Monday, April 03, 2006

The scariest thing about the prospect of procreation

I don't usually read the comments on Dooce because frankly, she's just too popular. After about twelve, "I know what you mean, my two year old does the exact same thing! BTW, I love your site, and Chuck is soo cute," I just lose interest. (Although if it was my own blog, I probably wouldn't mind hearing those things over and over again.) But after Jon wrote an entry in response to some of the hateful comments that had been left on Dooce's most recent blog post, I went back and read a few of them.

Wow. Such hate. One person actually threatened to call Child Protection Services, another told her she should have just bought a cat instead of having a baby. The cause of all the commotion? Dooce told her readers that she had sleep-trained her daughter when she was six months old. Now, this isn't a Mommy blog, so I won't assume that my readers know about the controversy surrounding sleep-training. There are basically two major schools of thought: the attachment parenting, co-sleeping school, where your baby stays in your bed with you (LINK) and the sleep-training, "cry it out" school, where your baby sleeps in her own bed and is trained to put herself to sleep (LINK). There are a lot of people who fall somewhere in the middle, too, with a crib in the parents' bedroom, or rocking their children to sleep before placing them in their cribs and responding every time they cry during the night, etc. I'm not a mom, so I am probably not entitled to an opinion on this matter, but here are my thoughts, for what they're worth.

I used to babysit for two families when I was a teenager. The first family had a three-year-old and a one-year-old, both of whom had been rocked to sleep and only ever placed in their cribs after they fell asleep. When I babysat for them, bedtime was an enormous ordeal. I had to hold the baby in my arms whilst sitting on the end of the toddler's bed. Once the toddler fell asleep, I could tiptoe out of the room and place the baby in his crib. Often, the toddler would hear me sneaking out and wake up, and he would wake up the baby, and I would have to sit back down and start again from scratch. If I did manage to sneak out of the toddler's room, half of the time the baby would wake up while I was trying to put him in his crib, which would wake up the toddler, and I would be back to square one again. I loved these kids, but the bedtime ordeal was extremely frustrating for me. Now, contrast this with the other family I babysat for, who had sleep-trained their son, and all I had to do was put him in his crib and wait for him to quiet down after 2-3 minutes of crying.

I have lost touch with the first family, but the second boy is a well-adjusted teenager now. But what good is anecdotal evidence? There are kids who co-slept and are doing well, too. I, like many people out there, don't think that there is one right way to raise children. Obviously, the cry-it-out method has worked for many people, and their children have turned out fine, even better than fine in many cases. But co-sleeping, and everything in between, has worked for other people, and guess what, their kids are doing fine, too. There is a lot of research to defend both positions, but that doesn't seem to stop their advocates from turning hateful when they disagree. As one of Dooce's commenters said, "Their (sic) are books singing the parises (sic) of racism, and homophobia, and of hate, and violence -- no one seems to pick these books up and defend them as 'whatever works for you'." Advocates of both positions are convinced that their position is right, and the opposing position is as evil and unfounded as racism.

Every child, parent, and family is different. You can't expect the same method to work for everyone. Every family has a different family culture, too, and that is something that is not so easily quantified. Diversity means a lot more than just a mix of different colored people. Diversity means that some people are more introverted, some people are more interested in politics, some people are more competitive, some people are more athletic, some people are better listeners. Some families play board games together, some families go camping together, some families spread out and go to five different community activities each night, some families sing together, some families read quietly in their separate rooms each evening. Honestly, I don't think co-sleeping would have worked in the family culture I grew up with. My parents' door was closed to me, and part of the respect that I learned for adults was instilled from the very early years when I was trained to sleep in my own bed. But I have known families with a different family culture for whom co-sleeping fit better than anything else.

I honestly can't say for sure which method, or variant thereof, we will choose to use when we have kids. But the problem is, whatever method we choose will instantly stamp me as a supporter of one side of the camp or the other. Saying, "whatever works for you" is all well and good until I decide that one or the other will work for me, and suddenly, half of you will think I'm evil.

Which brings us back to the Mommy Wars, and the frequently heard woman blogger's plea of "why can't we all just get along?" I say woman blogger, because I am a female, and I am more familiar with being a female than being a male. In my experience, which is of course not conclusive, I have found that men are more willing to fight on a superficial level while really getting along deep down, whereas women are more willing to get along on a superficial level while really fighting deep down. Personally, I think the stereotypically male approach is healthier. I would rather "do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends" (Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew) than feign friendship while quietly hating you on the inside. But, we don't keep it inside anymore, do we? Women used to quietly suppress their opinions, while acting civil on the surface, but in recent years, we have become much more willing to speak our minds. And then the internet came along, and we found a venue in which we could say all of those things we were thinking with relative anonymity to people for whom we have no responsibility to keep up a civil veneer. So now we are hateful and cutting on the outside as well as the inside, and it seems like all we ever do is either fight or flatter - there is no healthy debate.

So I'm afraid of procreation. Not because I don't feel like I'm ready to be a parent (which I don't), or because I know we don't have enough money (which we don't), or because I am afraid of complications and miscarriages (which I am). I'm afraid of having to make parenting decisions that, as right as I know they are for me and mine, will inevitably not be the ones that someone out there thinks I should have made.

And now, so that you will have something completely unrelated to comment on, check out this animation about a person who becomes extremely frustrated by an error message on his computer. It even has a cat in it.


Laura said...

Rational discussion goes out the window doesn't it. Especially on parenting issues it seems that the preferred method is a "straw man" argument against the opposition. It gets really old.

Now my heart has broken as I've watched a mother try to sleep train a 2 week old and as I've watched someone deal with an out of control one year old who in my opinion is begging for sleep training. But I generally avoid writing about the subject online (though I do get into other controversial territories) because there are so many variables, so many subjective things that I don't feel I can ever properly address.

In person to person conversations, its taught me (at least a little) to listen more and speak less.

Nicole said...

Funny, but we've become less AP with each successive baby. It basically wore me out. Plus, my oldest was the neediest, and they got progressively stabler (I have three boys, oldest 4.5y) The current baby sleeps in a variety of places, but so do the rest of us (you might rather not know!)