over our kid (in a bad way). She gets a bump or bruise, we don’t make a big deal. She eats everything we feed her.
    Thanks again for writing this!!! Just reinforced a lot of things I feel 🙂

    • this is the one thing i’m having trouble with, with my kiddo…the feeding part. i do everything the way i’m “supposed” to according to articles and my doctor and all the ladies at WIC in that i just portion him out whatever it is we’re eating for dinner and let him eat it or not. i’ve been at it for over a year and most of the time he goes to bed without dinner because he just refuses to eat what i put in front of him, unless it’s boxed mac&cheese or french fries, and occasionally peas. i’ve been sticking it out but it’s soooooo frustrating.

      oh, and potty training. he refuses that too. lol

      • Carly, I feel your pain! My son was the same way. I used to get so frustrated I would cry after bedtime because I was convinced I was starving my son. Obviously, I wasn’t. His pediatrician reassured me (pretty much constantly) that he was okay, and if he was really hungry he would eat what I gave him, but it was really hard. In our case, it turned out that my son’s tonsils were messing with his sense of smell. When he had them removed he started trying all the foods. But he was 4 at that point, and it sucked up until then.

        Just know you’re doing good! It gets better Mama!

      • We have a rule that everything has to at least be tasted every time (so even if you didn’t like snap peas last week, you still have to try them again).

        • Ariel and I were talking about this a few weeks ago, and she mentioned they always ask their son to have at least a “No, thank you bite.” Genius!

          • I am stealing that! By god thats beautiful, starting tonight at dinner we are soooo implementing a “no, thank you” bite!

          • We had “Borden portions.” My grandmother’s maiden name was Borden, and her family had the rule that you always had to at least try a small portion of something. Hence, “Borden portion!”

        • well, we tried having that rule too, and after a month of him sitting at the table till bedtime because he wouldn’t even take a bite of something new, we repealed it. i feel like him going hungry is his choice and i don’t really need to go the extra step. i mean, short of pinching his nose shut and force-feeding him, i can’t really see how we can MAKE him take a bite when he doesn’t want to, and i’m not doing that. we do reward him if he DOES take a bite, but it’s pretty rare. the kid’s got stubbornness issues.

          • I was the kid who could sit at table and stare my mother down for an hour or two rather than eat my disgusting lima beans. The stubborn is strong in my family. (And also in my husband’s. We’re due in August and we are doomed, doooooooomed.)

            The good news is, I turned out okay and so will your kid. I still don’t eat lima beans though. 😉

          • We have gone back and forth over several kids and many dinner table personalities to find the happy medium about food rules and eating rules.

            What we have come up with (currently for three toddlers, but we have used it with kids up to 11) is serving everyone a plate of food with lots of tasty and healthy options. If you want more of anything you must try a bite of everything. If you want desert you have to eat it all. No fights, not fussing. If you want another piece of ham you need to at least take one bite of your beans. If you REALLY don’t want to eat a single bean, thats fine too, but no more ham.

            We used to try to make desert a special occasions thing… limit the sugar and limit the availability of junk food, but then we discovered that a bowl of plain yogurt with some ice cream sprinkles on it is a huge hit, as is cream cheese, fruit with yogurt dip and basically anything that is ‘fancy grown up food’ can be passed off as desert.
            If the promise of a slice of apple with cheese toasted on top will get my kid to eat his salad we will have desert at every meal!

      • I ended up deciding not to do this (in spite of “everyone” recommending it) mostly because it’s not the way I would treat an adult. If my husband had a broken leg, for instance, and was unable to make himself his own food, if he wasn’t interested in what I decided to eat I would offer to make him something else. Of course it’s different for a child because it’s not a temporary thing that they can’t make their own food, it’s going to be this way for several years, so I have to make my own boundaries about how much effort I’m going to put into it. But I do frequently find it useful to think about how I would handle an issue if I was taking care of an adult rather than a child.

