In defense of American Parenting

September 25, 2013 at 5:20 am (babies) (, , , , , )

Me appreciating some Indian parenting

Me appreciating some Indian parenting

I’ve been reading a lot lately about what Americans do wrong parenting wise, especially in comparison to the rest of the world.  I’m not complaining about the proliferation of information on other cultures parenting techniques. I’m an amateur ethno-pediatrician myself and it’s fascinating to learn that the Finnish let their children nap in sub-freezing temperatures and that their governments advocate newborns sleeping in cardboard boxes.

I do though perhaps question the genre of “They do it better” books. Jared Diamond suggests we should emulate hunter-gatherers in their techniques. Not the Incest and knife-play parts, but the rest we should consider. He advocates co-sleeping, wearing children close to the body in things like slings, letting them stray a little farther and take more risks (no helicopter parenting here), and sharing parenting duties with many others. I’m for all of that and I believe a great deal of it is practiced by subsectors of American society already and has been for forty years (see the 1970’s).

 In another example, Paula Druckerman, the author of “Bringing up Bebe” says we should borrow from the French, teaching patience, only feeding at mealtime, and speaking with authority so as to not let our children run our lives. Looking around further we can find advice on following African examples or the Japanese.

I not so recently returned from a two month trip to India.  While I was there I set my sights on what I could glean from their parental strategies. Parenting there was definitely different in some key ways. It’s hard to say in a county that big that there is a unity of practice or belief but I saw stuff there that would just not occur in the States. Families of five rode along on one scooter. I saw kids walking alone in big cities narrowly dodging cars. I watched a mother hosing down a baby’s butt with freezing cold water next to a bus station while the baby yowled. Parents handed over their infants to me without any concern for my being a stranger. Taking a train from Agra to Varanasi, we shared a cabin with a couple who had a toddler. Less than ten feet away, the train’s door was open. In thirty seconds he could have taken off and ended up on the tracks. I was nervous enough myself, a couple of times, to get up and try to shoo him back in. The parents were much more laissez faire about it. 

 I was not however sure what meaning to make of the difference. Take the scooter example. The thing is people have to get places and they have to take their kids with them. Since affording a car is out of the reach of a majority of the population doing things like putting their kids on a motorbike is acceptable. Parenting, worldwide, is often about necessity.

 I’m not sure the majority of global parenting is entirely as intentional as some of the literature might imply. Most of the world is consumed by the most basic foundation tasks involved, getting food on the table, keeping their children safe as possible, providing shelter.

Watching people parent internationally makes one question what is actually necessary though. We here take for granted that babies must be put in car seats but our parents were raised without them. People used to hold their children in hand while riding in the car and that was that. Since no better option existed there was an acceptance of what we’d now consider unsafe.

In fact much of what we are scared of is a decision. I’m not advocating making the world less safe for kids nor I am suggesting that people in the third world wouldn’t like to make their children safer.  It did however remind me of the lyrics of the Mumia Abu-Jamal piece, Hip Hop and Homeland, which says “For here (in America) more than any place on earth wealth is more wide spread and so bountiful. What passes for the middle class in America could pass for the upper class in most of the rest of the world. They’re very opulent and relative wealth makes them insecure.”

We kowtow to fear as a luxury, a choice not afforded to most of the world, and it changes the way we parent. Different cultures have different freedoms, along with different philosophies and moral codes. The dangers may well be the same (there exists rape of children in India, as well as rapes here) but our reactions are different (we, in the US, shelter our kids more).

There are also structural differences that count for something. If I put my whole family on a scooter without helmets I’d be arrested. There would be legal issues if you tried to import all those enticing international practices here. You might end up getting your kids taken away. There have been multiple instances in which immigrants have come into conflict with the government because they were treating their kids in a way that would fly at home but not here. A great example comes in the form of the book “The spirit catches you and you fall down,” which pits the spiritually focused Hmong community in California against the strictures of Western medicine, in a case of a child with epilepsy. We may admire the way far off people parent but we can’t always successfully apply it back home.

Furthermore, no one is parenting in a vacuum. You can’t opt out of the society you exist in. One might layer in a variety of approaches but there is still the underpinnings of what sits outside the front door. You can attempt to withdraw but culture is pervasive. We internalize it into our perspectives to a point that it is inescapable. Even if we fight against it, we are from it and working in reaction to it. Is one Culture and its parenting better than another? Does it matter? Most of us don’t have the ability to uproot ourselves and try again elsewhere. Even if we did, we’d bring our culture with us.

