When I became a parent, I was determined to be “the best.” If parenting were the X-Games, I was going to win it. I somehow I believed that parenting was like that. I came from a cut-throat graduate school background, where we had clear winners and clear losers, and I was not going to be a loser. I was Hermione Granger, folks. I was in it to win it. So when I popped out my oldest son, I threw myself totally, completely, and wholeheartedly into extreme parenting.
And yeah, I judged all of y’all I was leaving behind in the dust.
I did All The Things. I tried a natural birth, but when that didn’t work out, we made damn sure that cord quit pulsing before we cut it. We delayed his first bath. We did All The Birth Things and then All The Breastfeeding Things. We practiced such extreme parenting that we wore our baby in the hospital. We wore our baby out of the hospital. We co-slept. We delayed shots based on Dr. Sears’ (dangerous and unproven, but still extreme parenting!) advice. We never took the carseat from the car, gave the baby a bottle, or left him for more than an hour, and even then with deep reluctance and hand-wringing. He was never given baby food, but did baby-led solids — no pureés for precious! — and only cloth diapers ever, ever touched his butt (literally, he never used a disposable) because I was convinced the chemicals in disposable diapers would make him sterile. Yeah, I know, to say we were “extreme” might be an understatement.
We did most of this stuff with all three of our sons, though we did vaccinate on schedule (no more delayed vaxxing). I tandem-nursed. I breastfed my youngest until he was 4 1/2, and yes, I have nursed a 2.5-year-old in public and glared at you poor sons of bitches who thought I was weird.
I was doing this shit right. Sure, we might have been extreme parenting, but we were doing what we should be doing, because we were lucky enough (and we would readily admit that) to have the socioeconomic means to do so. I didn’t judge moms who needed to leave their kids to work. I judged moms who left their three-month-olds to go to dinner.
My sons are five, seven, and nine now. They’re homeschooled (yeah, I know that’s still kind of extreme), so I have plenty of time to talk to their friends’ parents during playdates and social events. I know who was bottlefed, who co-slept, who did baby-led solids and who couldn’t stand cloth diapers. I know who dragged a stroller everywhere and who used an Ergo.
For the most part, when I look at the kids, though, I can’t tell the goddamn difference.
My extreme parenting? All that stuff I suffered and agonized over, all those races I thought I had to win, all those judgments I made? All of them were worth exactly nothing.
The kids who did baby-led solids don’t eat any better than their friends who had pureés.
The kids who co-slept don’t act much different than the kids who cried it out, though the kids who cried it out seem more likely to carry around a special stuffie or blanky.
Fuck the diapers. Only the landfill can tell.
I was so extreme I wouldn’t leave my kid to go to dinner. I was an extreme idiot. I had legions of people dying to watch my firstborn. I could have plopped him with them, handed over a bottle, and said sayonara. Instead, everyone figured out we didn’t leave our kids and stopped offering, until we had three kids and no goddamn babysitters. So much for extreme.
To all of you I judged: you weren’t losing. I had already lost when I decreed parenting a kind of competitive sport where only the extreme managed to medal. I feel sorry for the mothers I threw side-eye. I also feel sorry for the woman covering her own terrible anxiety with a thin veneer of parental smugness.
But … extreme parenting worked for us.
I had suffered from severe prepartum depression, and I believe that constant babywearing helped me not only connect with my kids (something I was terrified I wouldn’t do), but protected me from more depression and anxiety.
My husband and I have moderate to severe ADHD. It was much easier for us to remember to throw in a load of diaper laundry, which was sitting in our faces, than to pick up diapers at the store. Baby-led solids solved our baby food problem, and breastfeeding solved the formula issue.
I need lots of sleep, and we were able to co-sleep safely. I got the sleep I needed. I breastfed late because, well, it just worked for us. Plain and simple. My kids liked the security of it, and we think it probably helped give them some calories, because they’ve always been skinny little things.
So yeah, we went extreme. It worked. But we don’t get any parenting medals. We shouldn’t get any extra pats on the back, no more than “average” parents, and probably less, because all the stuff we did we based on partly on laziness (see baby-led solids and co-sleeping) — they ended up a hell of a lot easier than conventional parenting.
But all that harder stuff, like the hard-and-fast no-bottles rule, never-leave-your-baby-ever, strollers-cause-disassociation-and-sadness, one-disposable-diaper-will-make-your-son-sterile? Yeah. Didn’t fucking matter. I can’t point to the kids whose parents left them to CIO. I don’t know which kids lived in a stroller. Of course, I think my kids are the sweetest and nicest children on earth. But that’s my husband’s influence, not the co-sleeping.
So new moms, stop stressing. You won’t break the baby. In five years, no one will be able to tell what parenting choices you made. It’s hard now. Every decision seems like it will spiderweb outwards to dangerous consequences later in life. But that extreme parenting nonsense? Total nonsense. Take it from someone who’s been there, done that, gotten the T-shirt then sewn a cloth diaper out of it: Don’t worry about things.
Pick up your baby, cuddle them while you can, and let the rest take care of itself.