        • I’m not sure this is a fair parallel. The little ones are old enough now to request meals and contribute when we make the weekly menu, so we may have a mac and cheese night, but we may have side dishes they haven’t had before (this week it was kale). Their tastes are growing and changing right along with everything else, so one week they hate something, the next they like it. I think the adult parallel is that you’re not going to intentionally feed someone an entire meal that you know they don’t like, but I would still expect people (young and not so young) to try new things.

          • Exactly. I think it’s important to remember that kids are not mini adults, and treating them as such does not usually have good results. (Joffrey, anyone?) Children’s tastes are still developing and it’s really important to expose them to new things as frequently as possible. Giving them two options instead of one is ok, but catering to their every culinary whim is not.

            It just reminds me of my absolute most hated commercial of all time. The mom is making paella, and kid says “I don’t know what that is, but I’m not eating it.” S0 mom shrugs and orders a pizza. No. Hell no. That is not how this works. You make dinner, kid eats dinner or goes hungry. Period. They will not die from eating something they don’t particularly like.

            This commercial. Right here. So gross. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1z1nsuQi40w

  6. I wholeheartedly agree, and I am so glad to see your post on this site! I’ve often thought the same thing, but I could never have put it into words as well as you have here.

    I worked with kids for 4 years before having my daughter (who is now almost 3!), and I continue working with children to this day. It is a totally natural part of childhood development for kids to be impatient and self-centered, so part of our job as parents is teaching them to wait for things they want and to consider others’ feelings. It is a balancing act trying to do this while at the same time ensuring they feel loved and respected.

    Things like the whole Time Magazine business about being “mom enough” make me feel a little guilty sometimes. I wonder if my balancing act wobbles once in a while (and I’m positive it does… doesn’t everyone’s??). But I know I have my child’s best interest at heart, just like everyone else out there. We all do what works best for us.

    And I have to say – I think it’s EASIER to give in to your child sometimes. It’s easier to avoid the pouting, the crying, the pangs of guilt – simply by saying yes when we feel the answer should be no. However, when we continuously give in we are not teaching our kids anything except entitlement. In parenting, sometimes love means doing what is best for our little ones, even if they don’t like it at the time 🙂

  7. i have not read this book…i’m not a non-fiction reader and i don’t ascribe to a philosophy. so much of what you said here resonates with me though. intuitively, i feel like i already do a lot of it. the “wait” part is new so i thank you wholeheartedly for that. mostly i just want to thank you for letting me know i’m not alone in refusing to become a mommy automaton. i’ve read on message boards about women who just can’t leave their precious darlings with someone for just a couple of hours to run some errands or something because OMG I CAN’T LEAVE HIM/HER FOR THAT LONG!!!!! i just can’t imagine it. my first weekend away from my son was when he was 11 months old and it was completely awesome. i missed him, sure, but i absolutely enjoyed every minute i was away. i actually haven’t had a weekend away from him in well over a year and i feel like i’m slowly going insane. (he’s 3 now.) it’s also very frustrating when an overzealous grandparent (my MIL) is visiting and jumps at his every move or sound. he’s always a real treat to deal with for a week or so after his grann goes home because she absolutely spoils him ROTTEN and doesn’t give a shit what boundaries i might have in place for him because she thinks they’re cruel.

    a big thing to keep in mind is that what our children need most are HAPPY parents, because how can we parent effectively if we’re not happy with ourselves? and i think not having to drop everything and run whenever your kid farts or whimpers or whatever goes a LONG way toward keeping parents sane and in some semblance of happiness, and the structure of boundaries does too. not having a needy whiny crybaby definitely does. lol

  8. Glad to see this. My kids are teens now, and I wish this book had been written then. I came to this conclusion on my own, but not until I looked at my kids and realized that they might not be turning out to be the kind of people I would want as friends and that my patenting wasn’t teaching them what I thought it was. Fortunately, they were still pretty young then and I was able to make a few adjustments. I love attachment parenting, but I feel that many of the resources at the time did not stress BALANCE enough. It wasn’t until I was divorced that I understood the need for compassionate, healthy, yet firm boundaries with my kiddos, for my own sanity as a parent, not to mention their competence as people. This article makes me happy for new parents 🙂

  9. While the book mentioned is about the author’s experience of parenting in France, it doesn’t sound much different from what I see here in the UK, and it sounds a lot like what I had begun to think about what I would like to do one day when I have children (although I’m sure my plans will be subject to change and we’ll just see how that works out ^_^ but I’m going to give it a go).