My perspective is that I am a product of this culture but can appreciate others. What irks me is the suggestion that one form or another of parenting is RIGHT. As though somehow their ways of doing things are producing superior (smarter, braver, more well- behaved) children than our own. Now I don’t mean to be a crazy nationalist. I’m not saying Americans produce the “best” kids but judging parenting, culturally speaking, is a faulty and useless endeavor.

I am not such a cultural relativist to say that anything goes. I think corporal punishment, which occurs cross-culturally, is always wrong. I feel that way regardless of where it’s happening. “Good” and “Bad” parenting happens in every society, in every culture.  My main point is that choosing how to parent or which trends to follow or even reading half the baby books on the market is a great priviledge and perhaps a fool hardy one. Because, in the end, a lot of the things people say are contradictory and although lots of the folks out there preaching the new ideas about global parenting say to give kids lots of space, engagement is my favorite thing about American parenting culture.



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These are the babies we are raising: Our War generation

May 31, 2012 at 8:06 am (babies, hollywood, nanny) (, , , , , )

Yesterday was officially Memorial Day, even though we all had Monday off in observance. Well, actually, I worked,(yay for domestic workers)but on my way to and fro I had a chance to hear NPR’s coverage of the occasion. They had interviews with veterans and others about how they were spending the day.This was the first year I remember there being a perceptable tension between recognizing the sacrifice of the troops and enjoying the beginning of BBQ season. On facebook there were a rash of statuses’that said, if I may paraphrase, “while you are out there having fun, assholes, remember someone died so you could enjoy this day. Freedom isn’t free!” It smacked of Jesus’ dying for my sins, frankly. On the radio elderly respondents lamented the lack of respect they perceived from the American public.There was a defensiveness, almost a hostility that divided the world, at least in the minds of those speaking into those who do Memorial day right and the rest of us.

What bothered me was the generational blame game that seemed rear its’ head. These kids they said, they don’t appreciate what we did- they don’t know how it is. The multiple calls to reinstate the draft sounded to me like frat boys standing up for hazing. While I get the logic behind saying that if everyone had to go to War we wouldn’t be so keen on starting them, whose babies will unwillingly be slaughtered to prove your point? and who says we wanted to start them in the first place? As though we voted on these last few. Who are we talking about, exactly, when we say “they”? “They” who don’t care about history, who don’t spend Memorial day putting flags on gravestones, who should be drafted so they know what wars about. Which generation is in question? Is it mine? I definitely got dragged as a child to the cemetery. Our baby boomer parents, even the hippies, emphasized the enormity of the whole WAR proposition early enough in our minds.Besides,the gray haired men who sign the budgets and bills to pay for the war, they are my parents age at least and their own experiences with the draft hasn’t seemed to stop them from making war.

I know for sure the kids growing up right now have a grasp of the concept, because imagine that if you are a twelve year old girl and you live in America, you must take for granted that from the moment you were born, the United States has been at war.You grew up slowly piecing together the letters that graced the bumper of so many cars, “Support the Troops.” You see the most recent Katy Perry video, Part of Me, in which the message seems to be if you get mad at your boyfriend maybe the answer is to enlist in the Marines. You are the target demographic of the artist in question and you have just begun to be involved with boys romantically, in the sense that they tease you mercilessly. There is a strong possibility that this could be considered recruitment material.

As a six year old, you watched Elmo’s dad come home from being deployed for multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Since when does Elmo have parents?) The subject matter is both treacly and deep all at once. What does the future hold for you? Why do all the old people on public radio want to draft you? Why can’t they let you enjoy the sunshine outside? Do peaceful societies need these kinds of holidays at all? Yesterday I said a prayer for all the fallen soldiers and for the generation that hopefully won’t become them.

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Melissa Etheridge, Part II

February 2, 2012 at 8:14 pm (babies, Lesbian, queerspawn) (, , , )

In the continuing saga that is my fangirl relationship with Ms. Melissa Etheridge, I got to be a call-in guest on her Radio Show. It all started when post-bothering her at breakfast, I came home to see whether I might continue to bug her, preferably through social media. Though I was sad to find her missing from Twitter, some consolation was found in the discovery of her aforementioned radio show. Who knew she was a radio personality?

On the website for her show there was a contact form to fill out if you wanted to talk to her. They offered the chance to call-in to Melissa! Well, I pounced on the chance and filled out the form, explaining my run-in with her and how I’d love to talk to her about gay parenting.

