Are you a bad parent if…

(hint:  The answer is always no)

  • you take your kid to the playground and let them play while you sit on the bench and do your thing?
  • you take your kid to the playground and play with them?
  • you sign up your kids for tons of activities and lessons?
  • you don’t sign up your kids for any extracurriculars?
  • you skip baby food?  or buy it in little containers at the store?
  • you make baby food lovingly by hand?
  • you send your kid to a good preschool?
  • you skip preschool?
  • you start potty training before Brazelton’s signs of readiness?
  • you wait on potty training until Brazelton’s signs of readiness?

Just a little comment from blog posts I’ve read recently where someone makes a side note confirming the conventional wisdom or takes the conventional wisdom and says that no, only the opposite is what people should be doing.  Seriously, there is no “right,” just trade-offs.  If you play with your kid on the playground, ze doesn’t get solo time or just kids time.  If you do, the kid is getting more adult/parent interaction.  These are both good things.  Activities and lessons provide new and interesting ways to grow, but they also take time away from other activities and family time.  Which is better?  Neither, they’re just different.

What are some dichotomies you have encountered?

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46 Responses to “Are you a bad parent if…”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    The biggest one I encounter is Daycare and working but we’ve beaten that one to death already.

    In general I think there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Parental interaction, activities, down time, education are all good things, but not when you do them 24/7.

    It’s all about balance and I think criticism comes when people perceive that the balance is out of whack.

  2. Everyday Tips Says:

    Choosing to nurse or not. Yes, I know studies show that BF is best, but it doesn’t work out for everyone and many moms live with a lot of guilt. (I used to volunteer with new moms and provide BF support. It is not as easy as everyone thinks!)

    • First Gen American Says:

      Oh man, I forgot about that one. My sister in law had a really tough time with nursing and some people make you feel like an utter failure or bad mom if you don’t. She tried again with her second child and got such a bad case of mastitis that she was in the hospital for 10 days. She would have been better off spending that time with baby and bottle feeding from the get go.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Around here it’s actually the opposite. Formula feeding is the norm and everybody is shocked if you choose not to, like you’re making some kind of silent judgment on their choices or you’re just a weird hippie. Same for natural childbirth. Luckily there are two hospitals in town and we were able to get the one that was more supportive about such things (even though it was another 5 min drive while trying hard not to push), because the nurses at the first were awful in that respect.

  3. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    This whole idea that children’s development into functional adults is highly sensitive to small differences in rearing practices is f*cken absurd. So long as you provide a safe, comforting environment with reasonable access to enriching experiences–play opportunities, books, social interactions, etc–then all children except for those with neurological/psychiatric disorders learn to use a toilet, read, interact with other human beings, follow directions, pursue goals, etc. The notion that daycare versus homecare, special cockamamie “baby einstein” f*ckewittery, magic “techniques” for potty training, forcing kids to learn the alphabet as young as possible, etc make any lasting difference is laughable.

    The developing human brain is designed to pick all this sh*tte uppe with remarkable robustness to large differences in environmental conditions, and anything within a very wide range of conditions is absolutely fine. (Obviously, gross physical or mental impoverishment is a different story.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think people like to provide the illusion of control in chaotic situations.

      And hey, I knock wood an awful lot and occasionally will cross myself automatically in stressful situations (though that may just be a product of the Catholic upbringing).

    • oilandgarlic Says:

      “So long as you provide a safe, comforting environment with reasonable access to enriching experiences–play opportunities, books, social interactions, etc–then all children except for those with neurological/psychiatric disorders learn to use a toilet, read, interact with other human beings, follow directions, pursue goals, etc.”

      I second that!

  4. Dr. O Says:

    The stuff I’ve heard about letting your child cry or not is a big one. I think consistency is probably more key than anything, but likely just for our own sanity. Which may be why we all hold on to *our* way of doing things so tightly. Like you said above, the illusion of control is a powerful motivator…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      After 4-6 months (depending on the baby), it probably doesn’t matter. There’s actual good science behind not having babies CIO before 6 months, which is why even Ferber doesn’t recommend it.

