Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Carnival of Natural Parenting: Compassionate Advocacy

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Compassionate Advocacy
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how they advocate for healthy, gentle parenting choices compassionately. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I was asked to write to this topic:
As parents who believe in many “natural parenting” practices, we sometimes find ourselves educating (and inspiring!) others about those practices. How do you advocate for healthy, gentle parenting choices compassionately? Remember: you don’t have to be “outspoken” to be an advocate, you can be a natural parenting role model/advocate simply by living.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where "attachment parenting" ideas are understood, even if they are not always the norm in certain circles. So I find that most of the time, I am not acting as an advocate in an environment hostile to my parenting choices like many other mama bloggers I read (my heart goes out to you!). But there are some things that I am choosing to do that get me some derisive or puzzled comments, even here. And when I traveled to the Midwest to visit relatives, Rowan's grandparents (on both sides!) were puzzled by some of our attachment parenting actions.

Here, I profile the things that we do that seem to cause the most upset in others, in order of priority:

1. Gender Fluid Choices
Purple funfur vest and
sparkly legwarmers. Fabulous!
By far, this is the thing that trips up the most people, including "progressive" people here in my liberal neck of the woods. It positively squicks all relatives in the Midwest, but even lefty Unitarian Universalists at my church have made comments to me. Granted, the UU's were admitting out loud to others that Rowan wearing barrettes and pink clothes with flowers jars them a bit. They talked to me about how they were struggling with those feelings, because they understood that they were kind of messed up. Those kind of conversations show how truly ingrained this gender conditioning is, and how we are lobbied from an early age to conform to them.

Rowan wears all kinds of cute clothes, regardless of whom they were designed for. How does a garment, a color, or a design element "have" gender, anyway? Can anyone explain to me why flowers are girly, given that they have male and female parts? And that dinosaurs are for boys, even though dinosaurs were both male and female? It makes no sense to me- and I will not censor my son or myself to appease ignorant masses.

I am raising Rowan with a "gender-free agenda" for as long as possible, as I feel that our culture places too much emphasis on the difference between men and women/boys and girls and in fact creates most of those differences to begin with. (Did you know we are more than 99% the same on a genetic level?)

When I hold up things for Rowan to see if he likes them, guess what? He likes sparkles, pinks and purples, funfur, lively patterns, and texture. So he gets them. And he looks good.

Often, we just get the "wrong" pronoun. Sometimes, we hear it over and over from the same person, even when I use the "correct" one in response to their comments and questions. Sometimes I do not bother correcting folks, sometimes I do. In the Bay Area, most people apologize for their "mistake". In other parts of the country, my fitness as a parent is challenged. Even Rowan's grandparents did so, albeit gently. "You've got to raise him normal!" was a common refrain we heard.

2. Co-Sleeping
While the grandparents weren't hostile per se, they were puzzled and concerned and did not like the idea of co-sleeping one bit. Rowan is past the "Oh my gawd, you will kill that baby by sleeping next to him!" phase, so instead we get comments like, "You are going to regret that." and "I got you a playpen to let him sleep in" (even though we told them explicitly we didn't need anything for bedtime).

I do get some puzzled looks from other moms about co-sleeping as well. It is as if anything different from what parents have done/are doing challenges the validity of their own choices. I am content to allow each family to make the choices that are best for their child and them as a unit. But I am sure we have all met the folks that foist their choices onto everyone else with missionary zeal. Ugh.

3. Baby Led Weaning
Showing Rowan eating a rock at the
beach on a post about BLW tickles me.
Every single time I went to feed Rowan at my parents house, my mom would exclaim and gasp. She wondered what kept him from choking to death. "Can he eat that?" Yes, mom- he can have chunks of food, be they veggies, fruit, bread, crackers, pasta, cheese- whatever. I explained to her the difference between gagging and choking and how gagging teaches him not to choke. I think she would have been much happy whipping out a blender.

She seemed happy to be vindicated (somehow) when Rowan got lemon juice in his eye and cried at a restaurant (Rowan loves to suck on lemons and this is the very first time he ever had a mishap). "I told you that was a bad idea."

She would wonder what we should feed the baby (I think she wanted to get "baby food"), even though I kept repeating that he will eat what we were eating (and that necessitated healthy choices for us all). In the end, she cautiously allowed us to feed Rowan as we wished, but remained a peanut gallery.

