Unpopular Opinion: Parents Need To Shut The Hell Up

September 4, 2018

Please, keep your opinions to yourself. 

The other day I was absentmindedly scrolling Twitter when I came across a post from a writer I like – a woman who happens to have kids, and who often writes about being a mother – decrying an article some dude had written about where babies sleep.

A bunch of other writer-moms had replied to her tweet, all railing about what a moron this guy was, how sexist and terrible and just generally batshit insane.

Against my better judgment, I clicked on the article. It was, I found, a pretty inoffensive exploration of how it came to be that Western parents put babies in their own rooms to sleep, while in other parts of the world, kids and parents sleeping together is the norm. The tone of the article was scholarly, not prescriptive, and the author noted that he himself was a father, and that his children had slept in their own rooms as babies. He did wonder, however, whether that was really the best way to do things, and if families sleeping in the same room might be both more economical (families don’t need such big houses) and better for babies (makes it easier for parents to feed and tend to them at night).

I found the irate response to the article puzzling, yet predictable. As a parent, I long ago learned that you can’t say anything without being judged by another parent.

You’re breastfeeing? How dare you suggest that formula isn’t just as good as breast milk! I was formula fed and I turned out just fine, thank you very much. My husband was breastfed, and he’s allergic to everything. So there! Plus, I gave my kid formula, and her IQ is off the charts. She speaks four languages! Also, breastfeeding is primitive, anti-feminist and elitist. Congratulations on setting the women’s movement back and refusing to take advantage of modern science, you ignorant, privileged santimommy.

You used formula because your nipples were cracked and bleeding and you had postpartum depression and needed to go on antidepressants because you felt like you were dying? Obviously you just didn’t try hard enough. Did you hire a lactation consultant? Did you go to bed with your baby and stay skin-to-skin for a week and let him have 24/7 access to your breasts? No? Well, I guess some people don’t care about their babies as much as I care about mine. Maybe you shouldn’t have had children, you selfish asshole.

Name your parenting decision, and a similar rant could be substituted. Homebirth versus hospital birth, epidural or no epidural, elective C-section versus VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean, for the non-parents in the crowd), disposable diapers versus cloth diapers versus elimination communication (otherwise known as the diaper-free movement), daycare versus nanny versus staying home and doing the grunt work yourself, public school versus Waldorf school versus unschooling, time-outs versus natural consequences versus no discipline whatsoever because it might hurt your child’s feelings – the list is endless.

Believe me, I could play that game if I wanted to. I had both my babies at home, drug-free, all-natural style. I nursed my oldest for more than three years and my youngest for nearly five. I didn’t give them bottles or pacifiers, never once fed them baby food from a jar, used cloth diapers, co-slept (never owned a crib), wore them in slings, and practiced gentle discipline. Neither of them went to day care or was ever left to cry it out (also known as “sleep training” – Google it if you want to go down a rabbit hole of hysterical lunacy from both the pro- and anti- camps). And you know what? It worked great – for my family and me. I love being a mom.

But you know what else? I very rarely admit any of that to anyone. If another mom tells me she had her baby at home, I’ll usually volunteer that I, too, gave birth at home – but otherwise, I keep my mouth shut. If I mention my homebirth in mixed company, someone is guaranteed to tell me how she, or her baby, or both of them, would have died if she’d tried to give birth at home. That’ll be followed by the stink-eye and the silent treatment.

Sharing my mothering experiences, I’ve learned over and over again, is not okay. It’s viewed as an automatic judgment upon the person I’m talking to, no matter what. We parents are a defensive and touchy bunch.

That’s because as a parent, there will always be someone ready and willing to tell you that you’re doing it wrong – usually, another parent. But really, we’re all just doing our best.

On the internet, when one group piles on and attacks someone for sharing their experience or their opinion, that group is usually purporting to defend someone. Working mothers are defending their peers against those awful stay-home sanctimommies, while those same stay-home moms are banding together to defend themselves against being called sanctimonious and antifeminist. No one wins and everyone feels awful.

I don’t have an answer, other than to resign myself to the fact that this mean-girl behavior, which you might expect from junior high students, not women in their thirties and forties, never goes away. Everyone wants their own experience validated, and if they have to take someone else down to do it, they will.

Personally, I don’t care whether you had your baby at home, in a hospital, or by the side of the road. I don’t care how you discipline – or don’t discipline – your child. (Until your kid bites mine because you taught her that it’s always okay to express her feelings.) And I really don’t care if you only let your child play with organic wooden toys and eat artisanal, locally-sourced, grain-free snacks, or if you stick him in front of a screen with a McDonald’s Happy Meal so you can have a glass of wine and get a moment’s peace.

Just, please, whatever you do, don’t tell us about it.

Comment: Do you engage in parenting debates?

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