Free range parenting

DSCI0234I don’t buy newspapers or magazines as a rule, but since the start of the year, while researching publishing options for my creative writing, I’ve been buying family, lifestyle and travel magazines, as well as weekend newspapers, to get a feel for style and content, and to figure out which publications would be the most suitable vehicles for my growing folder of half-written articles.

I’ve been struck by the moral tone of many of the parenting magazines, where every contributer, no matter what the topic, feels the need to announce her ‘attachment parenting’ credentials, declaring  herself a breastfeeder, baby-wearer, co-sleeper, as if these three basic elements of caring for babies and toddlers have not been the normal state of affairs for our species for its entire history, and continue to be the normal (and only) method of raising children for the vast majority of parents on the planet today. These mothers – for the contributors to these ‘parenting’ magazine are invariably mothers – seem to think that breastfeeding, carrying our babies against our bodies, and sleeping with our babies beside us is some novel form of alternative child-rearing invented by middle-class, enviro-warrior British yummy-mummies.

On Saturday morning, Julian and I were tired. We felt as if we’d been going non-stop for two weeks. We’d had early mornings and sleepless nights as all four of us nursed colds, sore throats and sniffles. Julian had worked two weekends in a row on Carina, and I’d had to make up for a day of work lost to a bad head cold by working on and off over the weekend while home alone with the girls. So, when Saturday morning dawned, we were feeling lazy and lethargic.

‘Inspired’ by these hippy parenting magazines I jokingly suggested to Julian that we ‘free range parent’ for the weekend. We both giggled at the prospect. But we turned the girls loose and let them do exactly as they wished for the day. As we lay in bed, listening to the rattle of crockery and the opening of kitchen drawers downstairs, we had to remind each other ‘remember…we’re free ranging today’. They brought us breakfast in bed – raisins in bowls and tea made with water from the hot tap. But for the most part, they ignored us while they played happily together.

I’m not suggesting that we usually micro-manage their every move. Far from it. They’re quite often left to their own devices. But on Saturday we took things to a whole new level, just leaving them to it, not suggesting anything to them, helping them out only when they came to us to ask for help. We didn’t get involved in their petty squabbles, of which there were relatively few; instead leaving them to work things out for themselves. After going downstairs to make breakfast, I went back to bed, and at 12.45, Julian and I were still in bed, reading and listening to the radio – weekend luxuries we hadn’t enjoyed since the girls were born!

They’ve both been attending school this winter, so every morning we’re in a race against the clock to get them fed, dressed and ready for school, and every evening ensuring they get to bed early enough to get a good night’s sleep. And it’s easy to let the management required at the start and end of the day spill over into the rest of our lives.

When I think back to last summer, to the five months we lived aboard Carina, Lily and Katie developed a wonderful relationship, precisely because we took a step back and left them to it. I’m looking forward to April, when we return to that way of living again, unrestrained by schedules and timetables.

So, despite our giggles and eye-rolling, perhaps there is something free-range in the way we strive to raise our kids after all. Now, the question remains: Will I have to flash my breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and occasional co-sleeping credentials if I have any hope of getting published?

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6 thoughts on “Free range parenting

  1. Oh, I know what you mean regarding the attitude of so many parents choosing the ‘hip’ way of attachment parenting. I definitely bought into it with #1. By the time I got through #2, I was genuinely in ‘whatever works for us’ mode… I don’t have a problem with most kinds of parenting, but I do find that the attachment crowd can be needlessly judgemental (or at least, I think I was, and it was encouraged in the kind of circles I moved). Baby-wearing was a must, and pacifiers/dummies were definitely a must-not! Using disposable nappies? HOW DARE YOU?! Haha. You get my gist 🙂

    Ours are supervised fairly loosely, and now that the baby’s around 18 months, he can have a lot more access than he used to. Sure, there are still places that are off-limits, and he’s confined to his cot on a night, so even if we sleep in–in a manner of speaking!–it’s only the older ones who can free-range around the house. Unfortunately they seem to want to free-range into our bedroom and get us up :/

    I would love to read more articles where it’s obvious where the author is coming from, through the stories she chooses to tell, rather than her having to explicitly state that she, too, is doing all the acceptable things to belong to the trendy parent crowd. Good luck with your writing endeavours 🙂 and your children sound like they’re doing just fine!