4. Allowing Rowan to be a Sexual Person
About to hump the pillow
during nakkie time.
Babies and children are sexual beings- albeit in a different way than an adult. Rowan humps things he likes for pleasure and given the chance to be naked, immediately starts playing with his penis and foreskin. I let him, usually without comment (or if I comment, I say something like, "That's your penis.")

I know so many people who try and squash this impulse in kids, probably because they are trying to protect them from predatory adults. But shaming people about their bodies and the pleasure that they bring does nothing to protect kids- in fact, it does the opposite. If there is shame attached to certain body parts or children cannot talk to us about them for fear of reprisal, they are less safe.

I was shocked (I mean literally shocked!) when Rowan's grandmother saw him grab his penis while I was changing him and told him not to do that. I didn't get upset (after all, Rowan is too young to understand what she was saying or to feel shame), but I did say something like, "It's his penis, he can touch it if he wants."

Rowan already has A Kid's First Book About Sex. It waits for him on his bookshelf. (Can I just say that I was astonished when I linked to the book on Amazon and found out it now costs at least $500? I got my copy when I worked for Good Vibrations (the author is the founder) in the late nineties and the cover price was less than $10! It is the only book of its kind that I can tell- and likely out of print- which is probably why it is so valuable.)

5. Vaccinations
This one should probably be #1 or #2, but because it is a invisible issue it comes up less often. But when it does, opinions are so strong on all sides that it is hard to have a reasoned conversation about the issue.

We have yet to give Rowan any vaccinations. We have very legitimate concerns (which are less about autism than other things), but none of that seems to matter to the militant pro-vaccine camp. Which to pro-vaccine folks makes us negligent at best or amazingly stupid and dangerous at worst. My family doctor lobbies very hard to give Rowan shots and gives me literature at each visit, after I politely decline.

On the opposite side, the anti-vaccine folks are as militant, and it is hard for me to find a reasoned resource talking about the risks and reasons to possibly vaccinate, albeit selectively.

