Parenting Styles… Ditch Labels and Trust Your Instincts

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By J. McKenna

In the last few years, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the various styles of parenting. What method will you use? So and so practices “attachment parenting” (( but I am much more prone to “RIE” ((

Society tells us everything needs a “label” but why? Does having a label make it easier to judge or relate?

I’ve never been a big fan of labeling myself or having an association to anything in order to pacify curiosity and conform. I am secure. I am simply me. A one-of-a-kind individual as is every person on this planet. The only label I felt comfortable with was the “old soul” one. To me this signifies a great compliment. Like, as a child what I said resonated with grownups. It made them pay attention to my words because they held logic, reason, and knowledge even at the ripe age of six.

No judgment from me about actress Alicia Silverstone’s parenting style but a few years back photographs and videos of her feeding her baby in the “mastication” method ((, a bird-like regurgitation manner in which the caregiver chews the food first then places it via mouth-to-mouth to the infant. This created quite a controversy! It is not my cup of tea; I like English Breakfast with milk, lightly steeped. But it was a reminder how close-minded society can act towards unfamiliar behaviors or actions. It may look odd to some folks but remember, certain behaviors and practices had been around long before television and the internet told you otherwise.

My journey into parenthood began in November of 1991. I was just 20 years old, already on my own for over 3 years and was working as a waitress. I gave birth to a beautiful boy I nicknamed Sonny, after the 1966 Bobby Hebb song:


And the rock was formed when you held my hand

Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain

Sunny, you smiled at me and really eased the pain

Now the dark days are gone, and the bright days are here

My Sunny one shines so sincere

Sunny one so true, I love you…I love You.

I always was (and was known as) a bit of a scaredy cat. I didn’t like the dark or being home alone (boy, has that changed!) but parenthood did not scare me. I trusted my own instincts and understood that just because I was young didn’t mean I was wrong, or, if it was in a book it was right. I had to find my own balance.

I grew up in a large family and have 23 first cousins. Being second oldest on both sides I spent a lot of time around babies! I babysat a lot as well. I knew the families at the local co-op preschool my siblings and cousins attended and picked up a lot of clients (provided they had cable, most notably had the newest channel, MTV – of course, only turned on after the kids were asleep). I was exposed to various styles of parenting even within my own family and realized that what matters is knowing each child’s individual needs.

Although I observed various styles of parenting it certainly never occurred to me to question their choices, their children were my business. Even if it was my business (babysitting remember?). Once I became a mother, well, let’s just say the comments and feedback came at me like a machine gun. (And I hate guns.) I have been “shamed” for a few of my choices by family; friends and even strangers. I find it quite, well, tacky.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1991 the hospital released me and my son. That night I tried to put Sonny in his crib. This really was my plan but I’m a light sleeper. Plans change. His every sound and breath and movement startled and amazed me. Holy shit! I gave birth two days ago! I have a son! I am a mother! It is a profound feeling and, on that first night, I brought him to bed. Just tonight (even though I already did in the hospital) I reasoned. The next night, and the next night I had the same internal debate. But why was I fighting the urge? Who said he shouldn’t sleep next to his mom and dad? I stopped questioning my own instincts and allowed Sonny a permanent place in between his dad and me. At first I held him in the bend of my arm then as he started to gain more mobility I had to get comfortable with feet in my face or tucked under my back. Sonny loved long hair from day one and would wrap his little hands in my hair and twist himself into dreamland. The crib eventually became my clean laundry basket of sorts or used for daytime napping. Mainly laundry.

(This does have a “label” co-sleeping. Genius)

So, as a new mom you want to talk about your baby. We each believe our children are the most beautiful, talented, smartest kids on the planet. Even at seven days old. So I shared how I loved sleeping with my boy and was met by gasps and comments. My favorite comment was “you’ll roll over your baby” and “it’s unhealthy; they’ll depend on you”. Really? I had no idea! Thanks for the heads up. Does the crib equal self sufficient? He’s a baby and actually does depend on me. For everything! Well, it is hard to believe this was nearly 23 years ago, and I am happy to report Sonny is just fine. I did not roll over him and in the miracle of all miracles some parent (probably exposed to their own criticism) invented a bed divider. So if you care what people think you can (finally) rest assured – safe baby! Marketing to new parents is big business. Most of which you can do without. Damn, why didn’t I think of that? Shocker, I didn’t buy one.

My son is now in a union man, and a father (making me a g-word to my beautiful granddaughter), and he hasn’t slept in my bed since around kindergarten. In fact, he has never mentioned that sleeping with his parents messed him up in any way, shape or form. Based on his parenting style he agrees with this parent/child bonding as his daughter sleeps with him as well. Apple, tree, you get it.

The truth is your kids grow out of sleeping with you, and it is so sad when they do! We have such a small window of time to care for a young child. They begin losing their teeth, start having friends at school and eventually start giving a-tude but the saddest moment might be puberty! It reminds you of your own horrendous physical changes (my favorite is reminiscing of my buck teeth and glasses, pre-pubescent look). My kids always had their own beds and space, and each let me know when the time was right for their own independence. My older three kids transitioned around 4 years old. In 2012, I was blessed with my bookend baby boy (all girls in the middle) now 22 months old and I figure I have a little over two years left sleeping with “Bubba”. I will tell you there is no person on the planet who could possibly talk me out of not waking up to his sleepy smile, reaching over while calling “mama” and then (wait for it) asking for “huggies”!!! This is quite possibly the best feeling in the world! If I cared what other’s thought, I would have missed out on this precious bonding experience with all 4 of my children.

The biggest criticism came with not breastfeeding. I admit; I did not breastfeed any of my children. I have been shamed about this fact over and again. No one ever stopped to ask if my children actually had breast milk. My children did have breast milk, via a pump to the bottle. This was my personal choice, even with all those babies in my family I did not grow up with a real awareness of breastfeeding. I think it was in the bedroom with a blanket covering the breast deal, but hey, I was too busy playing! Once I had Sonny I understood the benefits of breastfeeding as well as the cost savings. It was my very own personal choice for two reasons: I already have large breasts and once the milk set in, it was the most uncomfortable feeling to let those puppies loose and I wanted their dad to feed him and bond. Period.

Trust me I heard every comment in the book; “women had large breasts 200 years ago and had no choice but to breastfeed” – okay, well I had the option to pump and wear a bra, and I took it. It is important to note Sonny had issues with suckling and we had to try several nipples to get his feeding just right. So I tried and didn’t work. Thank God, I am not ashamed to admit, I had other options.

We are all unique and perfect in our own quirky ways. We are all born the person we are meant to be. And so were your children. If it feels right to you, then empower yourself and your child(ren). You both have natural instincts so OWN THEM! The greatest gift you can give your baby is their own specialized, created-with-your-input parenting plan. When making a decision like, let’s say – a blind date or skydiving – people often ask “what does your instinct tell you?” but this is not typical for parenting questions.

Do I believe in labeling? Well yes, on the food I eat and buy for my family, warning labels, and my favorite of all is record labels. I am pro-record labeling! People not so much.

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