When I first heard that Jeff Collins (executive producer of Dance Moms) was producing a new reality TV show called Extreme Parenting, I must admit I was simultaneously frustrated and a little bit excited. My uneasy feelings stemmed from the recent media blitz over the "Are You Mom Enough?" Time cover, which was enough to fuel the Mommy Wars for the next millennia. Do we really need yet another exposé to sensationalize unusual parenting practices?
But after reading what Collins himself said about the show, I found myself feeling somewhat hopeful. "That [Time magazine] cover proves what I've been saying for the last year — America has become a country of extremes," Jeff Collins, president of Collins Avenue Productions, told Yahoo! Shine. "I think it's so fascinating that some Americans find the image of woman breastfeeding to be provocative, shocking, even sexual when, in fact, it's the most natural thing in the world."
I have to hand it to Collins. His comments dive directly into the heart of these hot-button issues. While many people may be shocked by extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, homeschooling, elimination communication and non-vaccinating (all topics that Collins plans to explore on his show), parents who choose these parenting methods are not doing so because they enjoy living life on the edge, but because they believe they are doing what is most natural and best for their family.
This group of parenting techniques loosely falls into a parenting style that goes by a variety of names — attachment parenting, natural family living and gentle parenting being some of the most common. Parents who practice these parenting styles may not participate (or even approve) of all of the techniques Collins plans to feature, but they are representative of a new paradigm shift in parenting.
Parents who have chosen to parent this way are committed to providing nurturing parenting practices that create strong, healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents. They recognize that children are individuals with individual needs and one-size-fits-all solutions do not work for everyone. Just like all parents, they want what is best for their children, and they are willing to take a step outside of mainstream society to achieve that if necessary.
Time magazine’s recent controversial feature on attachment parenting has brought this growing parenting trend into the limelight. There are no hard statistics for just how commonplace attachment parenting practices are within the United States because its principles are intended as tools, not rules, and parents are encouraged to take or leave what works for their own families. But, anecdotal evidence, including the widespread proliferation of attachment parenting blogs, websites, magazines and its appearance in national media channels, would indicate that attachment parenting is quickly growing in popularity. More and more parents are recognizing that secure attachment is deeply important to child development and that some outdated parenting models don’t adequately meet these needs.
Interested in getting the inside scoop from attachment parents themselves? SheKnows talked to several moms who were happy to open their homes and share their reasons for choosing co-sleeping, elimination communication, non-vaccinating, homeschooling and extended breastfeeding. Take a look.
One of the most common and well-known attachment parenting practices is co-sleeping, which is recommended in order to strengthen the parent-baby bond. But co-sleeping has been wracked with controversy for everything from safety issues to concerns for how it might affect a couple’s intimacy. Tina Scott, mom of six, explains why she prefers to co-sleep with her children, "Children all over the world sleep with their parents. It is the most natural thing in the world. It is only a recent occurrence in Western society that has promoted a false benefit toward promoting 'independence' during the infant and toddler years. Babies and moms both receive many benefits from sleeping close to each other. In fact, studies show that they were designed to sleep next to each other, as babies use the mom's body to regulate their own body temperature, breathing patterns, heart rates and other physiological factors. But beyond that, sleeping with my children just feels right. I follow attachment parenting practices not because a doctor recommends them, but because they feel natural and instinctual for our family."
While co-sleeping, baby-wearing and breastfeeding may be catching on, even some families who practice natural family living have trouble understanding elimination communication. How does going diaper-less improve parent-child bonding? Dawn West, mom of three, explains, "I first heard about it when my daughter Victoria was eight or nine months old. It was too late to start with her but seemed like a totally straightforward concept. You want them to use the toilet so you get them familiar with the idea from a young age. It's simple. If you know they are about to pee, you just put them over the toilet. It’s worked great with my other two kids because we started when they were newborns. Potty training has been a breeze. There's no coercion, no arguing, no negativity. It preserves the attachment parenting relationship and is a natural extension of other things you do."
The choice to delay or abstain from vaccinations creates intense debate among parents because vaccinating parents fear that non-vaccinated children will compromise herd immunity and endanger public safety. West discusses her decision to forgo vaccinations for her daughters, "My children have medical allergies, which is one of the reasons I chose not to vaccinate. I was worried about what might happen if we did. I also have religious objections. I don’t think that it's God's plan to vaccinate. Vaccine injury is serious and real. I don't think God would sacrifice even one child for the betterment of the herd. There may be some medical benefit to it, but it doesn’t seem ethical to me."
Tammy Long is a certified public school teacher, but she made the choice to take her children out of school and homeschool them. Why? "My older girls were getting a lot of test anxiety and not loving school. I hated to see their fire for learning fizzle out. I also noticed that my son was struggling with kindergarten and I felt he needed more individualized attention than could be afforded him in public school. When I took him for an evaluation, they diagnosed his dyslexia as so severe that he might not ever learn to read.
I devised my own curriculum that was not phonics based, and we spent two years doing first grade curriculum. I worked with my older girls at their own grade level. When I put them all back in school two years later, my girls were way ahead of their respective classes and my son was reading successfully! I am not anti-public school. I'm a certified public school teacher, but I believe in alternatives. Why would you not want to research the best options for your child? Homeschooling allows children the flexibility of individualization. Some kids do perfectly fine in a public school. Or private school. Or Montessori. It depends on the child. Flexibility is necessary to serve the unique needs of each child."
I recently appeared on Bethenney, Fox News and Telemundo to talk about my unusual choice to breastfeed my 5-year-old. One of the most disconcerting accusations presented to me was that it was shameful for us to be breastfeeding at this age and that my son, Diego, would somehow be damaged by the fact that I was going public with our breastfeeding relationship. In fact, this is exactly the reason why I decided to speak publicly on this topic.
Breastfeeding is not shameful. It is normal, natural and practiced all over the world. The median age of self-led weaning (a foreign concept here in America) is between the ages of two and seven. I didn't intend to breastfeed my son until he was five, but now that we are, it feels right. My greatest hope is that talking openly about extended breastfeeding will forge a new pathway toward normalizing this completely natural and loving bond that many moms and young children all over the world share.
It is so easy to stigmatize something that is different or unusual. A few derogatory remarks and a mean-spirited joke or two and you've got the audience laughing along with you. But the fact remains that just because something is widely practiced, widely accepted and legal, does not make it ethical. Society does not move forward unless there are people who are willing to question the status quo and openly voice their interest in trying something new.
Parents who practice attachment parenting, or natural family living, are not criticizing other parents who don't practice it. But we are asking for respect for our own parenting practices. Parenting is personal and there are many, many ways to achieve the goal we all share — happy, healthy children. Will the new reality show Extreme Parenting fan the flames of the Mommy Wars, or will it open an honest dialogue about the wide variety of parenting styles practiced in the United States? Can we use this opportunity to learn and grow from one another's experiences, or will we allow it to polarize us even further? The choice is in our hands.
What do you think of these extreme parenting practices? Do you practice any of these in your family?
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