What parenting choices have you made that get you stares and comments?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Natural Parenting Advocacy by Example — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction uses her blog, Twitter and Facebook as her natural parenting soapbox.
  • You Catch More Flies With Honey — When it comes to natural parenting advice, Kate of The Guavalicious Life believes you catch more flies with honey.
  • From the Heart — Patti at Jazzy Mama searches her heart for an appropriate response when she learns that someone she respects wants his baby to cry-it-out.
  • I Offer the Truth — Amy at Innate Wholeness shares the hard truths to inspire parents in making changes and fully appreciating the parenting experience.
  • Advocating or Just Opinionated?Momma Jorje discusses how to draw the line between advocating compassionately and being just plain opinionated. It can be quite a fine line.
  • Compassionate Advocacy — Mamapoekie of Authentic Parenting writes about how to discuss topics you are passionate about with people who don't share your views.
  • Heiny Helpers: Sharing Cloth Love — Heiny Helpers is guest posting on Natural Parents Network to share how they are providing cloth diapers and cloth diapering support to low income families.
  • Struggling with Advocacy — April of McApril still struggles to determine how strongly she should advocate for her causes, but still loves to show her love for her parenting choices to those who would like to listen.
  • Compassionate Advocacy Through Blogging (AKA –Why I Blog) — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares how both blogging and day-to-day life give her opportunities to compassionately advocate for natural parenting practices.
  • A Letter to *Those* Parents — Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares how to write an informed yet respectful reply to those parents — you know, the ones who don't parent the way you do.
  • Why I Am Not A Homebirth Advocate — Olivia at Write About Birth is coming out: she is a homebirth mom, but not a homebirth advocate. One size does not fit all – but choice is something we can all advocate for!
  • Why I Open My Big Mouth — Wolfmother from Fabulous Mama Chronicles reflects on why she is passionate about sharing parenting resources.
  • Watching and Wearing — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life advocates the joys of babywearing simply by living life in a small college town.
  • Compassionate Advocacy . . . That's The Way I Do It — Amyables at Toddler in Tow describes how she's learned to forsake judgment and channel her social energy to spread the "good news" of natural parenting through interaction and shared experiences.
  • Compelling without repelling — Lauren at Hobo Mama cringes when she thinks of the obnoxious way she used to berate people into seeing her point of view.
  • I Am the Change — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro describes a recent awakening where she realized exactly how to advocate for natural parenting.
  • Public Displays of CompassionThe Accidental Natural Mama recounts an emotional trip to the grocery store and the importance of staying calm and compassionate in the storm of toddler emotions.
  • I will not hide behind my persona — Suzi Leigh at Attached at the Boob discusses the benefits of being honest and compassionate on the internet.
  • Choosing My Words — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom shares why she started her blog and why she continues to blog despite an increasingly hectic schedule.
  • Honour the Child :: Compassionate Advocacy in the Classroom — Lori at Beneath the Rowan Tree shares her experience of being a gentle and compassionate parent — with other people's children — as a classroom volunteer in her daughter's senior kindergarten room.
  • Inspired by the Great Divide (and Hoping to Inspire) — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis shares her thoughts on navigating the "great divide" through gently teaching and being teachable.
  • Introverted Advocacy — CatholicMommy at Working to be Worthy shares how she advocates for gentle parenting, even though she is about as introverted as one can be.
  • The Three R's of Effective and Gentle Advocacy — Ana at Pandamoly explains how "The Three R's" can yield consistent results and endless inspiration to those in need of some change.
  • Passionate and Compassionate: How do We do It? — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares the importance of understanding your motivation for advocacy.
  • Sharing the love — Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine talks about how she shares the love and spreads the word.
  • What Frank Said — Nada at miniMOMist has a good friend named Frank. She uses his famous saying to demonstrate how much natural parenting has benefited her and her family.
  • Baby Sling Carriers Make Great Compassionate Advocacy Tools — Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey shared her babywearing knowledge — and her sling — with a new mom.
  • Everyday Superheroes — Who needs Superman when we have a community of compassionate advocates?! Dionna at Code Name: Mama believes that our community of gentle bloggers are the true superheroes.
  • Words of advice: compassionately advocating for my parenting choices — MrsH at Fleeting Moments waits to give advice until she's been asked, resulting in fewer advocacy moments but very high responsiveness from parents all over the spectrum of parenting approaches.
  • Peaceful Parenting — Peaceful parenting shows at Living Peacefully with Children with an atypical comment from a stranger.
  • Speaking for birth — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud soul-searches about how she can advocate for natural birth without causing offense.
  • Gentle is as Gentle Does — Laura at A Pug in the Kitchen shares how she is gently advocating her parenting style.
  • Walking on Air — Rachael at The Variegated Life wants you to know that she has no idea what she's doing — and it's a gift.
  • Parenting with my head, my heart, and my gut — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares her thoughts on being a compassionate advocate of natural parenting as a blogger.
  • At Peace With the World — Megan at Ichigo Means Strawberry talks about being an advocate for peaceful parenting at 10,000 feet.
  • Putting a public face on "holistic" — Being public about her convictions is a must for Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama, but it takes some delicacy.
  • Just Be; Just Do. — Amy at Anktangle believes strongly about her parenting methods, and also that the way to get people to take notice is to simply live her life and parent the best she knows how.
  • One Parent at a Time... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment believes that advocating for Natural Parenting is best accomplished by walking the walk.
  • Self-compassion — We're great at caring for and supporting others —from our kiddos to other mamas — but Lisa at Gems of Delight shares a post about treating ourselves with that same sense of compassion.
  • Using Montessori Principles to Advocate Natural Parenting — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells how she uses Montessori principles to be a compassionate advocate for natural parenting.
  • Advocacy? Me? — Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante discovers that by "just doing her thing," she may be advocating for natural parenting.
  • Feeding by Example — Mama Mo at Attached at the Nip shares her experience of being the first one of her generation to parent.
  • Compassionate Consumerism — Erica at ChildOrganics encourages her children to be compassionate consumers and discusses the benefits of buying local and fair trade products.
  • The Importance of Advocating Compassionately — Kristen at Adventures in Mommyhood acts as a compassionate advocate by sharing information with many in the hopes of reaching a few.
  • Some Thoughts on Gentle Discipline — Darcel at The Mahogany Way shares her thoughts and some tips on Gentle Discipline.
  • Compassionate Advocacy: Sharing Resources, Spreading the Love — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle shares how her passion for making natural choices in pregnancy, birth, and parenting have supported others in Dominica and beyond.
  • A journey to compassion and connection — Jessica at Instead of Institutions shares her journey from know-it-all to authentic advocacy.
  • Advocacy Through Openness, Respect, and Understanding — Melissa at The New Mommy Files describes her view on belief, and how it has shaped the way she advocates for gentle parenting choices.
  • Why I'm not an advocate for Natural Parenting — Mrs Green at Little Green Blog delivers the shocking news that, after 10 years of being a mum, she is NOT an advocate for natural parenting!
  • Natural Love Creates Natural Happiness — A picture is worth a thousand words, but how about a smile, or a giggle, or a gaze? Jessica at Cloth Diapering Mama’s kids are extremely social and their natural happiness is very obvious.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting: Compassionate Advocacy — Even in the progressive SF Bay Area, Lily at Witch Mom finds she must defend some of her parenting choices.
  • A Tale of Four Milky Mamas — In this post The ArtsyMama shares how she has found ways to repay her childhood friend for the gift of milk.
  • don't tell me what to do — Pecky at benny and bex demonstrates compassionate advocacy through leading by example.


