My husband and my publicist say I’m not supposed to read what other people write about me. I guess they are right; it invariably makes me mad and sad.
However, I could not help but notice recently that several parenting blogs have referred to my style of raising my kids –whether they agree with me on some level or not– as “Extreme Parenting.” Now, when I see the word “Extreme” tagged on as a modifier, I instantly think of it involving doing the thing it modifies either on an icy cliff with crazy obstacles and a wacky set of bumper-stickers on a helmet, or with the added use of speed (meaning quickness or the drug; you choose). Think: Extreme Snowboarding or Extreme Dating.
In case you are new to the world of me and my supposedly “extreme” parenting, here are the relevant highlights. I have a 2-and-a-half-year-old and a 5-year-old. My husband and I are the only caregivers for our sons. I nurse my toddler on demand (including every two hours all night). I did not schedule or sleep-train or night wean either of them. I don’t use charts or stickers or time-outs. I don’t hit my children. I don’t use a babysitter. My kids don’t watch television and they’ve never seen a movie. I am not a permissive parent and I have a lot of rules, expectations, boundaries, and limits. I like gentle voices in the house, the answer to a whiny voice is “no,” we clean up our toys and clothes almost daily, and although I operate on no more than two hours of sleep at a stretch for almost six years, I do not consider myself a martyr who thinks I am better than you for the choices I make.
It’s just what works for us and the hundreds of thousands of families who parent this way. Just ask La Leche League, Holistic Moms Network, Attachment Parenting International, or any tired-looking sling-wearing mama or dada you see on the street.
I respect all parents and I know we all do the best we can with the support, resources, and education we have. So let’s learn a little bit from each other and chill out when we hear things that are unfamiliar to us. It’s okay. It’s a big world and until someone finds the one absolute way that all kids will turn out “perfect” (whatever that means), I am pretty sure it’s a free country to parent and live how we want to.
Parenting of any kind is exhausting, and the way we do things is a different kind of exhaustion. Imagine if you never put your kids in front of a television. You would never get anything done. Welcome to my world.
Here’s the deal. People have parented this way for almost all of history. And so have all primates. I am not going to throw around my doctorate as my reasons for the medical or psychological choices I make for my kids. Do gorilla mamas have Ph.Ds in Neuroscience? No. Do they know to sleep close to their babies, nurse them into toddlerhood, carry them everywhere, cradle them and cuddle them and kiss them and adore them whenever they want to and protect them from anyone trying to get in their way? Yes.
So, big deal that I believe (as is the medical fact) that fevers kill pathogens and I don’t administer Tylenol at the first sign of a fever. So, big deal that my kids are very “late” talkers and walkers and we decided (with our pediatrician) to not have them get therapy. I am not negligent for doing things you don’t agree with. I am simply listening to my intuition, doing research, and really enjoying the ride.
So, you still think I’m extreme? I think it’s theoretically extreme to fight with a baby over their biologically-driven needs. I could say it’s extreme to schedule a newborn and tell it when to sleep, eat, or “need” you. I think it sounds like an awful lot of work, pain, and tears to convince yourself that your baby shouldn’t need you at night when your gut tells you there’s nothing wrong with it. I could also say it’s extreme to listen to what everyone tells you to do when you have been programmed to birth, nourish, love, and raise your child with no books needed. The baby is the book. We are made to parent. But I don’t want to call anyone extreme, unless they are in the Olympics or doing speed-dating. So let’s not use that word.