parenting: it’s personal

My wife and I were just having a conversation about parenting–this was before I saw the responses to my last post about television. We were agreeing that nothing in the world does a better job at showing one’s values and who one is as a person than parenting choices. This is why, we postulated, that when parents discuss their own choices, people who have taken different paths are so inclined to become defensive about their own choices. Those decisions are so utterly personal that any potential of someone else attacking or disapproving of them seems either threatening or condescending or is otherwise unwanted.

In my post about television, I was talking specifically about one child (mine) and two parents (my wife and I). For our family, a family who does not watch much television (although my wife and I enjoy it plenty after our kid is in bed), TV is not a necessity. My wife and I spent a good amount of time working in media reform, studying western media and its effects on children. We’re academics, and all of our choices about our parenting stem from research, observation, and finally our own values. We are choosing to limit our son’s access to visual media until he has stronger reasoning skills, until he has the ability to process it without simply taking it in as another reality, until he can question what he is seeing. There is nothing wrong with this. Fortunately, we live in a community that supports similar choices. Unfortunately, we live in a larger society where no TV generally equals freak. What can I say?

But when I say I’m not judging others, I’m not. My sister shows her daughter a fair amount of TV. She’s a very spirited three-year-old, and my sister is a single mom. Showing her daughter educational videos has been necessary at times. I’ve turned television on for my niece at my house because for her, it works fine. But when we saw what this did to our son (who was actually well-rested when he watched), my wife and I didn’t like it. Shouldn’t that be enough? We didn’t like how our son behaved when he watched television, and we didn’t like the constant begging for it every five minutes after showing him. We didn’t like it when his books and toys were suddenly not enough. Nothing else had ever done this to our son. That’s a pretty powerful force, and in our opinion as his parents, this is not something to be taken lightly.

When I equate this to our choices to feed our son what we consider “healthy” food, I am doing so because this is yet another very personal parenting choice based on our research, observations, and values. We have seen what happens when people with my genetics eat foods that are overly processed and high in refined sugars. They become morbidly obese–every last one of them. We would like to avoid that in our child. This is our personal parenting decision. We don’t like how our son’s personality responds to sugar, nor do we like how his body responds to low-nutrient, low-quality food, so we aim to feed him real, wholesome foods as much as we can, much as we aim to make the media he consumes as high quality as we can, and, at present, in the form of print and music.

As parents, we are charged with the task of determining what our kids consume, from the food they eat, to the media they view/hear, to the toys they play with, to the social circles they engage in. It would be so nice if we could be supportive of the choices other parents make, but that’s sadly not the culture we live in. If there is anything I’m judging about parents, it’s that. I’m so tired of mothers looking one another up and down and searching for something to be cruel about. It’s hard enough being a parent, but to be a parent in today’s hostile mother culture, where we see this beautiful role as something to compete over, is just really beyond me. So yes, I judge the hell out of that.

But show your kid TV or not, feed your kid sugar or not, let your kid play with his food or not–these are your choices, with your very own reasons behind them, just as ours are ours. There is no need to get the two confused.

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10 Comments

Filed under food, media, parenting

10 responses to “parenting: it’s personal

  1. wordsfallfrommyeyes

    I must admit, I allowed my son to watch The Simpsons (very funny) and a fair amount of other television. He’s articulate, thoughtful and intelligent. I don’t know – shall I say it’s TV or can I say it’s me?!

  2. Yes. And yes. We have a good friend who has an incredibly active child who actually needs some tv for down time. That is totally not our kid. But if it was, we would probably parent differently. I totally agree. For us, our whole family, tv just doesn’t work. It is too stimulating for Roozle and I and more and more time away from it has allowed my wife to see that she is just fine without it.

  3. It’s sad we even have to defend ourselves, but I agree with just about everything you just wrote!
    The twin’s cousin is the same age and is a TV-watching, processed-food eating toddler. Do I judge? Well, yeah, I sort of do actually.
    But hey, their kid, their life.
    I know it’s not going to work for me but it’s interesting how I have to defend my healthier choices, but nobody questions theirs!

    Keep doing what works for you.

  4. I try my best not to judge what other parents do (or don’t do), although admittedly seeing children eat certain things makes me cringe. But usually if I see parents loving on their kid, interacting with and disciplining them, I think they’re a good parent. There are some people in our blog community I agree with and some I don’t, but I have a feeling we’re all doing what we think is best for our children, and that’s something to be proud of.

  5. Shannon

    Well said! I could not agree more with what you wrote. I love your blog and have been a fan for a long time. There are so many issues you have written about that I have just recently started to truly understand. Being a first time expectant mother myself, my wife and I are astonished by the amount of unsolicited (bad) advice, and the amount of judgment from other parents. Unbelievable!
    Personally I think your choices are great, if most parents merely gave these issues the amount of thought and research that you and your wife have, this world would be a much better place.

  6. Generally I agree with you! But I will admit that I winced when I read your “healthy food” line — and then I automatically rephrased that in my mind as “certain foods”, to take the value-judgment away from the statement. Because I’m sure you didn’t mean that your choices are the only healthy ones!

    FWIW, I live in a place that’s about as far away from you culturally as you can get (Baltimore, MD, and I’m talking City not County, if anyone knows the area) and while people are occasionally mildly surprised that we don’t watch television, or disappointed that they can’t share a particular observation or reaction with us, I’ve never received any freak-type of negative reactions. I guess most people just don’t care.

    So fear not that BG will grow up ostracized for his lack of TV-knowledge. At least not if he moves to Balto. 😀

    • reproducinggenius

      No, of course I didn’t mean that our choices are the only healthy ones. Holy crap–in this culture, where what is “healthy” changes ever week according to the latest best selling diet fad, I would never presume to tell anyone what to eat. I just know what’s right for my child, what’s right for my family, and that is all I was talking about.

      And thank you for the reassurance–at least around Baltimore! 🙂

  7. I was on the Q Train last week when I saw a gentleman step on with an adorable baby in a stroller. He was clearly just so in love with this kiddo and was coo-ing at her in the cutest way. But then my attention shifted to the plastic bag in the stroller as this child reached for….a cheez doodle.

    I about died. My fiancee noticed as well and looked at my face to see my reaction, which was concealed (or not so concealed) horror.

    My gut reaction was to scream, “What the hell are you feeding this beautiful child?!” But then I realized that some people think its okay to feed their kids cheez doodles at one year old.

    But, luckily, this man will not be making food choices for my future children. Nor yours. Just like you won’t be making food choices for other people’s kids. So they should probably chill the eff out and stop being do darn insecure (or at least, you know, stop vomiting that insecurity all over the comment box of your blog).

  8. Parenting sure has become a spectator sport. I didn’t realize until I became one exactly how controversial everyday decisions could be. I am still surprised by this.

    When I read your post it made me think about another post I had recently read. Here is the link in case you are interested http://offbeatmama.com/2011/08/lets-ditch-the-one-size-fits-all-model-of-parenting

  9. poppycat

    Awesome post. Love it.

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