In the end we did talk parenting a tad, but the gay part wasn’t mentioned. What happened was that they called me one morning and asked if I wanted to join in on a conversation about who I’d rather meet the president or a big celebrity. They mentioned that back in the day everyone would have picked the president but that it was no longer the case. I’d much rather meet Obama than Brad Pitt, but if it was Bush being talked about the story would be different. They said they’d call me back in a minute because the connection was bad.
I formulated some cool response about how it comes down to the impact people perceive either of the profferred figures had on their lives. Like people care to meet those that matter, that have somehow touched their lives. It used to be people felt the President, regardless of Party, had the greatest power over their lives. People might not feel that way as much these days given all the talk of corporate interests running things behind the scenes. I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to say all of that but I figure’d I could come across smart. They never called me back. I called them twenty minutes later, cold tea in hand, and they said they’d try to call a bunch of times but it hadn’t gone through. It happens sometimes, they said, and promised to give me a call again in the next couple of days.

I was bummed. But early the next week, as I was clocking hours at my own personal version of the office, aka the playground, who should call? The guy from the radio show. This time he asks me if I consider myself a patient person or an impatient person? I think I’m somewhere in between, personally, but since I was at that moment rather patiently following a two year old aorund a park I thought, let’s go patient. He asked if that meant that extended into my tech life- So I don’t pay the extra money to overnight things and such? I thought about my old-ass computer at home and how being broke really does train one patience wise. Yep- definitely not overnighting things. This time he put me on hold and when a few minutes later it reconnected, Melissa Etheridge was the voice on the line.

Hey, We’ve got Kellen on the line who says she’s patient and do I hear children in the background? Because kids will definitely require someone to be patient…We bandied about over the idea of patience being really tied to staying in the present moment and about how kids will force one to be present as well. She mentioned a line about the present being a gift.I said something about how I bet she was a great parent and she said, well, now you’re just being sweet. It was pretty sweet all around. Although, I didn’t get to mention meeting her. She has a real knack for framing short interactions gracefully, saying well, thanks for calling Kellen as she leads me off the line once I’ve given my soundbite on patience.

I call a mom immediately to brag about it. Afterwards a mother at the park tells me that she couldn’t help but overhear and did I really just talk to Melissa Etheridge? I’d say only in Hollywood folks, but I’m pretty sure you can call-in from anywhere.

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The Pull-Out Method

September 29, 2011 at 7:27 am (babies)

Wanna know how I’ve managed to avoid pregnancy all these years? Hi Mom! Well, all this time I’ve been living in shame, thinking I was no better than a high-schooler in the back of someone’s Chevy, and all the while using a, according to Planned Parenthood, safe, free and reliable method of birth control. I can’t wait to see the video about Coca-Cola douching that has be next…

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Children and Gender

April 10, 2011 at 3:16 am (babies, nanny) (, )

Long time no see, you say? Well, balderdash say I! Anyhow, I’ve been sent two very interesting articles that sit at the intersection of my quadrants of interest- the junction of babies and queers-

The first is about a boy who likes pink-it’s an article written by his mother defending her support of her son’s non-normative gender expression. She very eloquently and humorously describes how people try and tell her how to parent and exposes the contradictory stance Dr. Phil takes on the issue- he says being gay isn’t a choice and then encourages parents to enforce gender norms to prevent being gay later? Huh? I remember when my brother was little, he had some very feminine( think putting on make-up with mommy in the mornings) moments and some very masculine ones ( I will never forget his instinctual interest in guns as a toddler in ToysR’Us). At one point his favorite color was pink (until it changed to Orange), so I am aware from personal experience that gender expression in children, without imposition from adults in their lives is very fluid, changes day by day a lot of the time. My brother ended up as a Rugby-playing Frat Boy despite having tried wearing a skirt to kindergarten. So Dr. Phil can chill out- but you should read this article, right?

The second article, also about children and gender, concerns a controversial single sex pre-school, opened near Santa Cruz recently, called the Pink Academy. “It’s pink, it’s girly,and it’s all about them”- was their tagline. Purposefully all-girl, it was advertised as a place that would emphasize math and science as well as all things pink, and create an environment where girls excel. Well, bless that poor misguided mother who came up with that idea- likely bolstered by studies of older children that say single sex education benefits girls- because most have not taken kindly to the subject. It seems, and I don’t disagree, that the pre-school years are not where fully formed expressions of gender occur and that most experts encourage more co-ed interaction during these years not less. The last thing we want to do with pre-schoolers in general is try and limit their expression to appropriately gendered displays (you hear that Dr Phil?). That being said- I know that I, who used to collect paper dolls, porcelain dolls and fairy figurines ( show me a doll I don’t like) would have felt quite at home at the Pink Academy. So if those uptight people would let their boys embrace pink, I say open the doors to all and let the Pink party begin!
Check out the Slate article in the subject here.

