Having spent a great deal of my last few years wasting time on the internet, I’ve developed quite a few online friendships. At least they’re friendships in my head. Sometimes the other person doesn’t exactly KNOW we’re friends (HI HEATHER CALL ME) but I like to think if we ever did meet for coffee we’d chat and laugh like we’ve known each other for years and then braid each others hair. Ok, maybe no hair braiding.
Two of my internet worlds collided this week when one of my favorite people on the internet SarahMC wrote about the Radical Parenting special on Discovery Health that featured The Feminist Breeder, one of my other favorite people on the internet. In case you didn’t see the show, Sarah’s recap covers it pretty well, or you can check out the posts TFB did while the crew was filming for a behind the scenes look at her segment. I was excited to join in the conversation about the show in the Harpyness comments section, since talking about parenting is kind of my thing these days.
The show covered three different “radical” types of parenting: un-schooling, attachment parenting, and gender neutral parenting. Personally, I think the most radical of the three were the un-schoolers, whose 7 year old son and 5 year old daughter didn’t participate in any type of formal education. Instead, they learned through experiences – trips to museums, farms, zoos, etc – and studied whatever they were most interested in. They also claimed their family was a true democracy where everyone had an equal say and the kids got to make all their own decisions. I think I would have been a little more skeptical of those parents if they hadn’t come across as really sort of…normal. The parents both had advanced degrees, the mom seemed to really enjoy spending all her time with the kids, and they were really realistic about how un-schooling would affect their kids in the future. I think we could be friends. One of the things the parents mentioned a couple of times was their son had learned reading and math through his “video games” (I’m imagining V-Tech or something similar) which I was surprised about – I pictured un-schoolers are being totally TV free. I guess when you’re with your school-age kids ALL DAY EVERY DAY you’d almost have to use an electronic babysitter every once in a while.
The third family (I’ll get back to the AP people in a minute) showed The Feminist Breeder and her Hyphenated Husband (he changed his last name to their combined name when they got married) practicing “gender neutral” parenting…but if that was “radical” then I guess I am too, just because my kid had a doll in his toy box. Shocking. Truthfully, I can see how some parents (mostly fathers, I imagine) could freak out if their sons wanted to try on Mommy’s shoes or asked for a dollhouse but none of the parents I know would care. I think if the show had focused more on how the parents DEMONSTRATE gender equality – Dad doing housework, Mom using power tools, sharing childcare duties equally – they would have done gender neutral parenting a greater service.
Most of the discussion on Sarah’s post about those two families was pretty in line with what I just said – maybe there was a little disagreement regarding un-schooling – but since attachment parenting is my (accidental) area of expertise I was most interested in talking about that family. They were pretty by the book AP and practiced co-sleeping, babywearing, extended breastfeeding, elimination communication, and even baby-led weaning, with a touch of TV shock value crazy thrown in when they planted a placenta under a tree. As someone who didn’t set out to practice AP, I remember thinking all those things were weird, hippyish and uber-crunchy. Then I had a baby, discovered slings were convenient, co-sleeping was the easiest way to handle night feedings and made it through those first few awful months of breastfeeding…and became an accidental attachment parent. Which is why it was so strange for me to find myself talking about it like I was some sort of expert and even defending AP online. Although I think the weirdest part was being involved in a conversation with someone who was anti-attachment parenting. My world, both online and real-life, is full of people who support all things AP (much more than I do) so I’ve never really had anyone criticize my parenting decisions before and it was a strange experience. It was more like a discussion than an argument and I felt really good about how I described and explained attachment parenting (with a little help from Sarah’s link to my babywearing post) and even got a super awesome email from another commenter who wanted to thank me for supporting accidental AP parents. In the end, both my online conversation and the Radical Parenting special made me feel more confident that the decisions we’ve made for my family are the right ones for us.
(p.s. Over on Harpyness I use “blondegrlz” as my screen name, since I know them from my old baby-free life on Jezebel. In case you’re confused.)