You Are How You Parent
It starts from the very first instant of motherhood: with the choices we make about birth, every woman makes a determined statement about the kind of mother she is. Birthing choices become parenting styles: All-Natural No Drugs Mommy, Elective C-Section Mommy, Epidural Please Mommy, and – the rare one that arouses equal parts curiosity and revulsion – Water Birth At Home But Well-Documented on Social Media for Everyone to See Mommy.
And there begins a long and winding road of parent-defining decisions, unfolding like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, where at each stage, the parenting choices we make seem irreversibly life-changing: whether to breastfeed, and for how long; whether to have child care, and of what kind; whether to go back to work, and how soon; what preschool to choose, and at what age to start.
Parenting decisions feel different other identity-defining preferences because the way we mold our progeny feels infinitely more important than what workout we do, where we holiday, or what music we listen to. These choices speak to who we want to be; parenting styles speak to who we want our children to be.
Except they don’t. Parenting types – just like the car we drive or the phone we use – are about us. They communicate our values, our perceptions of ourselves in shorthand: Tiger Moms, Helicopter Parents, Attachment Parents, Homeschoolers, Free Range Parents, Placenta-Eaters, and countless other approaches define us, in our own minds and in others’. As with any identity, we find a camp we like, pitch our tent, and defend our higher ground.
The general outcome of this is a smugness that can’t fully be attributed to the comfort of finding our footing as parents, or finding others who ‘get it,’ with whom we can share and commiserate. Of course, it’s normal to look for a sense of belonging, especially in an experience as life-changing, patience-sapping, and utterly confounding as trying to grow a few humans. But while we may, initially, reach for these connections in order to tap into the guidance and support of a shared parenting philosophy, adherence to them only leaves us in an endless loop that reinforces the doubts and insecurities we already had.
Labels for parenting styles cut to the heart of our innermost aspirations, by showing the world – even faster than a pair of new kicks – not only how we want to be perceived but also how we fear being perceived. Tiger Moms have found the perfect vehicle for telling the world: I’m an overachiever, I’ve always been perfect at everything, and damn it, my kids will be no different. Those Placenta Eaters? Counter-culture, indie-movie-loving hipsters.
By embracing these choices and labels, we give the world an instantaneous snapshot of our (desired) socio-economic standing, educational levels, life choices, cultural interests. Parenting styles are as much about our personal identity as our religious, professional and political affiliations, and that’s precisely why they get defended with such intensity.
Indeed, digital parenting communities are rife with vitriol; each camp is so entrenched in its own values that it can only prop itself up by identifying – and attacking – what it isn’t. We may feel a little better, knowing several thousand, faceless people “Like” our choices. But let’s not fool ourselves that these parenting types say anything about our children. Our kids don’t care if we are attachment parents or homeschoolers. They will imbibe – or reject – our values regardless of what labels we identify with. And they will grow up to become Nobel Prize winners with or without Tiger Moms, and happy, well-adjusted, creative people with or without co-sleeping.
In other words, the kids will be all right, or not, for reasons that have very little to do with the parenting styles we identify with; who we want to be is not who we are, after all. So, let’s quit making our kids a reflection of our own personal aspirations and insecurities; they’ll have their own soon enough. Instead, let’s focus on the decisions that really count… like what brand of new kicks we want.