Monday, October 01, 2007

Designer parenting and self-validation

One of the recurrent themes of this blog is how women unfairly judge other women on their childbirth and parenting choices. Essentially, a specific group of personal preferences: natural childbirth, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, have been raised to the level of the ideal. Marrit Ingman, author of Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out With The Diapers coined the expression "designer parenting" to describe this phenomenon.
Ingman wrote about her experience with postpartum depression and how the pressure toward designer parenting exacerbated the problem. In an interview with MamaZine, Ingman discusses the "right" birth, attachment parenting, and maternal self-validation.
On birth:
I think my ideas about the "right" birth came from my community and from my own sense of personal politics pre-parenthood... [A] few people I know essentially stopped talking to me about my pregnancy when I told them I wasn't having a homebirth ... I got my back up and prepared for labor as if I were going into battle against The Evil Patriarchal Medical Establishment, ... So then when I ended up with a breech and a caesarean, I felt as if I'd disappointed the world. I had an overinflated sense of my own ideological importance ("I'm going to strike a blow for natural childbirth in the hospital setting on behalf of all womankind!") and I really set myself up for failure according to my own impossible standards. Who cares if I had a caesarean? My kid doesn't care. He thinks it's funny that he came out butt-first through my abdomen.

When our first pediatrician (whom we later fired) noticed that Baldo was born surgically, he said, "Oh, were you not coping well?" in the shittiest, most patronizing voice possible. I think we should all be striving to accept one another's experiences and to avoid insulting one another. That's really not a great deal to ask.
On her chapter Fuck Dr. Sears, or the Fallacy of Designer Parenting:
... We're terrified of fucking up our children. We love our children and we're up against a wall of anxiety about their future. We need a lifesaver to cling to — Waldorf education, the family bed, a baby sling instead of a stroller — because we are totally at sea. There is such a glut of information in the world about what is and isn't harmful to children. Cosleeping is deadly! You'll crush your child! No, cosleeping is natural and crib sleeping will turn your baby into a neurotic mess, just like you are! ... Parents do the best they can, and a lot of our problems are too complex to be solved with organic food and silk squares. We don't like to be confronted with that idea. We want to think that if we read the right books and ailgn ourselves with the appropriate theories, our children will grow up magically empathetic and well-adjusted and sail through life. This is a particular kind of parent I'm talking about now, the overeducated middle-class striver. Most poor families don't actually think silk squares will save the world because they know better. But nobody deserves to have this kind of head game played on them when all they're trying to do is raise and love their children.
Fundamentally, we are all trying to do what we think is best for our children, but we aren't really sure what that is. Therefore, it is tempting and satisfying to indentify certain practices and insist that these will guarantee a good outcome. For some women, feeling good about their parenting choices means denigrating the choices of others. It is not suprising that components of designer parenting, such as natural childbirth and homebirth, are restricted almost exclusively to privileged women. Only privileged women have the time, money and choices to obsess about these issues, and only they lack the common sense to realize that these decisions have minimal impact on children.


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