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We are tiger moms and crunchy moms. Good moms and bad
moms, and bad moms who are really perfectly fine moms but call themselves "bad
moms" to fight the ridiculous perfectionism inherent in the "good mom" label.
And, of course, there are the three big labels of our current time: attachment parenting;
free-range parenting; and helicopter parenting.
Let's momentarily set aside the fact that many of
these labels tend to center on how middle-class white women are parenting at
any given time. Let's also temporarily ignore the fact that dads often get excluded
from conversations about parenting styles and labels. Let's focus instead, just
for a moment, on the kernel of good that can come from the labels we apply to
Because sometimes, these parenting labels do reflect an
Attachment parenting recognizes how a close, healthy
bond between parent and child can foster that child's sense of security and
independence. Free-range parenting values not only the life skills that
children develop when they are truly free to explore their worlds but also the
immense joy they experience when they can roam and wander and test their
limits. Even helicopter parenting reflects the tension between our need for
safety, and the perception of danger and hostility in our environment.
Yet, all too often, we use these labels overstate our
own "good" parenting. All too often, we use them to undermine and criticize other
I've tried on each one of these labels in my tenure as
a parent of three. Sometimes these labels have fit my children and me
beautifully. Other times, however, I've felt as if I was squeezing into a pair
of skinny jeans that were five sizes too small.
I've tried on attachment parenting. Breastfeeding,
babywearing and safe co-sleeping worked in some form or another with all
three of my kids. Moreover, the general insights of attachment parenting coincided
with my own parenting instincts.
I've even tried on helicopter parenting, which people love to hate.
For the most part, it wasn't attachment parenting
itself that made it an imperfect fit for me—it was other attachment parents.
It was the people who criticized me for transitioning my 4-month-old baby to
his own crib in his own room. (He slept better. My husband and I slept better.
We still responded to his cries. What was the problem?) It was the die-hard
attachment parents who sneered at the mothers who chose to feed their babies
formula. It was the people who tried to tell me that, if I wasn't wearing their
label perfectly, I shouldn't be wearing it at all.
As such, I was happy to
discard the attachment parenting label.
I've also tried on free-range parenting. I love
watching my 9-year-old walk blocks away from home to meet his friends or
carry his own money to the candy store a few blocks from our house. I love
seeing the look of independence my 6-year-old gets when I send him across the
street from his grandparents' house to play at the playground. I love the sense
of accomplishment my 3-year-old experiences when he climbs a tall piece of
But the insights of free-range parenting don't always
sit right with me. I think that some parents apply the principles of being "free-range"
just as injudiciously—and smugly—as the insights of attachment parenting. I've
found that one person's "free-range" is another person's "neglect." And I've
found that the free-range parenting label itself just isn't something that I
want to wear: at least not all the time.
I've even tried on helicopter parenting, which people love
to hate. We hear horror stories about parents who hover over their children at
the playground, and then all throughout school, and then during and after job
interviews, and then suddenly those children (now adults) cannot function
independently in the "real world."
In fact, I've come to the conclusion that no single parenting label or style will satisfy the needs of every parent and child.
But this doesn't mean that there isn't a time and
place for hovering. I hover over my 3-year-old far more than the other
parents of preschoolers do on the playground. But that's because my kid is
known for escaping the playground and running all the way down the block—and almost
into the street—before I can catch him.
My hovering suits us both well.
Sometimes I even temporarily hover over my older kids'
play with their friends. Contrary to popular advice these days, I don't always
encourage them to work out disagreements on their own. Power dynamics between
kids can be as unjust and uneven as certain power dynamics between adults.
Thus, if I sense that some children (most definitely including my own) are
using their perceived power to bulldoze over another child's voice, then I will
helicopter right into their playtime. I'll hover in the name of fairness and
Sometimes the most derided parenting label is the one that
fits me best.
At this point, I'm done trying on parenting labels. If
anything, I call myself a "freetachmecopter" parent. I'm a little bit of this,
a little bit of that. But I'm not any one thing: I'm not parenting behind any
In fact, I've come to the conclusion that no single
parenting label or style will satisfy the needs of every parent and child. We
haven't found our perfect parenting style yet. And that's probably because we
haven't yet found our perfect parent or child.
So let's be "do what's best for your family as long
as it's done out of love" parents. Let's be "we should think carefully about our own situations because not every parenting style works for every parent and
child" parents. Let's be "no one's perfect, not even you" parents.
Let's be good to each other. Let's be good to our