  1. Fascinating article, thank you so much for your candid sharing! I have a Rowan, too, who likes to bend gender expectations (and she is a rabid dinosaur lover)

    Come & Join the Playdate!

  2. I think that baby-led weaning and co-sleeping get the most negative or puzzled reactions from people. My mother-in-law had a crib picked out for us when we moved back to the US, and we had to tell her multiple times that we did not want her to buy one!

  3. You're right, the gender fluid choices are strange to my Midwestern ears/eyes, even though I try so hard not to fit Kieran into some kind of "boy" box. I wish I had a role model like you closer to home!!

  4. I've heard a few of the comments that you mentioned above. I love your thoughts about gender fluidity and that all people - regardless of age - are sexual beings. Re: BLW - I've found that I mostly get positive comments from people when they see Jac eating part of whatever we're eating. They think it sounds weird, but then they see it in action, and then I usually just hear how cool it is :-)

  5. The parenting decisions we have made that make the most waves in our family (mostly my husbands family) is our decision to not vaccinate and our co-sleeping/bedsharing practices. I think they believe we do these things (or not do them) because we are lazy, and not because we did our own research and made an educated choice. Our daughter also loves swords, dragons and trucks but rarely gets a raised eyebrow for playing with or wearing clothes related to these things.

  6. And more on gender and babies: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfmoms/detail?entry_id=86923&tsp=1

  7. This was the most fascinating post I've read today. Wow.

    I have a 9 month old son, born after 3 daughters. I am DETERMINED not to turn him into a boy (I'm sure you KWIM) but it is so HARD! Already I dress him mostly in blue!

    But I have made it clear to family and friends that we do not want gifts for him to include anything that has wheels or ferocious animals. I want him to play with the same toys as his sisters--dolls, crafts, sand, Duplo....

    Oh, but it is hard not to conform to 'boy-typical' ways of being with our son! Thankyou for this inspiring post.

    I will definitely be back to read more of your archives.

  8. My favorite part of this post is the gender fluidity. I agree with you wholeheartedly on everything you said, especially because I know I suffer from gender stereotypes myself. We see a man wearing a "girly" pattern and automatically think something must be wrong with him. And of course any girl who wears "manly" clothing is dubbed a lesbian. I hope that you and other mothers out there who let their children move beyond gender boundaries will slowly but surely change the world.

  9. @Lori: Another Rowan! Yay! I will stop by for a visit later this afternoon!

    @Megan: I am so tired of telling people our lists of "no thank yous". Ours are mainly about clothes and toys.

    @Dionna: It's hard not to give in. Often I think about where my son is going that day to figure out if he can dress in anything or of he has to be more "conservative". I also assess my fighting mood before dressing him!

    @I thought I knew Mama: Glad to see BLW gets positive comments.

    @Gaia: It is easier on girls in this regard, I think. Masculinity is evidentally so fragile it must be policed.

    @Patti: It is hard not to just default to what others do and expect. I hear you. I find your toy no-no list interesting. Mine is mainly plastic battery operated things at this stage. I am sure it will change to themes as he grows!

    @Amanda: Gender and Sexuality are a tightly balled mix, aren't they? If Rowan grew up gay or bisexual, that would be fine with me. If he grew up straight it would be fine as well. I don't think any of them have to do with purple funfur vests, though! LOL

  10. So good! I get several of those too.

    When visiting my parents my mom asked repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the visit what kind of 'baby food' she should get. I told her none, he eats real food. After having that conversation AT LEAST 4 times, she still went out and bought a bunch of jars of Gerber. Gah.