      • Dr. O Says:

        We let Monkey CIO when we *felt* like it was acceptable, I think around 4 months. Again – letting our instincts guide the decision. We never ignore the horrible “something’s wrong” kind of cries, or the hungry cry, but we stopped responding to his fussing when he would go to bed or wake up in the middle of the night. He’s always pretty good at letting us know when he really needs something, or if he’s half asleep and pooping. ;)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Following instincts is important. Ignoring the “something’s wrong” cries when it is physically distressful to mom because some book or relative tells her she’s a bad mother who spoils her infant if she doesn’t … that shouldn’t be.

  5. Spanish Prof Says:

    You are a bad parent if either you or your husband/partner engage in the baby food diet: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1391125/Sales-baby-food-soar-thanks-Cheryl-Cole-Jennifer-Aniston.html

    If both of you do it, I’m calling Child Services

  6. hush Says:

    You’re a bad parent if you intentionally commit infanticide, or actually abuse your kids to the degree that the government would intervene if they knew. Everyone else with an actual living kid they’re not abusing is a good parent.

    Or how about this: “There is no good or bad, only consequences.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I dunno, consequences sounds like a threat! We’re always telling students, choices = consequences.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Consequences can be positive. You try your best, the consequences are a happy relationship with your childhood. You yell at the kid, the consequences are you feel guilty but the child learns to behave and changes behavior. You eat vegetables, the consequences are good health. Or whatever. “Consequences” can just mean “outcome”. If you study a lot, the consequence is a good grade.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Somehow the students who make the choices in those scenarios always end up with the bad consequences.

  7. Money Beagle Says:

    One of the first things my dad told me when we announced our first child was on the way was that ‘There’s no instruction manual’.

    Now, our first is two years old and a second is on the way any day, and it’s so true. We have no idea if we’re making the right choices every time, but we make the choices with love and caring and hope that everything turns out OK, or at least that we make more right choices than wrong. Parents get judged too often by those who don’t know what the situation really is for that particular family.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m sure they’re all good choices (just like the alternatives)!

      Congrats on the impending #2!

    • Karen L Says:

      As to instruction manuals, the BEST advice I got when I was pregnant with my first was from my uncle: “Forget the books.” I wish I’d heeded it better. I started reading the two that I got as gifts when DS was about 3 months. They MESSED WITH MY HEAD. The advice in the two books was completely contradictory. I don’t think either argued successfully for their way but did argue very effectively against any other way. Which left me believing that everything I did was wrong and that our family was going to suffer indefinitely.

      It took me a while to return to my previous mindset, which was and is pretty much what Comrade PhysioProf laid out.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I liked the way the advice was contradictory– it made me feel better about finding my own path.

        That said, I LOVED Our Babies, Ourselves, which is by an anthropologist and basically talks about child rearing in different cultures all over the world and what the science says, and basically makes the point that evolution is such that you can raise your child a million different ways and they won’t turn out better or worse, just different. Scientific approval for listening to your instincts, and taking the lazy way out, which I definitely needed!

        I also liked Dr. Sears the Baby Book but just for the chapter on when you need to call the doctor at 3 am and when you probably don’t. Oh, and a couple of breast feeding books that I read before having the baby, especially the one for working moms– that helped a lot in knowing what were normal problems and possible solutions for those problems.

    • Cloud Says:

      Oh, but there is! Have you seen the baby book that is written a bit like a car manual? It is hilarious, and actually has pretty good advice. It was the only baby book my husband would read.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Cry it Out. Where I live they are fixated on getting your baby to sleep through the night. First question is always, “So, is ze sleeping through the night yet?” STFU. One of the methods they recommend to get your baby to sleep through the night is called cry it out. It is painful for a new mom to do because she gets negative chemical reactions to hearing a baby cry because evolution is really amazing in some ways. Around here they think that when it comes to parenting, pain is a good thing and listening to your instincts is setting you up for a lifetime of spoiled children and them repeating whatever they did at 4 months for the rest of their lives. “If you let hir in your bed once, ze’ll be there until ze is 16,” said the night nurse. Research, obviously, does not support those dire warnings (see: McKenna, Notre Dame sleep laboratory). There are a LOT of how to books you can buy on the subject though! Maternal guilt sells.