    I work in a supermarket and while I’m not seeing parents or children at their best – shopping is especially boring for children and parents just want a quiet life – I hate watching the endless idle threats, rewarding bad behaviour with sweets (your kid is screaming because they’re small/bored/annoying/all of the above? Why are you rewarding them with sweets!?) and then there’s the just plain ignoring the child/ren when they’re misbehaving because why bother, they don’t listen anyway. Allegedly. I’ve had so many parents blatantly ignoring their children playing on a shop mobility scooter, setting off its alarm, and only intervening when I (politely) tell them that they’ll have to pay the bill if their little angel manages to break the thing. Never mind that they shouldn’t be playing on a mobility scooter in the first place.

    I also see these women lamenting about never having any free time and feeling like their entire life is their kids and nothing outside. Fair enough if they’re happy with this – more power to them – but I’ve never heard someone say how happy she was that all her days are spent looking after children: no hobbies, no alone time, no nothing. And they don’t expect any help from their partners, if they have one.

    When we last babysat our nieces (ages 3 and 2), my husband and I were told we were ‘too strict’, although I couldn’t remember being any stricter than making sure that they didn’t walk too far away from us (within sight), that they held our hands crossing the roads, and that they didn’t run around the shops. If they misbehaved in the shop, we stood outside with them in a time out until they could behave (they behaved afterwards). We had no idle threats and they only got a sweet if they were good. They were told off for chasing our cat; they didn’t listen, but this problem was solved when he hissed at them (I was asked to tell the cat off for this, but I pointed out, “You were chasing him, so that was him telling you off.”)* I considered this standard parenting, from my own upbringing – so did my husband – but this is what is considered “strict” today? The mind boggles.

    *Recounting this story to friends, they expressed concern that the cat could hurt the children. This cat’s 15 and has never deliberately scratched or bitten anyone (he just panics if you try to get him into a cat box). The most he’ll do is hiss and run away from the kids. I pointed out that if they somehow managed to chase him into a corner that he couldn’t get out of, they could learn what happens when you frighten and corner a cat, because although I could keep an eye on them, I can’t move faster than a frightened cat.

    The kids have since got the hint and left him alone, with everyone unharmed, so thankfully it’s no longer an issue.

    • “Recounting this story to friends, they expressed concern that the cat could hurt the children.”

      To which I say, so what? If they’re chasing the cat despite repeated warnings and the cat retaliates, they’ve just learned a valuable lesson. No way would I tell the cat off. Obviously you want them to get the message before that happens, but you’re right – you can’t move faster than a frightened cat.

      There’s a great bit in the Druckerman book about how if a child picks up a knife and the mother yells and dashes across the room to snatch it out of their hand, the child has learned nothing – but if mum nicely asks them to put it down and they do, the mum can calmly explain to them why knives are dangerous in a kind way that makes more of an impact.

      I have no patience for helicopter, little-darlings style parenting. I’m two weeks off having my first and that Druckerman book makes SO much sense to me – though no doubt I’ll still have to muddle through like everyone else does 🙂

