Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My Midwife is a Sherpa

     So, I just read an article in Forbes describing 'Natural Parenting' as just another way of oppressing women. I have read other articles that addressed this indirectly, but this article does the best job of articulating what I have been feeling for a while. Though the natural parenting movement may have started with the goal of nurturing the relationship between parent and child, it has turned into something patriarchal, and frankly, racist.
     Full disclosure, I did and do follow a lot of what natural parenting prescribes. I'm a suburban mom, what do you expect? I wanted to go anesthesia free for my first delivery. I breastfed until my kids were two. I am very self conscious about the amount of screen time my kids get, and we eat organic produce. So, I am not saying by any means that the individual acts of natural parenting are bad. That would actually run counter to my point. What the Forbes article outlines, and with which I agree, is that natural parenting is a system of moral judgment that women internalize, and manipulates women into placing their own needs second. Anesthesia? Give it up for baby. Ease in diapering? Give it up for baby. Sleep? Time? Personal space? Sanity? Those things are nothing compared to the rewarding smile of your child, right? RIGHT?
     That said, I will now link to a skit by Amy Schumer that is hilarious and at least tangentially addresses this topic.
     As noted in the video clip, natural parenting is an attempt to refocus parenting to the way "supposed to be", So friggin white-privileged hipster: "You know, the way people parented before it was so commercial." I am very guilty of this. I have so idealized the "authentic" that I catch myself considering how parents would have done things thousands of years ago (Before parenting was cool) and then measure my own parenting style against it. This is what "natural parenting" is: comparing our parenting skills to people who beat animals to death with bones, and guessing that their parenting was probably more effective.
Bicycling before it was cool.
     And then there are the racist elements. I didn't really think about it until I started writing this article, but now that I think about it, Natural Parenting movement. has the noble native written all over it. The noble native is a stereotype that non-white people are more in tune with nature and therefore, wiser, more moral and in tune with life than other people from the more industrialized nations. It may be a more benevolent form of racism, but it's still just a way of insisting non-whites are inherently different than whites. While the natural parenting movement somewhat references the turning back to the way "parenting about how people in non-industrialized countries parent. The founder of attachment parenting started his philosophy after observing local women carrying babies on their backs. In Hypno-birthing, there is a passage about a Korean woman birthing a child without pain or fear on the side of hill. While it is true that women in less industrialized countries parent more closely to the way people have for millennia, the idea that they are somehow outside a world of material distraction and therefore closer to nature, well, that's just racist.
     I have spent a decent amount of time with women in Zambia. I love them. They are smart, and funny and awesome. However, despite using all of the hallmarks of natural parenting, they do not walk around in a state of fully-actualized bliss. It is true that most Zambian women breastfeed, co-sleep, carry their babies everywhere in slings and feed their children mostly organic foods from local farms. A lot have their own chickens, and I am willing to bet one or two of them have made something out of a pallet. Despite this, their babies still cry. Zambian kids are still just kids, who shout, and fight and ignore instructions, and Zambian mothers still holler at their kids to play somewhere else and stop causing trouble. Mothering is by no means easier in Zambia; the mere suggestion is absolutely ridiculous. The only way in which mothering could be easier is that Zambians don't have a bunch of people telling mothers how 'unnatural' they are.
     So what is my take away from this? I think I need to focus on breaking the unjust framework of natural parenting. Some of the elements of natural parenting are great: I like eating organic, and I think limiting screen time is important. I am frankly too lazy to put my kids back in their beds when they come in at 4AM, so co-sleeping is still a go for us as well. What I need to do is remember that it's a fad, not the eternal word of God. As long as I loved and cared for my kids, I could trash the entire mindset and it would make absolutely no difference. I need to remember that the entrenched mentality of natural parenting can be obnoxious at best and hurtful at worst.
Just keep repeating it: "Natural Parenting is way too mainstream. Natural Parenting is way too mainstream".