  8. julier Says:

    Co-sleeping is a big one. You will ruin your child if he sleeps with his parents or separately from his parent.

    I used to have OPINIONS about this one, but now, I am on the side of which ever approach allows all parties involved to get adequate amounts of sleep.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sleep is a wonderful wonderful thing. And even Dr. Sears says that cosleeping is best for some families and separate sleeping is best for others. Whatever works for folks.

      Still, with the sleep debate, we do know that back sleeping is best until they can roll over on their own in order to avoid SIDS, and extensive CIO can cause problems that show up on an MRI when done before 4-6 months. Also, morbidly obese people should not cosleep. And babies should not sleep or cosleep on couches. So there’s some areas where there’s research.

      • becca Says:

        Sleeping is an interesting one.

        We know that back sleeping is safest, but also most detrimental to motor and cognitive ability in early life.

        Also, a recent study by Carebear and becca (2010) suggests that front sleeping was strongly associated (R^2= 0.74) with reduced parent and child crazy and appears to be associatedwith superior early motor development (n = 1).

        Seriously though, we’re part of an actual sleep study looking at all kinds of stuff (Project SIESTA)- I’ll have to ask whether they have the data to look at it.

        Parents should know the risks of things like front-sleeping, but most ‘risky’ things we do with our kids shouldn’t be considered to be indications of bad parenting.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Ah, but the gross motor delays associated with back sleeping can be completely ameliorated with some combination of more tummy time, not using bouncy seats or bumbo chairs or swings etc., and carrying with a sling.

        Not that not doing any of those things is a problem. Some parents don’t want their kids to be mobile early and it doesn’t seem to make a long-term difference.

        (Also, I haven’t read Carebear and Becca (2010), but since it is widely believed that it’s ok to do tummy sleeping once the baby is able to turn hirself over, could there be reverse causality?)

      • becca Says:

        Citation for the assertion that tummy time reverses supine sleeping position effects, please? I’ve *heard* this, but I’ve not seen a study on it.

        Anyway, my points is that there are cases where there is clear data that what the parent is doing is not optimal and it still doesn’t imply bad parenting. The options for parenting are not exclusive categories of “optimal/perfect” and “bad/lousy”.
        With sleep, unless your kid is naturally a little precocious motor-developing back-sleeping lover, something will be suboptimal in one respect or another.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I have seen a study on it, but years ago. I recommend PubMed to look up things like this. It’s what I used back when I wondered/cared about these things. Walker/bouncy chair etc. was definitely in pubmed. Tummy time I read in multiple places, including some media articles summarizing new research. Summarized research on slings and baby gross motor development such as walking was in Our babies ourselves– there was included a really fascinating natural experiment involving African tribes and gross motor skills. Possibly also Dr. Sears. And there’s a line of research on how to get your baby to be an early walker discussed in Our Babies Ourselves– physical therapists use that information in practice. (I read the early walking stuff with interest to see if it was something we did after realizing that our kid was highly unusual. Answer: possibly.)

        And really: much higher risk of death vs. lower gross motor development for a few months? If you’re set on tummy sleeping, a good thing to do would be to consistently use a baby monitor that goes off whenever the baby stops moving. Of course that requires a hard surface.

  9. Cloud Says:

    Apparently, these days you’re a bad parent if you won’t tell people what gender your kid is. Or maybe, you’re a bad parent if you do tell. And I can’t even laugh at this, because I got involved in a huge discussion on it on another blog.

