ControverSunday: The Good and The Bad

by Ginger on March 9, 2010

in Mom Thoughts

Ok, yeah, it’s Tuesday, not Sunday. I’m a little behind the times. But luckily this group is pretty relaxed in the “schedule”, so I’m going for it anyway.

This week, we weren’t given a topic–it was a free for all to write about whatever our little hearts desired. Which is the perfect time to talk about something that’s been bugging me for, oh, ever. And that’s the idea of “good” and “bad” parenting styles. I’m probably going to meander quite a bit with this post since my feelings are all over the place, but hopefully you’ll all come along for the ride.

In some of the ControverSunday posts and comments, we’ve thrown around the idea of being on the “good” side of parenting choices, or the “bad” side. Generally, there’s an implication or explicit declaration that there are certain things that put you in the good column: breastfeeding (particularly extended), cloth diapering, delayed/no-vaxxing, babyfood making, co-sleeping, babywearing, and not-circumcising are the biggies. In the bad column we have: formula feeding, crib sleeping, vaccinating, circumcising, disposable diapering, and tv watching.To name a few.

It’s nagged at me, since the first time I saw it come up–this idea of “sides” based on choices we make for our children & families. I couldn’t put my finger on it for a while, but I think what I’ve come to is threefold:

1. If you’ve ever seen truly BAD parenting, you realize that none of the things in the bad column deserve the name. They are choices, yes, but they aren’t BAD.

The world is full of crappy parents. It’s a sad fact that you have to prove yourself more worthy of adopting a stray animal than procreating, and some people, frankly, aren’t cut out to be parents. But you know what? There are crappy parents who do all the stuff in the good column–that doesn’t make them good parents. That doesn’t make them more righteous or more caring. It makes them crappy parents who do some things that have been labeled as good. The appearance to the outside world would be of a “good” parent if someone just looked at those categories. Oh, they breastfeed and co-sleep and don’t circumcise and so obviously love and care for their child beyond reason. Never mind that they may still be crappy parents once you remove the outward show.

2. We seem to apply these labels to ourselves more than to others, adding one more layer to the parenting guilt that we all carry.

Almost all the discussions where this has come up, it has been someone labeling their own choices. “I’m normally not on the good side”, “I find it odd to be on the right side”. The more I think about this, the more I think it’s a function of our own guilt of making the “wrong” decision. I fight it all the time–are we doing right by the kid? Are we going to harm him in his development, or in some aspect of his later life by the choices we’re making now? Which research to believe? How bad of a parent am I that I’m taking the “easy” way, rather than the “right” way? But I think we do ourselves a real disservice here. Parenting is hard enough, and this kind of thinking just makes it even harder for ourselves.  I think that we could apply the sentiment that appeared in last week’s discussion here: “you’re not a parent to MY kid”. Honestly, some of our kids make these choices for us–and until we embrace our choices as being right for our kids, our families, we just add more stress and guilt to ourselves.

And finally, the one that could really get me in trouble:

3. I’ve noticed that the things in the “good” column tie mommy home wherever possible

If you really stop and look at what things have been graced with the “good” moniker, you’ll notice that they almost all add a level of difficulty, if not impossibility, for working moms. With a few exceptions, they tether mommy and child together at a more aggressive level than those in the bad column. I can’t help but wonder if this is the new way of chastising women for daring to leave the home and hearth? The implied message? The best thing for a child can’t be accomplished without Mom at home with him. The closer you get to that tether, the closer you get to the cultural “good” job. No wonder we struggle with this stuff as mothers. Because we’re all modern women, whether we are SAHM or not, who have our own identities, and the image of “good” seems like it can only be accomplished by almost abandoning any outside endeavors until the child is well past those important first years.

I call bullshit on it all. Look, I’m not advocating that we all throw our kids in front of the tv, leave them be with whatever sugary substance they can get their hands on, and go frollicking about without thinking about the impact it may have for a kid. But the idea that these choices in particular are good or bad without looking at context, family dynamics, individual children and their needs is crap. We need to start looking beyond just “this is always right” “this is always wrong” about freaking bottles or diapers or where a kid sleeps. Because at the end of the day, it’s a choice. One choice in a LONG line of choices we have to make as parents. We’re going to make mistakes, I promise we all will, but let’s not have the labels dictate what is or isn’t a mistake.