  10. Thank you for your article. I am guilty of having been, and according to your article–still being, an over-parenting mom. I have never made my kiddos eat what was served for dinner, I co-slept with each one of them, I have always tended to cries immediately, and I still wear my 14 month old–with no plan to stop soon.
    In my newer mom years I was concerned about being the perfect mom, and read too many parenting books. I never figured out how to be the perfect parent so I went with my instincts and stuck to what felt right. I can confidently say I have the most respectful and caring children a parent could ever hope for. They eventually started eating what was offered at dinner time, they progressed to their own sleeping spaces, they know I will be there to listen when something pressing is on their mind, and they genuinely care for the well-being of others. My children are respectful and have empathy for those around them.
    In the last 13 years, what has become too clear is that parents are so critical of one another. What works best for my children, and me, might not be what works for another family. I wish parents would spend more time cheering one another on for the strong efforts put forth in trying to nurture our little ones in the best way we know.
    Another thing I have learned is that I can never make parenting my kiddos a priority until my needs are met first. It took me years to understand this. I don’t regret all of the over-parenting I’ve done. I have grown, significantly, in my ears of mommy-hood, and I have gained the most insight in my heaviest years of over parenting. I do think it’s important to continue reminding myself, and other parents I know, that we are raising little adults. What we put into them is what they will bring out into the world. There really is no other job that is more important.
    While I am guilty of cushioning my children’s world, and they never even had household chores until a couple of years ago (not helpful for nurturing a sense of responsibility), I remind myself to step back and look at who they have become. This is when I know all of my less than perfect parenting has been as perfect as it could be.
    At this point in my parenthood journey I have stopped reading parenting books. I have come to the conclusion that the outcome of our children is not reliant on the parenting tactics we use as much as it is on the values and intent motivating our parenting practices.

  11. That makes me think of a story my mum told me when I asked her, if me or one of my siblings used to act up in the supermarket. She said no; whenever one of us started to get whiney, my dad would threaten to never, ever let us go to the supermarket with him again. And he meant it. Seems to have worked 😉
    I think you have to find a healthy balance and stick to the values that are important to you. Our little one is a bit over four weeks old now, so right now I do jump to every cry, we co-sleep, I carry her around and we cuddle a lot. But once she’s old enough she’ll have to do her chores like everybody else and learn that other people have needs and wants, too. Confidence in her abilities and empathy, that’s what’s important to me. At what time she learns to fall asleep by herself not so much. In the end, every parent has different priorities, you’ll just have to stick to them.

    • When I was two or three, I had my one and only supermarket tantrum because I wanted sweets. My dad picked me up under his arm, left the trolley and all the shopping, carried me out of the shop and took me home. I did not do it again.

      • I remember when I was a kid, my younger brother threw a huge tantrum on the floor of the supermarket. My mum threatened that she would leave him there if he didn’t stop. Well, he didn’t stop, so she marched me out of the shop with her and hid behind one of the large supporting beams in the shopping centre, where she could still see and hear him, but he couldn’t see her. In about 30 seconds he realised that she was gone, and cried even more because she was “gone”. She came back out and said if he ever did that again she wouldn’t come back.
        It may seem cruel, but he never threw another tantrum at the shops again.

  12. I like the core message of this post, and (as a mom to a four-month-old) I’m probably guilty of a bit too much “on-demand mothering.” But I’m surprised by the tone of this piece — what’s wrong with being educated, upper middle class, owning a well-made stroller, or reading parenting books to help you figure out your personal values and priorities (and, re: that last one, isn’t that what the author is doing by reading and subscribing to Druckerman’s philosophy?).

    You never know what kind of challenges another parent may be facing, especially in the fraught arenas of breastfeeding, sleep issues, or relationship difficulties. If your approach works for you (and maybe that’s the category this should have been posted in — “It worked for me”), then that’s great. But please don’t put other parents down.

    • There’s isn’t anything wrong per se with being white, educated and upper or middle class. However, I read it as noting, inherently, that if you are, you are coming from a place of profound privilege. Many of the trappings of what you or I understand as parenting is, in reality, based upon the ability to afford those things. Trumpeting a certain style of parenting as “correct” fails to critically acknowledge the ability to practice it in the first place. For a great number of women around the world (and even in the US), parenting choices are dictated to them by necessity. If you are low-income, you don’t get to decide about nursing very often – your job with do it for you. If you live in a food desert or without without access to reliable transportation, you largely won’t get to make decisions about what your child eats – the nearest food store will do it for you.

