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Go Ahead, Try to Label My Parenting

Today's grown-ups love to parent behind labels.

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 our parenting.

Because sometimes, these parenting labels do reflect an important truth.

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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 people's parenting.

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 playground equipment.

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 justice.

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 one label.

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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 kids.

And let's be good to ourselves.

Image via Twenty20/--James--

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