(ETA: I realize that this could, in a way, be seen as knocking the entirety of the ControverSunday themes thus far. That’s not really how I mean it–I think there are interesting things within each of these topics to discuss, particularly when you start to look at research along with individual circumstances. My main point is that vilifying ourselves over these decisions just adds to our own parenting angst needlessly.)

Check out more of the participants of ControverSunday here–they’re all smarter than me, and their posts prove it!

Our Lady of Perpetual Bread Crumbs


The Mothering Life


Accidents will happen.


Brooke March 9, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I love the line about if you’ve seen truly crappy parenting, none of these things belong in the bad column!

I think you make a really interesting point about tethering women to the house. Homeschooling also seems to be moving toward the “good” column, tethering moms to their homes and children even further.

Fearless Formula Feeder March 9, 2010 at 7:16 pm

This is an excellent post. I’m so glad I “found” you via this ControverSunday thing.

I have thought about this “tethering” concept and been too afraid to voice it. And here you are with the chutzpah to bring the idea into the open. I’m curious what kind of response this will get…. but it really seems that way, doesn’t it? Sometimes I wonder if all this parenting crap is a secret master conspiracy to undo what our parent’s generation did for feminism. Scariest thing is, so many factions of modern feminism are the worst offenders of santicmommy-dom. Completely missing the point that while yes, it is noble to be a mother, and yes, it is radical to rage against the medical and parenting status quo, it is also anti-feminist to slam other women’s choices. Especially when those choices are made in the name of balance or emotional survival.

I am a fiercely independent person. My son is too. Attachment parenting would never have worked for us, as much as my romantic notion of this practice made me desire babywearing, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, etc. I would’ve been miserable if I had forced myself into doing these things – and my son would’ve hated it too. We figured out how to do things that worked for US. And many of those things probably fall into the “bad” category.

As you so wonderfully expressed – I call bullshit. 🙂

Perpetua March 10, 2010 at 4:44 am

Totally agree with your point three. I think I was commenting something along these lines…somewhere…YES, regarding daycare prices. Whether intended or not, they can require a woman who would rather be working to stay at home. I say women when, yes, more fathers stay home now. But so often fathers are lauded for their “sacrifice,” whereas when a woman does the exact same thing, she’s merely fulfilling her obligation.

I’m off-track. The point is, you’re right, many of the “good” parenting practices require absolute devotion of time and energy, thus further vilifying the “bad” parent who must or choose to return to work.

Katherine March 10, 2010 at 10:13 am

I’m pretty sure my brother and I were raised with everything in the bad column plus our mother was gone 3-4 days a week starting from when each of us were 3 months old. We seem pretty normal.

I’d also like to point out that I read an article yesterday on how babywearing/slings can sometimes cause the child to suffocate depending on the position, so “good” is not alway good.

Don’t let the righteous define what is “good.” They aren’t better parents, just more judgemental and vocal.

Accidents March 10, 2010 at 10:56 am

You’re so right. What’s most problematic, to my mind, is when parents don’t see that what’s “good” and what’s “bad” is not inherently good or bad in terms of parenting, it’s what’s politically or fashionably “preferred” at any given moment. For instance, if you ask the AAP if co-sleeping is “good” then there would be a resounding NO. But if you ask the natural parenting camp that is very vocal on the Internet, the answer is a forceful YES. And if your definition of what’s “good” and “bad” depends on some vague notion of what’s “best for baby” then where does a choice like cloth or disposable diapering land? Nowhere. Neither is best for the baby, though some will argue one or the other is better for the environment, or a family’s budget, or a parent’s sanity. The baby’s care doesn’t come into it, so how can this reflect on someone’s parenting?

And yet, as I wrote in an old post, you get those crazy epithets people attach to themselves, a la “I’m a cloth-diaperin’-baby-wearin’-co-sleepin’ mama” as if those things make one a kind of parent (good or bad). It’s just, odd.

To my mind, these issues are more about consumerism than about parenting. But because of the baby-industrial-complex we get people identifying by what they consume or don’t consume, by small choices rather than large philosophies.

I’ve gone on waaaaay too long, but I wanted to say that #1 above, SO TRUE.

Megan March 10, 2010 at 11:44 am

I love it!