      I read the OP as correctly noting that the ability to even have a “parenting philosophy” is a huge expression of personal privilege, because for a huge number of people in this country, they are beholden to other forces at work.

  13. This is a great article. Many young mothers I know seem to have given up everything in order to “be there” for their children. And you know what? I think this is not healthy. Neither for the mother, who cannot be a normal person because she is constantly trying to be better for her children, nor for the children, who totally get that Mom resents them for some obscure reason and never seems to be happy. (Most constant discussion is on what age children should start daycare – “Well, *I* did not become a mother only to give my child away! That would be selfish!” *eyeroll*)

    In three years of parenting, my older sister has never even taken half a day off for herself. From what I can see, her relationship with her husband is almost purely platonic, her health has been suffering and she is under so much stress – from trying to mother perfectly, cook all-organic perfectly balanced meals, make everything from scratch, tend to the vegetable garden etc. – that every oh-so-small catastrophe brings her to the edge of exhaustion.

    • Im a no-daycare mama myself. I have one little boy conceived after years of infertility and treatments. For me at least, the staying home with him is about ME! He will only be small for such a short time, and I want to enjoy that time all I can. Soon comes school and the progression of him growing up and finding a family of his own.
      He is taught to pick up his toys, use good manners, and be considerate of others. We’ve been volunteering weekly at our local foodbank since he was small enough that I was handing out bread with him in the lillebaby on my back!
      Am I sometimes stressed? Of course! You know what? I was stressed out sometimes at work, too. And this what I pick right now. Not because daycare is selfish! I’m being selfish and doing exactly what I want.
      The right answer is different for every family. I just wanted to share some possible insight into the “I didn’t have a baby to take him to daycare” mamas.

  14. On a side note, the reason not to wear your baby forward facing in a baby carrier is because it’s bad for their hip development if done consistently

  15. I think it’s all mixed up. Infants need a different level of care from toddlers, toddlers from school-age children and teens a different level again. It takes a sensitive enough and involved enough mother to tell the difference when the transition needs to take place and it’s not easy. There going to be mistakes along the way and some set-backs too – each child is an individual person, not a pre-programmed little thing that goes through all milestones at exact times and never goes back. My problem with manual-style books and personal experience-gone-too-far books like Druckerman’s one is it’s both too simplistic and not simple enough.
    And we should give ourselves a bit more credit whenever we discover a new attitude. It is not wrong to respond promptly to a baby and when we realise that it is not always a good idea with a 3 year old, it is not that we were doing it wrong before, it’s that our child has changed and so did relationship. We should not wish to rewind time and carefully ignore our infant at certain times because we later on can’t and shouldn’t run to fix everything with our older children.

    Also it amuses me slightly, that the article talks about how parents put all these expectations on themselves and read too many baby books…and then turns to “Look what a great book I’ve read, let’s do this instead!” 😛
    And to all the seasoned parents of multiple kids who used to read parenting books and don’t anymore – well, of course you don’t! You have EXPERIENCE, something that new parents lack. And you have the benefit of using bits from books that work and shedding bits that dont, you have developed a style. It took time, it is not that you shouldn’t have read anything in the first place with your first child.
    Books can be a great tool, but they don’t come before relationship with your child. Who cares what worked for a handful of French parents author met? It might or might not apply.
    I would read “How to talk so kids would listen and how to listen so kids talk” over Druckerman’s book. It’s full of practical suggestions on how to communicate with a child respectfully without giving up all of your boundaries.

    oops, that’s long 😀

    • I agree in a lot of ways…though replace books with “helpful parenting websites,” because in my anxiety when my son isn’t eating/sleeping/pooping/etc I have frantically googled things and then ended up feeling like a much shittier parent and even more overwhelmed with what to do than when I just took a few deep breaths and tried to rely on my gut. Something about BEING the parent I’m supposed to be, instead of TRYING to be a certain parenting philosophy.