    I figure that some of these things blow up to big debates because parenting feels so high stakes but the feedback is hugely delayed. You desperately want to do it “right” but it is pretty much impossible to really know whether or not you are doing it right.

    I’ve mellowed on this a lot as I’ve gotten more parenting experience under my belt. For the most part now, I think that kids are pretty darn resilient, and that as long as I am loving and caring for my kids, they will probably be fine. But I still find myself getting overly worked up about decisions sometimes.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think the only problem with that family is that they didn’t stop talking with the media soon enough. Oh, and they gave their kids dumb names (but whatever). But seriously, not talking about the gender of child 3 probably pales in society in comparison to child 2 being transgender, and there’s nothing wrong with a kid being transgender if they’re supported by their family, even if society does not. Personally I wish gender roles weren’t so well-defined that there has to be a separate transgender category.

      Kids are definitely resilient. And thank goodness for that!

      • Cloud Says:

        I think it is their oldest kid (Jazz) who is showing signs of being transgender. And I figure I don’t know enough about what is going on there to know if he really is transgender, or just going through a heck of an experimental phase with strong encouragement from his parents. Either way, you’re right- the support of his family will probably carry him through.

        From my admittedly limited and dilettante-ish reading of the literature on kids with gender assignment issues (either from genetic background or in the most horrible cases, surgical errors), it seems to me that (1) biology will always show itself. This seems to be an area where nature trumps nurture. (2) gender identity is strong, deep stuff and we don’t really understand how it works. I haven’t thought hard about it, but I guess I think that as long as people can be born with their sex and gender not matching, there will be a concept of being transgender. But like I said, I haven’t thought hard about it, so I may very well be completely wrong on that.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I only read one news story because I figure it’s none of my business how they raise their kids, and media scrutiny is more dangerous than what they’re doing. My respect for them went up at the end of the news report when it said they were denying any further media requests and were not answering messages. If they’d started a reality show instead, I would have judged them harshly.

        The thing with gender assignment issues is that they completely and totally interact with culture. If we didn’t have a defined role of what is “male” or “female” and allowed everybody a spectrum of who they’re allowed to identify with, there wouldn’t be such a concept. Also what culture defines as masculine or feminine is variable; throughout history a preference for lace, for example, was not always a female-only trait.

        Although I identify female, there are many many ways in which I am much more masculine than feminine, linguistically especially. But that doesn’t really bother me because I’m not really tied up with the idea of gender roles even to the extent that my Free to Be You and Me loving mom was, though I still notice myself making stereotypical choices based on DC’s gender (Henry vs Ramona, for example, or what color tea set to buy). Most transgender women are much more stereotypically feminine than I am. It would be nice if we could just accept a spectrum of genders just like a spectrum of sexuality and let people decide on their own traits whatever they may be.

  10. Sandy @ Journey To Our Home Says:

    I’ve found people get uptight about loving a boy child by hugging, kissing boo boo’s, using bandages instead if telling them to get over it. I love my kids the same & show them affection the same (one boy & one girl) but I get criticized fir not being tough on my son- he’s 3, he still needs love and hugs!

    We also ran into judgement on breastfeeding, co-sleeping, Strict schedules versus on- demand feeding, even the amount to feed. My nephew was only allowed like 4 ounces every 3 hrs strictly because my sil didn’t want him getting fat, organic baby food, homemade baby food, when to start baby food, baby proofing vs not having gates on stairs, getting rid of our dog when we had our first baby or not. Clothe vs disposable diapers.