I never thought of the tethering issue, but it is very true. I don’t (really) work outside the home, but I disposable diaper. I always intended on cloth diapering, but I was too overwhelmed with, you know, having a NEWBORN to add another stress to my pile. Then, when she got older, I considered it again, but I find that I simply cannot stay home all day. Even though I’m going to work, I can’t imagine dealing with cloth diapers when we are on the go, every single day. I’m an environmentalist, so it kills me to throw all those diapers away. But, I totally agree with Accidents that it isn’t about my parenting or the baby. It’s just a shitty environmental decision.

I just realized that that whole last paragraph is me apologizing for not choosing out of the “good” parenting column. Thank you for this post, because I will never do that again. I don’t need to justify my decisions or worry what others think of them.

Okay, this is getting lengthy, but I wanted to add that I am laughing over here about what Accidents said about the “cloth-diaperin’,baby-wearin’co-sleepin’ mama” shirts. I was JUST thinking how obnoxious that it. I’m gonna make a shirt that says “I’m a envrionment wrecking, disposable diapering, formula supplementing, CIO meanie”. Or not. Because it’s kinda long. And people might throw rocks at me.

Kathleen March 10, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Great post!

I totally hadn’t thought of the ‘tethered to home’ aspect of the currently popular parenting choices. It is certainly an interesting thought, but one I am not sure what to make of. There seems to be a connection, although I am not sure it is a conscious one. In the sense that I am not sure if anyone is purposely “chastising women for daring to leave the home and hearth” because, for the most part, it seems to be Mom’s (particularly a number of Mommy bloggers) who are really pushing these choices. So maybe it is just a natural part of the feminist cycle: reclaiming the home and hearth for Mom’s who felt they were being told they HAD to leave the home in order to fulfill themselves. I don’t know. Anyway, it got me thinking, which I always enjoy in a blog post.

And, at the risk of being shamlessly self-promoting… here are two posts I wrote recently on the issue:

Ginger March 10, 2010 at 9:01 pm

I hadn’t even considered homeschooling (can you tell my focus is on baby age?), but I can see how that falls in line here.
All I know is homeschooling isn’t for our family. I’m a little too lazy to be responsible for my kid’s education!

Ginger March 10, 2010 at 9:08 pm

See, I think you nailed part of it–I think every parent/child combo has to figure it out for themselves, without the judgement that they’re doing it wrong. What works in theory may not work in reality, but we’re constantly confronted with the idea that “THIS is what’s right” so it makes it easy to get down on our choices.
I’m glad to see when parents know enough about themselves and their kids (like you and your son) to know what would and wouldn’t work. For them!

Ginger March 10, 2010 at 9:12 pm

As if those of us who have to work outside the home need one more reason to feel guily or judged!
And yeah, I definitely see the folks who think of my husband as special/going above and beyond, while at the same time they question why I’M not the one home. Which is pretty damn irritating.

Ginger March 10, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Consumerism does play a large part in the discussion–or maybe “status” is a word that fits better in my mind. We judge each other and ourselves so often on our things, that of course a baby and all the choices around a baby become another expression of how good we are/how much we can buy/how willing we are to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the bay-bee. Those epithets you talk about do seem to be everywhere–and it’s hard not to absorb that into your own self-judgement whether you mean to or not.

Ginger March 10, 2010 at 9:28 pm

I won’t throw rocks, I promise! I think we should all own our parenting choices and screw what the world thinks! (I know, easier said than done, right?)

Ginger March 10, 2010 at 9:37 pm

You’re right, I don’t think it’s something that’s happening on purpose–I don’t think anyone stands around saying “hey, you know what we can do to try and revoke all that feminists have done in the past?” And maybe it is just part of a cycle of reclaiming the home. But I do think there’s an inherent judgement in some of this (from some corners more than others) that makes it hard sometimes. Because if it swings back too far the other direction–to the idea that you MUST stay home to be a good mom–that puts a whole hell of a lot of us in the “bad” parent column.
And damn, I should have just linked directly to your posts–you covered much of what I’m trying to say, but way more eloquently!

Kathleen March 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I totally agree, when it swings to far is when it gets judgmental. I think that really hurts the “pro” whatevers arguments- making a huge group of Mom’s feel alienated is no way to encourage any particular way of parenting.

And thanks, but your post made me think about it in a different way… which I always like. I am really enjoying reading your blog.

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