    • I’m an anthropologist, and I’ve lived in places around the world where it’s just taken for granted that you breastfeed, and carry your baby strapped to your front or back, and sleep with your baby. My Japanese friends all used cloth nappies and breastfed and slept with their babies – there was no other option. My Inuit friends all carry their babies on their backs, and breastfeed and sleep with them. It’s just normal life. And when I was a baby, my mother used cloth nappies, because there was no other option. So I did all those things with my daughters, not because I thought they were the hip or the eco-friendly things to do, but because it’s what I’ve seen other mothers do around the world. We’re mammals, we’re designed for breastfeeding and keeping our babies close. Plus all those things are cheaper, easier and require almost no special baby equipment!

      But there’s something about the way those elements of child rearing are presented in our culture that makes people feel like they’re bad parents if they don’t do those things. And that’s just wrong. Just as fashion and beauty magazines make women feel bad about their body image, I wonder do these ‘attachment parenting’ magazines make women feel bad about the way they raise their kids, because they aren’t living up these unattainable standards. I read these magazines and I think – these mothers can’t always be as calm and ‘earth-motherly’ as they claim to be. Sure they lose their tempers sometimes? Surely they occsasionally put the kid in a disposable nappy when they spend the weekend at Granny’s house? Surely they sometimes resent not having more room in the bed? We have enough things to make us feel guilty in life!

  2. Yup, that’s one (of several) things I don’t miss about having a baby, especially first time around. The competative parenting and peer pressure to do the “right” thing – not least getting off to a good start by having a completely natural birth – there is a risk anything less can be make a new mum feel a bit of a failure – the last thing you need in that situation, exhausted, having had to have medical intervention (aren’t we lucky that we have that option) and having a newborn.. Then breastfeeding – I have know of two parents who really struggled with breast feeding and eventually gave up and felt awful, despite the fact it was the best thing all round. Yes, breast may be best, but formula isn’t actually posion. And nappies and weaning and all the classes you pay to take your baby to when really what you get out of it is a chat with other mums, the baby probably would be just as happy at home with a wooden spoon and a cardboard box. OK, I’m going to stop ranting now as it’s all coming back to me.

    Really happy that we now have kids old enough (between them at least) to get their own breakfast. We stayed in bed until 10ish on Saturday -which felt very decadent. They didn’t bring us anything though, although I’m not sure I’m jealous of tea made with hot water, wasn’t that in an episode of Sooty?

    • I think I was really lucky with my first pregnancy because I met a great bunch of women at my antenatal classes. We were all supportive of each other and those of us who struggled through the early days (or 12 weeks in my case) of breastfeeding, found we could laugh together about it. A lot of laughter and cups of tea and chocolate biscuits got us through. At the time, those twelve weeks seemed like an eternity, but I never once thought I’d give up. It just wasn’t an option for me. I got through it and then it was lovely. I guess one of the issues I faced with breastfeeding was people telling me I should stop. I wanted to breastfeed and I was determined to get it right but I had members of my extended family telling me ‘Give up that ould shite’ (their words!). I guess the point I’m trying to make is – new mothers need support in the choices they make – not to be told ‘you must breastfeed’ or alternatively ‘give it up if it’s not working’. Support and choices, that’s all we want!

      I wanted to have home births, and my second daughter was born at home. But with my first daughter, I had an extremely long labour, and after 36 hours at home, I was transfered to hospital and my daughter then waited another 10 hours before appearing, via a spinal block and forceps. After that I had midwives and health visitors coming to me, really concerned that I didn’t have the labour I’d planned. They were concerned about post-natal depression arising from this. I was shocked that they would worry about this. Sure I’d wanted a home birth, and I didn’t get it. But the time I was at home was lovely (or, as lovely as these things can be), and at the end of it all I got what I wanted – a beautiful healthy baby. So the means to that end were kind of irrelevant to me.

      And you know what? Despite the fact that I don’t ever plan to get pregnant again…I’d almost do it just for the gas and air. Man, that stuff was good!!! I’ll have to ask my husband about Sooty…I’ve never seen it.

  3. I don’t think you need to explain or articulate why, but you and Julian are doing such a great job as parents – in my humble opinion – and I’m sure it will continue into the future 🙂

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