    Honestly, almost every single time a decision needs to be made regarding kids- someone has a response or tells you you’re wrong.
    Good luck parents!! All we can do is make the best decisions for our unique children with the information we have at the time & pray for the best.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Those, “all boy” comments drive me up the wall. We were at a birthday party recently where they a couple of moms were discussing poo in great detail (apparently my kid is now old enough that I no longer find the topic interesting!) and one of the moms remarked how boys are just into anything gross. I did not break in to tell her about the discussion I’d had with one of DS’s daycare ladies about her 6 year old daughter’s fascination with all things gross, after said 6 year old and I had had a discussion about why another 3 year old girl was discussing her pottying habits. (6 yr old: “Did she really tell you she just went poo?!” Me: “Yes, 3 year olds are just learning how to go potty on their own so they talk about it a lot” later: Daycare lady: “That’s hilarious because she is *always* talking about anything gross.”) But seriously, all kids find gross stuff fascinating, girls or boys. Culture eventually beats it out of some girls and into some boys.

      The schedules thing for feeding has been linked with failure-to-thrive… and there’s suggestions it leads to obesity (rather than preventing it) and diabetes later on, though the research isn’t conclusive. In some cases decisions are made on faulty information and not understanding the actual trade-offs being made.

      All the other stuff, definitely. There’s tradeoffs between teaching limits and allowing independence and baby-proofing etc. Though if you blanket train with a switch we’re totally calling CPS.

  11. scantee Says:

    I can’t stand the Bad Mom stuff you see on mom blogs: “I was such a Bad Mom because I sat on the park bench instead of playing!” I can see what they’re doing here, trying to show that the judging never ceases by amplifying small, meaningless choices but I think it has the opposite effect and raises the stakes for what is considered a good parent.

    In a former life I worked in child protective services so I’ve seen truly bad parenting first hand. If you care about your kids, engage them, provide a safe environment for them to grow, then all the rest is just details. Think I said it here before that I refuse to feel bad about my parenting style or defend my choices. The thing is that I’ve rarely run into judgment in real life. It’s on the internet where moms get nasty.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You’re lucky you haven’t run into it in real life! We got it around here whenever we violated social norms. Now that DC is older and, after a lot of introspection, I’ve decided to show that I’m more confident in our parenting choices and DC’s mad skillz, and I just don’t put up with those kinds of comments. They’re pretty easy to shut down with simple pleasant statements about benefits or a statement about how it probably doesn’t matter either way.

      I also really dislike the, “I’m such a bad mom” stuff. It causes me to roll my eyes, and I agree that it has negative spillovers to society. I wish people would stop doing it.

      One of our good friends back when DC was a baby had worked as a social worker before quitting to get a PhD in Sociology (sadly she graduated and moved on), and she would tell us horror stories about true bad parenting. Even just the neglect, true neglect (not what the “I’m such a bad mom” crowd talks about), is heartbreaking.

  12. Jacq Says:

    Whew, I’m glad I had my kids before the days of the interwebz debates! My “bible” when my kids were growing up was Penelope Leach’s “Your Baby and Child” I think. For the first couple of years, I had my grandmother around and she was an INVALUABLE resource – from everything from thrush to breastfeeding (no matter how much oxytocin I snorted, nothing was coming out of those girls).
    But overall, I always had the belief that they would turn out okay no matter what, although I did go through some crazy years in the 90’s I think, thinking (along with the media) that I would irrevocably damage them by whatever I did.
    The big thing that I’ve really had to overcome in the ex’s family is this whole thinking of “a boy NEEDS his father”. Maybe so, maybe not – but my boys are pretty masculine without interacting with their fathers. It could have also helped that I wrestled a lot with the older one when he’d ask me to though…

  13. Squirrelers Says:

    I’ve heard of ridiculous comments that a mom is not a good mom if she goes back to work 3 months after having a baby. To me, that’s absurd. What if that income is needed for the family? Or, the mom is just wired in such a way that she can’t stay home and needs a career? One can make the argument that she’ll be doing a disservice by not helping provide or keeping herself happy – just as one can make an argument about a disservice by working.

    That’s the classic two-side argument I’ve seen about parenting that people can get passionate about either way.

    Personally, as you might guess, I think it’s only fair to allow people to do what’s best for themselves and their own family and not worry about fitting into someone else’s vision of what should or shouldn’t be done.

  14. Ink Says:

    ZOMG, look at this conversation. Loved it.


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