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September-October 2010 Selected Content

Learning 101 - Tamra Orr

A Parenting Pre-Nup Agreement?

Joseph and I were both very lucky with our respective in-laws. Although we knew that each set did not necessarily agree with our parenting practices, (ironically, they disapproved of different elements, not the same ones) for the most part, they didn't voice those opinions very often. My mother would occasionally ask me a question about an issue, such as did I really plan not to get the MMR shot for the kids? And my dad would do his shake the head thing as he walked through the room and saw me nursing one of my toddlers, but mostly they let us do what we thought was best and just stayed back in case we needed them. That's one of the reasons Joseph and I loved our parents and our in-laws so much.

I fear, however, that I am not going to be able to follow that noble example.

I have some pretty darn strong opinions about parenting. (Okay, that was a vast understatement, but give me a break.) These opinions are based on countless hours of research that I did when I was first becoming a parent. I read voraciously. I talked to people. I went to conferences. I did everything I could and it resulted in some very, very powerful attitudes about how children should be raised--or how they shouldn't be. The idea that these basic principles might not be used with my grandchildren causes me to grind my teeth, grow more gray hair and cause extra wrinkles.

Now that all of my children are getting old enough that I can eventually see them becoming parents, I worry about this issue more. I don't know that my oldest daughter (26) will ever have children, so I have put that concern aside. I know my youngest daughter will, but am not concerned that she will not follow attachment parenting. She is such a tender-hearted soul that, like me, she can hardly stand to see another child cry. She is already drawn to babies and I see that maternal instinct developing. (She is almost 20.) Moreover, she and I have done a lot of discussing over the years about parenting principles. She understands why I believe in natural childbirth, breastfeeding and family beds. She knows that I will be right there to help her, answer questions, and give her all the support she needs when she becomes a mom someday.

But . . . then there are my sons (17 and 14). The women they choose as wives may not have been raised in homes with attachment parenting principles. They may have learned that a drugged hospital birth is the best way to go, that bottle feeding is a better alternative to breastfeeding, that babies belong in cribs, that kids should learn to "cry it out" and that day care is just as good as staying home with mom. EEEEEEEK. Can you see me pounding my head against the wall at the mere thought of it?! I sure can.

What do I do then? Do I keep my mouth shut and attempt to be the "good" mother-in-law? Or do I try to gently find a way to suggest some options to traditional teaching? (Personally, the idea of moving to a remote island where only attachment parenting natives live sounds good to me. I am sure the boys could find some attractive, pleasant topless girls there, right?)

Of course, I have done my fair share of educating both of my boys about parenting principles. They have heard (ad nauseum, I am sure) why Joseph and I choose everything from home birth to homeschooling. When we are out and see a child that is being treated poorly, we discuss it. They know why we do what we do--and they agree in principle. But they are not the mothers. They are not the ones that will give birth. And, let's admit it, they are not necessarily the ones who will make the parenting decisions. Sure, times are changing and dads have a more and more active role, but if Mama isn't on board with nursing and family beds and all of that, it just isn't going to happen.

So, recently, while attending a fabulous homeschooling conference full of dozens of attachment parenting advocates, I came up with a radical new idea. I think my children should all give their potential spouses a parenting pre-nup to sign. Instead of arranging financial decisions, it would set up an agreement on how to raise the children. (Of course, finding out that it was your mother-in-law's idea might not go over too well.)

What would go in the pre-nup? Well, to be fair, there is a lot that I wouldn't try to influence . . . . I mean, they can live where they want (as long as I get to see the grandchildren on a weekly basis), have any job they want (as long as the position isn't life-threatening), have any religion/no religion (although it sure would be easier if they were secular. . . ) and dress any way they want (just please not the pants that look like they are going to fall off any second . . . ) Okay, okay. I have opinions here but they can be put on the minor concerns list.

If I offend anyone with this list, I apologize up front. Do I truly believe you can be a loving parent and not do these things? Yes. Do I truly believe that these issues are the foundation of being the parents we were meant to be and what our babies were designed for? Yes. Did I tone down each one of these points from what my radical self would have liked to say? You bet.

In the parenting pre-nup, I would want to say that future spouses must be willing to:

1. Accept that the methods they grew up with are not the only ones and that there are alternatives to consider.

2. Learn/read/research about attachment parenting ideals and then discuss it with me or at least some other AP parents.

3. Nurse for at least six months--with all of the loving support and help and encouragement they need from me, La Leche League and other authorities.

4. Consider a natural childbirth. It doesn't have to be at home but at least one that avoids so many of the drugs and medical practices that cause problems and complications.

5. Read about why so many parents choose not to vaccinate their children and then make an informed decision.

6. Read about family beds and why they are so important. Perhaps try sleeping in bed with the baby or putting a crib up against the bed and see how it goes.

7. Realize that a crying baby is not spoiled and that leaving a baby to cry alone is just cruel.

8. Explore options to any kind of physical punishment. Spanking is never the only choice and many believe it is never the right choice either.

9 . Explore different educational options such as homeschooling/unschooling--and completely ignore the idea of preschool.

10. Realize that modern parenting practices are almost always designed for the parents' convenience and not for the babies' needs and, in the long run, following them can cause irreparable damage.

So, what do you think? Will I send my children's potential life partners running out into the night screaming about the Monster Mother-in-Law if I hand this out?

Of course, I won't really hand my kids a pre-nup, but I will encourage them STRONGLY to discuss all of these issues with those they have fallen in love with and see where these future family members stand on them. Just as I want my grandchildren to be raised in loving, nurturing families, I want my children to have happy, long lasting marriages. I don't want to be seen as the interfering, disapproving mother-in-law. I want to be the profoundly wise, sage-like mom. At least I will sound noble!

© 2010, Tamra Orr

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