Are You Crunchy Enough?

Are You Crunchy Enough? August 21, 2014

A couple of weeks ago we ran into a family at the park. We’d run into them several times before, and Sally had taken to their daughter, Ella. This time we learned that Ella will be attending kindergarten at the same school as Sally this fall. After we left the park, I remarked to Sean that it might be good to have this family over—that we might get on well with them. “But then, I don’t know how crunchy she is,” I added. I was referring to Ella’s mother, and Sean asked what I meant.

The truth is that I’m actually not all that “crunchy.” Yes, I used cloth diapers for a few years, but I don’t today. Yes, I breastfed Sally until she was two-and-a-half, but I stopped breastfeeding Bobby before he turned one. I have had both of them in daycare full time for years, and I don’t plan to homeschool. I like my space, so I don’t cosleep and I have rarely practiced babywearing (some crunchy mamas believe that the more physical contact infants and toddlers have with their caregivers the better, and therefore recommend near-constant babywearing, even in the home). I recycle, but I don’t eat organic. Both of my children are fully vaccinated and both were born in hospitals. I didn’t have Bobby circumcised, but I do shave.

I don’t have a problem with people being crunchy (except for the no vaccinations part, and providing any home births involve a certified midwife and have a backup plan). There’s nothing wrong with nursing longterm or cosleeping. But then, there’s nothing wrong with not nursing longterm or with not cosleeping either. But I live in a college town that often seems like hippie heaven, and being crunchy is all the rage. I’ve run into too many mothers who who view cosleeping or homebirthing as superior, and view mothers who don’t do these things as practicing inferior parenting and giving their children only second best.

Some would say it’s only natural for people to view their parenting practices or lifestyle practices as superior, given that people generally choose the methods or lifestyle they think best. I don’t actually think that’s true. Yes, we tend to choose the methods or lifestyle we think best, but the key words missing there are for us. There are plenty of times when people choose the methods or lifestyle that works best for them, but without thinking those things are best for everyone or judging those who choose differently.

Cosleeping may work well for one family, but terribly for another. I, for instance, need my space. If I were to try to force cosleeping, it would not go well for me. As it is, when my children climb in bed with Sean and me I generally put up with it as long as I can (and cuddling can be fun, for a time) and then wiggle out and go sleep elsewhere. Even during the day, I don’t like children permanently draped on me—I need my space. I believe that sleeping in separate beds is best for me and for my family—but that doesn’t mean I think it is superior to cosleeping, or that I think it’s best for every family.

I draw a distinction between underlying principles and specific practices. I believe parents should form a loving and accepting relationship with their children, built on communication and respect. That’s an underlying principle. Cosleeping, in contrast, is a specific practice. The importance of bonding with your newborn is an underlying principle, but trying to bond instantaneously through a water birth in the home is a specific practice (and one that doesn’t work for everyone). To give another example, I let Sally choose her own bedtime, but that does not mean I think every parent should do this, or that I think parents who do set bedtimes are practicing inferior parenting. I think parents should listen to their children, work with their children, and find ways to make bedtime as pleasant as possible for everyone involved, but I don’t think that boils down to a specific practice. Every family is different, and different families have different needs.

As I explained to Sean, Ella’s mother set off several crunchy indicators for me. Every time I see her she’s wearing her one-year-old in a wrap, and she doesn’t shave. I have absolutely no problem with this, and I suspect that Ella’s mother and I would probably hit it off fine. I only mentioned anything to Sean because of how many times I’ve been burned by judgmental crunchy mamas. It’s uncomfortable, not being crunchy enough for the mothers around me, and I’ve had enough judgement from my fundamentalist parents to fill my lifetime quota. I don’t need to have someone judging me as second-best because my children don’t drink raw milk or attend chicken pox parties.

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