Dear World: Your Labels Are Ruining Parenthood

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 

I’ve always thought of myself as a free spirit. I hate labels, and the way they box people in.

In high school I despised being called a hippie just because I wore tie-dye leggings and wrote poems. I didn’t even like it when I was named “Most Individualistic” in the yearbook. “Individualistic” fit me OK, but it still felt like a label. It still represented other people expecting me to be a certain way. I was just me. A human being. (An awesome human being, ahem.)

Part of what I didn’t like about labels was that they assumed that who I was couldn’t change. Yeah, I might have been hippie-ish in high school, but by college I was wearing suits and make-up, and working in an office part-time to pay my way through school.

Some people were surprised when I became more mainstream, but I wasn’t. I may have looked different – my life may have had a different focus – but I was still me.

I made it through high school and college, mostly ignoring all the boxes and labels and suppositions about my identity.

Then I became a parent. And, whoa nelly. Parents label the shit out of each other.

Or maybe we parents aren’t doing the labeling. Maybe the “experts” are. Perhaps we should we blame social media – the way we see each other’s lives and compare. Is it something about how this generation was raised? Something in the water? I don’t know, but I’m just so fucking tired of it, I want to scream.

As soon as I conceived my first child, I had to choose a side. Should we have a traditional baby shower, or invite men? What about a hippie-dippy blessing way? Should we find out the sex of the baby? And of course, the big ones – hospital or home birth? Epidural or drug-free?

I really thought I could escape all the labels, but even now, as a pretty seasoned mom, I find myself grappling with them on a daily basis.

Some version of this monologue is constantly playing in my head:

I’m a SAHM, but I write while the kids are glued to their screens, and I squeeze in other work on the weekends. So what the hell do I call myself? A SAHM? A WAHM? Maybe just a workaholic …

Which reminds me: I’m the kind of parent who limits screen time … except when I’m working. Or feeling like crap, or haven’t slept, or don’t want to unload the dishwasher. So basically, my kids are on screens all the fucking time, and I am literally turning their brains to mush …

But wait! I am the biggest attachment parent you’ve ever met. My babies were born at home, I breastfed them forever, co-slept. Wow! Go me. I should win the Attachment Parenting Olympics.

Uh-oh. Except I don’t homeschool. My son loves school, actually learns there, and wants to go. AND I AM GUILTY ABOUT IT EVERY SECOND OF MY LIFE. Why? Because I should be the one teaching him goddamn it, and his virgin eyes should never look at a Common Core math book like, ever, in his whole life.

And OH SHIT. I didn’t cloth diaper either. I didn’t even buy Seventh Generation diapers. Pampers all the way, man. And I didn’t change them until they were heavy with pee. So I’m sure their butts and penises are full of chemicals, and it will be all my fault when the horrible diaper chemicals end up poisoning them.

But AT LEAST I didn’t circumcise them because oh lord that’s brutality right there! (I am secretly totally OK with people who circumcise. But shhhhh. Don’t let the anti-circ crowd know.)

Oh My God. I think that’s it. I can’t even bear to write any more.

But I’m sure you can dig up more about me. All my contradictions, all the ways I am and am not living up to an idea that you have about me, or that I have about myself.

It needs to end. We need to stop worrying about what kind of parents we are, what box we fit in, and just BE. Parenting has become a sporting event, with parents constantly competing – not only with each other, but with themselves.

Remember your parents? Were they thinking about any of this shit? Were they striving for perfection in the same way we are?

It’s almost like we don’t trust ourselves to follow our instincts, to make our decisions based on our own thoughts and desires. It’s like we don’t trust ourselves at all.

Again, I don’t know who’s to blame, but the change must come from within, from us. I think a lot of us are feeling the drive to end this nonsense. I think we all just want to be ourselves – our flawed, evolving, amazing selves.

So all to all the breastfeeders, formula feeders, crib sleepers, co-sleepers, schoolers, homeschoolers, un-schoolers, free-range parents, helicopter parents, at-home parents, working parents – and whoever else is out there – you are none of these things. You are you. You are imperfect. You are beautiful. And anyone who tells you otherwise can shut the hell up.

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