Happy Mom Secret #5: Don't Label Yourself

If you knew that I had all five of my babies with midwives (three underwater, two in a freestanding birth center and two at home); that I breastfed them on demand, or that they have all slept in my bed along the way, you might draw certain conclusions about my parenting style.

And you might be right. Or you might not. Either way, I’m not putting a label on it.

In a recent post I mentioned an alternative parenting community I used to hang out with when I first went online, and the cruelty and judgment that went on there. I think that behavior was outside the norm: I don’t see this kind of blatant meanness and cult-like behavior going on much on the web anymore (though it’s possible I’m just not looking in the right places).

But being both on the giving and receiving ends of judgment, I’m savvy enough to recognize it even when it’s subtle. And one of the ways I think judging gets perpetuated is through this need to define ourselves with neat little labels that sum up our beliefs, parenting practices, or whatever we are into these days. Because you know what? Once you’ve stuck that label firmly it place, it can be pretty hard to shrug off when it no longer fits.

I really do understand the urge. When I was a newer mom especially, I tried so hard to make some sense of this motherhood thing. One way to do that was by figuring out what kind of mom I was going to be, and then throwing myself into it, heart and soul. Labeling myself was a way of fitting in and exploring who I was. Giving myself a label (“natural”, “attachment parent”, etc) was comforting in a way.

Of course, there was the rotten downside:

* By labeling myself, I limited my options. If you go around calling yourself this or that and then you want to change things up a bit, it’s easy to start worrying about whether it fits with the label, rather than whether it’s the right option for you at the moment. What happens when something on the laundry list no longer works for you?

* By labeling myself, I allowed other people to make assumptions about me. If another mom had had a bad run-in with a rabid “crunchy” group online, they would sometimes assume that I was like that too. Based on experiences they’d had with other people who wore the attachment parent label, they might also assume I a) was extremely permissive b) never left my kids—ever—even to go to the bathroom c) extremely judgmental d) pathologically obsessed with everything my kids e) had given birth alone in the mountains with only a cat as my midwife, and then the cat and I shared the placenta with fava beans on the side.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with labeling techniques or approaches. I think that attachment parenting is a legitimate and lovely parenting style and one that I identify with more often than not (though I really believe it was meant to be a parenting style for babies and very young children, and has become in some cases, twisted and mis-applied by well-meaning folk…but that’s another post for another day). And of course, this isn’t just an attachment parenting thing—I just use that as an example because that’s where my personal experience lies. On the other side of the fence, you could, say, use Ferber methods without being a “Ferberizer”. See the distinction? One word describes a technique. The other slaps a label on a PERSON.

At the end of the day, not that much has changed about the way I parent now and the way I did when my first child was a baby. I still believe strongly in birth choices and favor out-of-hospital birth and midwives for myself. I am very supportive of breastfeeding. I like carrying my babies around. I avoid over-using medications.

But I no longer define MYSELF by the kind of mom I am, or the kind of mom I want to become. And you know what? I’m way better off for it. More flexible, more compassionate, more confident. Definitely a whole lot happier. And maybe even a better mom.

(But not better than the rest of you, of course. )

This entry was inspired by a recent post by Caitlin at Chicago Moms Blog. It’s an edited version of a post I put up about a year and a half ago.

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5 Comments

  1. Dani Lazar
  2. suburbancorrespondent
  3. caitlin
  4. Stephanie