Are you a holistic parent? Maybe you've been called crunchy or a granola mom. Maybe your extended family rolls their eyes when you pull out the gluten free, organic snacks. You roll your eyes when they give your child plastic toys from China. Maybe your discipline style is different from the styles of your friends and family. Do you find that people judge you harshly for your parenting choices? Do you judge other people harshly for theirs? I'm tired of the judgment that I see between different kinds of parents. If we want to be truly holistic, I think we need to realize that other parents who do things differently are doing the best they know how to do and that they are parenting different kids.
I think it's important to at least try to practice non-judgment. I say try because I know how difficult it can be. How hard is it not to judge when you see your friend's kid gobbling up an artificially colored, GMO-laden, sugary snack? You may want to criticize her right away before she does her kid any more damage. At the same time, she may consider that snack to be a small part of her child's diet. She may even be concerned about some of your parenting choices.
If you approach other moms with respect, they'll be more likely to respect your ideas. Your friend may learn from your actions and admire your well-behaved, sugar free child who almost never gets sick. No doubt you can also learn from things that she does as a parent. From experience, I'd like to suggest a different way to view other parents and their choices. Simply put, not only are they doing their best under different circumstances, they are parenting different kids.
For example, I know that my daughter has a very sensitive system. She gets tummy troubles from certain foods. Some people don't understand why I would try special diets or restrict her foods at all. Other kids seem to do fine eating the very things that would send my girl into a tummy ache or a downward spiral. I suppose I get a little jealous of those other moms whose kids can digest eggs, dairy and wheat. I try not to judge if they also feed their kids sugar frosted flakes, toaster pastries and bologna sandwiches. Of course, if someone comes to me wondering what to do for a child's earache, I tell them how my own daughter's chronic ear infections have cleared up since we discovered her allergy to dairy products.
On top of her various digestive issues, my girl wasn't born with the common sense or self preservation that I was expecting. I wanted to be one of those relaxed moms who lets her child experience the world and learn from mistakes. Instead, I've had to constantly protect her from dangers like running in front of moving vehicles or jumping into a pool by herself and trying to breathe under water because she thought she was a mermaid. Someone watching me parent her in those early years probably thought I was a total helicopter parent. Maybe I was.
Now that my daughter's older, I can fortunately be a little more relaxed. This is good because it seems that she learns best from her mistakes. For example, she only learned not to run in front of her cousin on the swing when her cousin ran into her and knocked her over. I was nearby to dry her tears and give her a hug, hoping that more lessons will be this easy and free of lasting damage. When I see other parents trying to keep their kids out of harm, I empathize. Nobody wants to see their kids get hurt and it's really hard to know what will be a teaching moment and what will be serious.
Maybe, like the foods that are friendly for our own unique bodies,
there is no parenting style that will work for every child or every family.
I know that other moms who have different kids don't understand my parenting choices. I even sometimes wish that things could be different. I didn't set out to be an attachment parent. I knew that I wanted to breastfeed for a long time, but I fell into the rest because I had a high need baby who didn't sleep well and cried every time I set her down. She wouldn't take a bottle or a pacifier. (Ask my mom, who really tried hard to be able to feed her so that I could get a break.)
Fortunately I had a large support network of other mommies who taught me about the many benefits of attachment parenting. They taught me about baby wearing and encouraged me to be responsive to the needs of my baby. Because of my own experience, I often wonder how much we create our parenting styles and how much our unique children create them for us.
Reading articles and research studies hasn't definitively answered my questions about the best parenting style for my daughter. I've found studies that support authoritative parenting. I've also found studies to support a more child-centered approach. There are articles that discredit attachment parenting as harmful to children. There is just as much research and articles to support it. Maybe, like the foods that are friendly for our own unique bodies, there is no parenting style that will work for every child or every family.
Like holistic medicine, holistic parenting should address the underlying causes of our child's behavior rather than just treating the symptoms. I often wish there were a one size fits all approach or a manual that would tell me exactly how to behave in every situation. I also wish that I could be my best self all the time and never make parenting mistakes. Being holistic requires me to be present and often get creative in my actions as a parent. When I make mistakes, as I often do, I'm not afraid to explain what happened and apologize. Fortunately and unfortunately, kids learn from our actions. I know that I want to raise a child who admits her mistakes and takes responsibility for the consequences. I guess I'm setting a good example in my own imperfection as long as I acknowledge it and make amends. There is no such thing as a perfect person or a perfect parent.
I'm troubled by the judgment and pressure that we put on each other as parents. These judgments separate us and shame us when we really need support. Maybe that mother who seems too laid back has developed her style because her child is very self sufficient and practical. The mother who seems to be following her child around too closely may be meeting the needs of a child who tends to put himself in danger. From the way my daughter taught me to parent her, I have to think that the behaviors of our unique children help create our own parenting styles, sometimes in ways that surprise us. At the very least, thinking holistically in this way helps keep me from judging and stressing out about what other parents may or may not be doing. The reduction in stress helps me be more present with my own unique girl and focus on what might be best for her. Sometimes I think I actually get it right.
Some of My Favorite Helpful Parenting Resources:
Stephanie Aegerter, a.k.a. Stephafriendly, is a wife, mother, farmers' market manager and health coach in Janesville, Wisconsin. She has a seven-year-old daughter here on Earth and a baby boy in Heaven. She blogs about a variety of topics at Stepha-Friendly Foods, where food is just part of the journey. She enjoys natural food cooking, environmental education, activism, gardening, crafting and, of course, writing. She is studying to be a Health Coach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.