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Why Gay Parents are Superior….

March 3, 2011 at 4:17 am (babies, Lesbian) (, , )

So as i’ve mentioned, I write for an online parenting magazine- InCulture Parent and this month my column is excitingly titled “Why Gay Parents are Superior to Hetero Parents,” I hope this controversial moniker will inspire folks to check it out ! I don’t seriously think gay parents are better, just that mine are the best… but I do have some stuff to say about positive parenting that I associate with the gay community.

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Babies in Prison

February 22, 2011 at 10:22 pm (babies) (, , , , , , , , )

I was watching “Hard Time”, NatGeo’s exploration of the Ohio penitentiary system, with my roomates this morning. I’d given some thought already to why it is that we like to watch prison reality shows. I used to watch alot of “Locked Up:life behind bars” at my old place and the fascination seems rooted in it being a glimpse into a very different world, one we know otherwise little about. It’s thrilling, and it makes us feel powerful to be able to observe without participating. We can judge from afar.

Today one of the segments was about a program in which mothers who come into the system pregnant can keep their infants with them in a segregated nursery ward. Before my roomates had a chance to comment I announced how happy I was to see this happening. They seemed surprised, their instinct that it was awful to be born behind bars and even worse to be kept there. It is true that the babies suffer the consequences of a crime they did not commit, and yet that would be the case regardless of whether they are with their mothers behind bars. The punishment outside would just be different, a sentence in the foster care system. I have long wanted to be a foster parent but not because I believe in the system’s efficacy. In fact it is the opposite. Much in the way that I am a free range cattle rancher and vegetarian because I believe in reforming from the inside, I want to be a foster parent because the current version is largely evil and unacceptable.

In many countries women are allowed to keep their children with them while they serve their time in prison. The Indian prison system lets women keep their children with them for the first five years. Since the women in India’s prisons are largely from the lowest castes, keeping their children with them could be preventing their starving on the streets. Indeed the life availbale to them inside may be preferable. It’s an imperfect solution to an unideal situation in any case but my sense is that it is better for the attachment needs of the child than seperating them from their mothers. Here in the States, Prison Nursery programs tend to feature resources and support for the mothers that can help prevent their recidivism and promote good parenting. I believe more resources should be put to early childhood concerns in general, behind bars and in the world at large.
The Quakers have created a comprehensive report on children in prison worldwide that examines all sides of the issue, if you can handle the twenty two pages….

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Things I found Online

January 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm (babies) (, , , , , , , )

I’m impressed that found so many insightful tidbits on the interweb….
I got babies from the NYTimes, in an awsome article describing “The movement to restore children’s play”, while i’m not trying to hate on Tiger moms out there ala’ Amy Chua in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I do believe in the value of letting children explore and imagine without adult direction. My kid are more likely to go to a Waldorf school than take piano lessons in the end.

Loved this survival guide for post-Jewish Summer Camp blues
Being that we are half way back towards Summer and in LA it always feels like June, I found it appropos.

Since I got the Babies and Jews covered, let’s go Queer: Another NY Times piece, this story about the beautiful life of an adopted black son of Gay parents, totally made me cry. Not only does it show the sort of beauty found in an unwanted child loved by unwanted parents, but there is a horse involved. Get out your hankies folks, you’re going to need them….

Now the only quadrant of interest left untouched would be Acting and it is perhaps a mirror of my current life in Lalaland that shows the asbsence therein. I’ll keep trying, we’ll see how “The Kids Are Alright” does at the Oscars…..

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Bullies and Babies

January 7, 2011 at 10:19 pm (babies) (, , , )

As I have previously mentioned herein, one of my personal heroes, the late great Magda Gerber, founder of the RIE approach to childcare, said that Babies are Peacemakers. Well, the NY Times just keeps on backing that up. In another article they show how babies help us treat one another better. An amazing Canadian program called Roots, uses classroom visits by a mother and infant to help children develop empathy. Having the baby around had a marked effect on bullies, who perhaps had a chance to leave that role behind and be gentle momentarily. Check it out at

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