Bundle of Contradictions

JUNE 11, 2010 2:22PM

The Politics of Parenthood

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When I became visibly pregnant, I felt like I was suddenly jumped into a gang I'd only been peripherally aware of. Seeing my protruding belly as a badge of camaraderie, people began to approach me--in the grocery store, in line at the movies, in public restrooms--to discuss the pantheon of parenthood and all that implied.

It wasn't their graphic descriptions of childbirth that scared me, or the streams of advice on everything from stretchmarks to preschools. The issues that began to surface again and again, and carried with them vehemence, judgement, and fervor, were the parental politics--vaccinations, co-sleeping, going back to work, c-sections vs. vaginal birth, circumcision and breastfeeding.  

Pre-pregnancy I'd rarely heard a fleeting discussion on these topics, much less a full scale argument, and now that I was a member of the procreation set, I wasn't sure I wanted to be party to the debate. From my birth class to hospital tours, to gatherings of parents at barbeques, I saw allegiances being drawn over what I viewed to be strictly personal decisions.

Why did anyone else care if I chose to sleep with my newborn or put her in a crib? How did that affect their own relationship with their children? And who cares if your friend carries their baby constantly or lets them explore at her feet? Does that make her less of a caring mother? Couldn't stay-at-home-moms respect working mothers and vice-versa? Why should they be at odds?

Where was all of this nitpicking and competitiveness coming from? From all accounts our parent's generation wasn't losing sleep over whether or not to diaper their babies in cloth or disposables. From a psych 101 perspective it simply appeared that many parents, awash in their own insecurities, became obsessed with converting others to their chosen parenting paths, lest they flounder alone in their approach. But there is something more there. Something more specific to this generation and this time.

Could it be that our propensity to have babies later in life means that many of us cannot shake our learned behaviors from years in the workplace? Are we hardwired to compete and overanalyze for the best results? Have we, the children of Babyboomers, been imbued with a narcissism from our own over-indulgent childhoods? Or are we just on the edge of stress-related madness from a too-fast-moving world and too-high expectations? 

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I suspect it has to do with the economy of scale. My parents had 4 kids in 5 years and back then that was not unusual. Now, a couple may have one or two at the most. Any more and it is assumed you are mormon or catholic or a member of some other inexplicable death cult.
Parents had to watch over several kids. Just keeping them alive was considered a stellar performance. Now, you have the one kid to give all that attention to and, by god, you WILL get it right!

I was a awesome parent until I started having kids of my own...
Interesting post, Cedar. I've heard many friends complaining about the same thing.
Tom, I think you still qualify as an awesome parent...