Friday, 29 November 2013

Parenting "choices"

We've all seen these articles popping up in our newsfeeds more and more often lately: the self-congratulatory blog posts and magazine articles justifying any and all parenting choices we can make.

To breastfeed or not to breastfeed our babies? To vaccinate or not to vaccinate our children? To be a stay at home mom or to put our kids in daycare? There are so many choices when it comes to raising our kids.

I call bullshit. 

These are not - or should not be - parenting "choices."

These are not questions to which there are valid arguments for each side being better than the other. These are not subjective issues. These are not choices - or at the very least, they are not equally balanced choices. They have been turned into choices by the incessant onslaught of mixed messages in the media. But they should not be.

I get absolutely enraged when I read these articles throwing yet another anecdotal argument into the mix as scientific proof, muddying the waters for easily-influenced sleep-deprived hormone-imbalanced new parents. Can we all just step back here and use common sense?

Breastfeeding is best for babies. There is no question of that. There are any number of reasons a mother might not be able to breastfeed - health issues, post-partum complications, mom's not producing enough milk, baby's not gaining enough weight, finances necessitate an early return to work - and that is absolutely fine. That's why formula exists. Formula is the best possible, healthiest, most nutritionally balanced and fortified alternative to breastmilk. We're lucky to have advanced scientifically enough that we have been able to create such a close alternative to what we should be feeding our babies if at all possible. Alternative. As in, the next best thing. As in, second best after breastmilk. You can argue and reason and explain away choosing not to breastfeed all you like, but the bottom line is that breastfeeding is best.

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That seems to be the biggest question these days, with arguments erupting all over social media between parents on either side, most armed with inaccurate information, the upshot always being "it's a parenting choice, you make your own decision for your own children." I don't even understand why this one is an argument. I suppose it is a parenting choice - in the same way choosing to clothe your child or not is a choice. Why anyone would choose to intentionally withhold vaccines for their child that could prevent them from contracting and spreading illnesses that have been all but eradicated by these very vaccines - contrary to all valid scientific research and against the advice of the world medical community - I will never understand. Talk about your first world problems.

Then there is the stay-at-home versus working mom debate. This one is a lot more subjective - there are so many factors to consider, from family finances to mom or dad's sense of identity and self-worth, to child care options and socialization for children, and right down to the personality type of the parents and children. Just as there are many valid reasons that would make a mother unable to breastfeed her baby, there are many good reasons to return to work and place that child in daycare. Maybe mom's not the type who can handle being at home with kids all day long. Perhaps both parents are firmly established in long-standing, important careers. Possibly the family simply cannot afford to live on one income. All are good reasons to make the choice to place a child in daycare; but just as, all other things being equal, breastfeeding is obviously and unarguably better for babies than formula, being raised by their own mother is obviously and unarguably better for children than being raised by daycare providers and seeing their parents for an hour or two before bed each evening.

I've even been seeing postings lately criticizing parents who separate and divorce because it's such a shame for the children. I get my back up about these posts, obviously - I divorced my eldest two children's father when they were infants - but I actually agree. Of course, in an ideal world, children would grow up with a mom and a dad who love them and each other and live in the same house; unfortunately, this simply isn't always possible. It's not healthier for the kids for their parents to stay together if the parents' relationship isn't healthy - if there's violence, or abuse, or anger, or dislike, or indifference. And it's this exactly that proves my point. Of course it would be best to keep the traditional family unit intact; in some circumstances that's just not possible, and that's ok. But that doesn't make it better.

Breastfeeding is best. If that's not possible, formula is the next best option and we're lucky to have such a healthy alternative. But that doesn't make it better.

In very rare circumstances certain vaccinations can have some risks. In those cases, those vaccinations should be avoided. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't vaccinate at all.

Mothers - or fathers - should care for and raise their children themselves. The march of progress makes this impossible much of the time, and we're lucky there are such wonderful, nurturing, safe facilities available to help care for our kids. But that doesn't make them better.

Let's just apply a little bit of common sense to this great big muddled mess of information and opinions we're being bombarded with on a daily basis as parents. Sure, there are a million good, sound reasons for making one decision or another when we're faced with any of the million parenting choices we have to make. But just because there are different options does not mean that all of these options are equal.

Formula feed your infant if you want to or have to; but don't try to tell me it's better than breastfeeding because it helps dad bond with baby, it helps baby fall asleep, it lets mom get more sleep, it eases the transition to cow's milk, whatever else. Bullshit. Science says breastfeeding is best - and though I know a lot of women who couldn't breastfeed for one reason or another, not one of them would have chosen not to if the choice was hers.

Don't vaccinate your kid if you feel more qualified to make that decision than your child's pediatrician, Health Canada, the World Health Organization, and the entire scientific and medical community in the first world. I'm thrilled that group immunity granted by my child and the other children in our community will keep your kid from dying from a third-world disease. But don't try to prove your point using vague anecdotal evidence and studies disproved decades ago. Bullshit. Science says to vaccinate.

Send your children to daycare so you can go out and earn a living to support your family, so your kids can learn to play well with others, to keep your mental health and your sense of self-worth. I don't think there's anything remotely wrong with that. But do not try to argue that it is in any way, shape or form better than a mother staying home to teach and care for and learn and grow with her own children. Bullshit. Every instinct of human nature says otherwise.

Please don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying that choosing not to breastfeed, vaccinate or at-home parent is wrong. You may be making the right choice for yourself and your family, and kudos to you for doing so. What I am saying is that trying to argue that these things are not necessarily best for our kids any longer (in an ideal world and all other things being equal) is absolutely ludicrous.

No-one's judging you for the choices you make. But don't then try to justify those choices by trying to sell us on the fact that they are better than what scientific fact and basic common sense and history and biology and instinct tell us.

Let's not confuse the availability of alternatives with improvements.

Let's not confuse the availability of opinions with facts.

And let's try not to abandon basic common sense when we're seeking advice and making our parenting choices.


  1. That's it! And it pisses me off when people tell me I'm lucky to stay home with my kids but it's not actually better for them. Of course it is, I'm their mom!!! AND, I'm not just lucky, I actually had to give up a hell of a lot to stay home. Because I think it's what's best for them. How can you say it's not???

  2. Yes. Yes yes yes.