  16. Interesting, and I’m glad the book was able to bring you some relief and peace.

    I have to say, however, that I intensely disliked Druckerman’s book. I expected to enjoy it, but didn’t, and find it full of a number of questionable conclusions. That is certainly not to say that there aren’t some specific techniques, etc., that might work very well for certain families, and if so, terrific!

    However, I felt that she made sweeping generalizations, and that she was not very acquainted with anything related to children until she had her own, at which point, she just *happened* to be in Paris, and she learned some useful child rearing ideas from the people who *happened* to be around her. America is far too big a country, with a far too diverse population, to make simple statements about how Americans raise their children, and I found her judgments about American parenting to be often farfetched and/or offensive. Other comments were just odd — her great reverence for telling children “doucement,” which simply means “gently” — who DOESN’T tell their child some variation of “gentle” or “soft” when they are touching someone or a pet?

    I am just a little wary of all the recent news stories, articles, and books about how other countries parent better than Americans. It’s just really hard to make sweeping statements about how Americans parent, as well as a bit of a stretch to say that ALL French/Swedish/what-have-you children are better than American children. I don’t presume to know France as intimately as Ms. Druckerman, but I’ve been there several times and not every child I saw was a perfect angel! I’m also very curious whether rest of France subscribes exactly to the Parisian parenting regime she describes …
    And I would echo what another commentor said above — parenting is very personal. For some people, what you describe is working and working well for them, and that’s ok. For others, it isn’t, and that’s ok too! It’s great that a book like this can comfort and help some people, I just wish Druckerman hadn’t come off as so critical.

  17. I, too, read the book while pregnant (I now have an almost-nine-month-old, who is at this moment actually half-sort-of-fussing sitting in front of me). My husband and I had talked about a lot of Druckerman’s ideas beforehand because we had seen my brother- and sister-in-law raise their baby very strongly AP, to the point that now, at age 4.5, she still has not slept anywhere without her parents and hardly ever outside their bed, nor was she EVER left with another family member as babysitter in her first year of life, not for more than ten minutes, and even then scarcely. Now she is stubborn, alternately clingy and selfish, and impossible for them to discipline (though my mother-in-law had no problem laying down the law when she was there last month).
    So my husband and I use the ‘wait’ (baby is now quiet, by the way, listening to the birds outside). If I need to finish doing the dishes or using the bathroom or even just reading a sentence when he starts to fuss, I do. As a parent, you can hear the MOMENT your child switches from just fussing to really needing your attention, and then of course you hurry to see what’s happened.
    But like any book, you take what works for you and your child. I wasn’t back to my pre-pregnancy body within three months. My child still sleeps in a bed next to mine and nurses pretty much on demand (though he eats an ever-wider array of solids). I don’t think you can condemn anyone for really loving a book that opens their eyes and shows them that their are other options outside the norm (hello, Offbeat!).

    • Just wanted to jump in here to say correlation is not causation. Both of our sons slept with us (and still do at 2 and 4) and both are very independent kids anyway. AP-raised kids turn out all kinds of ways the same way kids raised by different philosophies do too.

  18. I read a review somewhere that said that the advice in this book can be summed up in a few simple sentences that I’m sure many grandmothers would tell you if they could. Wait a minute before responding to the baby to see if he/she really needs you. Allow yourself a break every once in a while. Let your kid figure some things out for his/herself. That’s the only part of the book I found useful (though I already knew these things, and I’m a first time mom of twins). The rest of the book I found either somewhat offensive, irritating, and obnoxious. Also there are a lot of undertones about French women that really makes me sad – they feel like they have to go back to work and lose the baby weight because “husbands leave” ???

    As with any parenting book that claims to have the SECRET to successful parenting, there are some good nuggets in there, but the rest is fluff. Just take what you find useful and leave the rest. I am glad this book has made you feel confident in giving your baby some space so that you can have some of your life and individuality back. You deserve it. You are a human being, too!

  19. Interesting article. I haven’t read the book, probably won’t, but the idea of using “wait” does appeal. I have used the same idea when training all my pets( mostly at meal time lol) and it does seem to help them so i can imagine that a young child would benefit the same.