  11. Having a girl, gender fluid choices seem to be more widely accepted, but it's still been hard fulfilling my preference for gender-neutral clothing (we buy almost exclusively secondhand). Living in Utah seems to have some parenting advantages as far as tolerance of our choices: ppl have overall been supportive about not vaccinating, nursing exclusively for as close to a whole year as possible but not turning her away from solids, and homeschooling. I get some criticism (open and subtle) for bed sharing, letting Hazel roam freely where it's safe for her to do so, and letting her walk barefoot indoors. also, she hasn't ever tolerated nursing with her head covered, so I just nurse wherever (people could do w/a little more boob in their life, imo) oddly enough, a lot of this criticism has come from our "progressive" church (Episcopal) family about these choices and after initial attempts to encourage education about my methods, I'm starting to just feel shunned and wanting to take up with the local UU's. It's a bummer.

  12. We live in Seattle so have a similar experience of being able to find a good group of AP families to surround ourselves with.

    We probably get the most flack for co-sleeping. Most of our family isn't close by, but when they are in town or we go visit it does get talked about. I think people are surprised my almost 4 year old daughter wants a pirate birthday party. Like, shouldn't she want a princess party or something?? Or they try to figure out how to make the pirate party "girly." Who cares? Obviously she doesn't, and neither do we.

  13. More to read on gendered clothing and colors etc: http://secure.campaigner.com/Campaigner/Public/t.show?JWz0--7NqN-btDr55

  14. @KrissyFair: *forehead slap* It's like talking to a wooden post, isn't it? :)

    @Faye: You are doing good advocacy work, right there in your church! I know it is weary-making, but keep fighting the good fight!

    @Kristen: A Pirate party! That sounds awesome. Wish we were closer!

  15. Living in a conservative area most "abnormal" parenting choices get looks. Breastfeeding in public, babywearing, and letting my son run around our yard naked in the summer. Cloth diapering in public restrooms always gets questions with the occasional "why would you want to do that much laundry?!" Things like co-sleeping and vaccination, unless it comes up in discussion (virtually never) are always met with horror. As is my son wearing anything "girly" (his favorite colors are red, blue and green and he adores foxes and space so this is not so much an issue atm.) Funnily enough no one ever comments when my daughter wears his hand-me-down boy clothes. Double standard alert!

    That said, I wouldn't change any of it for the world. Being a good mother (which I blogged about the other day in fact) is not so much about the choices we make and more about making the right choices for our families.

  16. The things you wrote about are the same ones we get flack about. When she was little, we got lots of "you're going to kill your baby" comments about co-sleeping. Now I'm starting to get looks/comments that I'm still breastfeeding my 1.5yo and have no intention to wean (we are letting her self-wean). We dress our daughter in gender neutral clothing as well, which always leads people to call her a boy (oh well) and also go for imaginative/open ended/ gender neutral toys. We've got dolls and cars and blocks and playdough - she can choose whatever she wants (we also do not do any plastic electronic toys.)

    I think you're doing great things for your family!! :)

  17. I like this CarNatPar post. I'm waving to you as another East Bay-er, too :)

    I don't know that it matters what we dress my boys in, they're called girls half the time, boys half the time. I don't care and if my boys do, they'll speak up. I let them pick whatever they want, too. My almost 3yo needed new shoes and he picked out the pink, sparkly converse. They were out of his size (although, my mom later wondered if the salesperson made that up for a boy? Hmmm) So my son picked out the cherry red converse instead. I would have happily let him wear anything he wanted, if for no other reason than having fewer difficulties getting dressed!

  18. I am so beind on reading your blog. An interesting post. This post made me realise once again how relatively less conservative the UK in general seems to be. A few examples. My sons had flowery pushchairs, clothes nd had their own toy pushchairs and dolls which they took everywhere. They dressed in skirts and dresses, tried make-up and jewellery whenever they wanted and went to dance classes and gymnastics as well as 'male' sports. My ultra conservative parents-in-law never ever raised an eyebrow at any of this. Nor did they when I was the one who was the wage earner and my male partner was the stay at home parent who did all this entailed including taking them to the "mother and toddler" groups. I never once ever had a negative comment when out with my sons with their dolls etc.

    On some of your other points, as a midwife here in the UK working for the NHS I can tell you that we have a policy of promoting rooming in and co-sleeping and routinely give advice on these topics to all women and along with this on attachment parenting ideas such as the benefits of keeping your infant close using slings/papoose to facilitate this, and on the benefits of skin to skin contact. We also routinely advise on baby led weaning.

  19. Im so thankful sum one is like that


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