Do labels help or hurt parents?

Tracy Chappell isn’t the parent she thought she’d be—and that's OK.
1iStock_000016366984Small

Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

I admit I was relieved when I heard about The Dolphin Way, a new book about parenting by Vancouver psychiatrist Shimi K. Kang. In short, it says that kids are much better off when they’re not spending all of their free time being shuttled to different lessons and activities, and living under strict authoritarian parenting. It’s a clear response to the “tiger parenting” approach made (in)famous by the 2011 book by Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Read more: Quitting activities: Choose Dolphin Parent over Tiger Mom >

But why did I need a book to make me feel better about my parenting style? What Kang has written probably feels “right” to many parents like me, but I was disappointed to realize I needed this affirmation and didn’t have more trust in my instincts about bringing up my daughters.

I guess it’s natural, at least in the beginning. You’re trying to live up to your own high expectations and not totally mess up your kid, especially when child rearing inevitably veers off in directions you never imagined. Should you pick her up when she cries? Should that get checked out by a doctor? Are you doing enough to stimulate her impressionable brain? Breast or bottle? Strictly organic?

I always envied friends who didn’t seem conflicted or confused about their parenting choices—people who appeared to know exactly what they were doing, with clear directives and goals and values they were raising their children by (even if that wasn’t reality every day of the week). Or others who were so relaxed about the whole thing, trusting that it would all work out in the long run. (But—eek!—what if it didn’t?)

There are labels—attachment parents, Millennial moms, helicopter parents, Pinterest moms—and assumptions that go along with them. I’ve never liked labels. On one hand, maybe the creation of a label gives some parents a sense of solidarity in the world, an easy way to pinpoint what they believe in, and reach out to others who are like-minded. But it always feels like a club to me. And when you have a club, there are members and non-members and a sense of exclusivity. Are any of us really just one thing or the other in our parenting? If so, my guess is they are the exceptions. But labels tend to perpetuate the idea that you need to be all in or all out, which can be a great injustice to parents following their guts (and their hearts) and also pit people against each other instead of linking them and their differences into a strong tapestry of support and acceptance and community.

My parenting is many things—many things I never expected, to be honest. In some ways, I’m more lenient than I ever imagined. I also yell more than I thought I would. I let my five-year-old sleep with me sometimes and have a pathetically haphazard approach to dinner. Sometimes, we go to McDonald’s or spend a Saturday flaking out in the living room instead of being outside. But we’re doing OK, and while I’d like to improve in some areas, this is probably the kind of parent I’ll always be. I hope I’ve managed to squash most of the dreaded over-parenting tendencies attributed to us “Gen-X” parents.

I used to be more like her. I worried how I would manage to expose my kids to all the fantastic things they needed to experience. I tried. Then I realized that I couldn’t. And shouldn’t. That isn’t my job. Somewhere in the last couple of years I’ve also realized that being home together is my girls’ favourite way to spend their time. They still do activities, but we’ve limited them and I’ve stopped stressing about how to fill their time and feed their brains. They do a good job of it on their own, and benefit so much from a less harried and pressured life; I love that we have time to play in the driveway with the neighbourhood kids instead of rushing off to another lesson. They’re learning different things, but still learning. (It also means I’m not on social media looking at all the ways I don’t measure up!)

Read more: Are you overscheduling your child? > 

But that’s just me. You may feel different, and that’s OK by me. I respect your choices for your children and your family. Our differences make this world so full of flavour and beauty and I’ll happily cheer your child on at her recital. Will you pick up a stick for ball hockey in my driveway?

What’s your family’s philosophy when it comes to scheduling, downtime and discipline?

5 Comments