    However I don’t think (and my little girl is only 7 months so i’m by no means an expert!) that every book has it perfectly right. At the moment we’re trying to give her more freedom(sort of like the “free range parenting” in a previous post) but still be there when she actually needs us. It’s working for us, we’re hardly hovering when she’s crawling all over the apartment and usually just look up when she stops squealing and chasing the cats since that means she’s found something she shouldn’t!

  20. My husband told me once – “When we talk about relationships, we always understand that sometimes, spending some time apart can be very beneficial for the relationship and actually make it stronger. But we almost never acknowledge that the same is true with kids and that sometimes, the best thing you can do for your kids is to get away from them.”

    What you’re describing sounds like what I’ve unscientifically termed the “European model.” My mother is Irish and my father is German. In both cultures, from what I’ve seen, self-soothing and self-reliance are prized from the beginning. Kids are rarely picked up at the first sign of distress. I’ve tried to put my finger on it, and part of it seems to be that American culture largely prioritizes the mother (often to the detriment of other family members). Babies are presumed to have a special unique bond to their birth moms and thus, the bulk of her time and energy should be devoted to the baby (it’s worth pointing out that the bulk of developmental research does not pan this theory out). Other cultures are more okay with other relatives or community members having a major role in childrearing. my mom was running her own business at the time and openly had no shame about handing her kids to her husband, relatives, friends or even employees when she wanted to do something else. All of us grew up to be well-adjusted adults. I know that if my mom had felt obligated to provide the bulk of the childcare, she would have been miserable, and that would have filtered down to us. How is that good parenting? I’ve met people who just assume that parenting (or at least the first years of it) are miserable by default – and I really don’t believe that has to be the case. Good for you for deciding to be happy, it’s harder than any of us know.

  21. I have some French friends who I talked to about this book, and they think it’s totally hilarious and full of shit. Their babies cry just as much as ours do, and misbehave in restaurants, and all the “normal” kid things. They thought my toddler was the sweetest and most well-behaved kid they had ever met, and I’m somewhat attachment-parenty.

    I do agree with some aspects of the book and the article, in that you don’t need to respond to every whine or whimper and give them everything they want. I deserve time for me, they need to learn to wait and be patient, and so forth. They need to encounter stressors in order to learn how to deal with stress. However, I don’t think there is a fundamental difference in parenting between Americans and the French, or that their kids are any more well-behaved.

    • Yeah, the book’s framing reflects two “let’s generalize people!” trends in the publishing industry right now:

      1. French people are better at _____! (See: The French Diet: Why French Women Don’t Get Fat)

      2. Mothers from _______ parent better! (See: Tiger Mom)

      The advice in this post definitely resonates for me, but I find both these publishing trends silly and likely won’t read any of the books.

  22. I read an article while I was still pregnant that said you should tell your children that “Mommy is a person, too”. I found that utterly depressing. Yes, Mommy is a person. And if she acted like a person, then maybe she wouldn’t have to say that. It definitely isn’t easy to spend time/money/whatever on yourself when you have a baby. I admit I feel guilty sometimes when I go shopping or even when I go to work. But I remind myself that this is how I show my children that we are all individuals with our own needs.

    • Very young children truly do not understand that they are a separate entity from their mother. I think teaching them about individual autonomy is more than just “if she acted like a person.”

      • I used to actively work in the field of developmental psychology, and your assertion isn’t exactly true. First, there’s evidence that children have a very strong sense of self from a very early age. They are aware of their movements, feelings and other sensations very early on. Also, I’d caution against using mother exclusively here, because it can feed into a gender essentialist stuff. Even very young children have the ability to form multiple secure attachments to multiple people.

        What many small children do not have is a concept of universality. That is to say – they do not get that their feelings and needs are not unique to them. That is why small children might hit without reservation – they do not understand that others feel pain and it is not unique to them. Small kids need to be reminded that Mommy (or Daddy or anyone else) also feels hunger, pain and other feelings and they need to take care of themselves as well.

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