Skipping the Fads: In Defense of Personalized Parenting


Every time I see a new parenting phenomenon I’m a wee bit skeptical. Headlines tell you to push your children and be a “Tiger Mom,” or to let your children raise themselves in extreme “Free Range Parenting.” There are “Unschoolers” who homeschool by letting their children fully educate themselves, while other parents believe every aspect of their child’s day should be scheduled to prevent boredom and maintain parental control.

We are inundated every single day with postcard perfect pictures of children thriving under starkly black and white parenting methods, and are led to believe that if we follow their steps our children will tow the line.

I would simply urge everyone to stop and take one giant step back into the large grey area. Those children are not my children or your children – and that’s perfectly O.K.

You see, with four children under my belt there are a lot of parenting situations I’ve experienced. [There are also many parenting situations I HAVEN’T experienced, such as the dating years screammmmmmmmmm with three daughters .] At one point or another I’ve probably either researched or tried whatever parenting fad has recently come back into popularity. Attachment parenting, cry-it-out, positive redirection, spanking, time-outs, elimination communication, early potty training, late potty training, baby sign language, Montessori and Waldorf are all methods I have attacked with gusto… just to name a few. 

I’m not a chameleon, a band-waggoner, or someone who can’t make up their mind and just “stick” to something. What I am is a mother who has finally come to realize that my ways of parenting need to be as diverse as my children. Just as one size doesn’t fit all, one method of parenting doesn’t fit all children.

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I had my first daughter almost 10 years ago and after much reading and research became convinced that a Montessori method was exactly was what we needed to practice in her toys and upbringing. I loved everything about it. Why wasn’t everyone doing this?? By 9 months she had transitioned from our room to her own little bed on a mattress on the floor of her room. She had her own low bookcase with a small number of books and a handful of wood and cloth developmental “teaching” toys (electronic toys were a no-no). I believed in early potty training and by 18 months she was fully potty trained. We used baby sign language starting at 9 months to encourage the connection between words and objects and by 22 months she spoke over 150 words. We practiced attachment parenting and I could use reason and words to diffuse almost any brewing tantrum. She helped me bake, cook food, and was her own little person. We practiced baby led weaning and she would eat everything under the sun that I put in front of her (with the exception of eggs to which she was allergic).

Boy we were good. We had this parenting thing down pat! [Please, don’t laugh!]

tinker toys make a wonderful creative toy for children
tinker toys make a wonderful creative toy for children

Then I had another daughter. Another daughter who was raised under exactly the same circumstances and style. This daughter, however, was completely different than her older sister. She never ever enjoyed playing with toys of any kind. From her youngest months she craved the interaction of people and to this day (7 years later) has maintained that same personality trait. The same potty training method practiced at the same time as her sister had trained led to my acceptance of her lack of readiness and a six month postponement. At the age of 2 she was still waking up four or five times a night and single-handedly managed to convince me that perhaps sticking to my guns with the whole attachment-parenting-sleep thing may not be the best thing for our family. Trying to reason with her and explain things seemed to be almost hopeless.  

Why was everything sooooo different?

What had happened was nothing more or less than the amazing and numerous differences in my children boldy showing themselves.  I had learned firsthand that not only are all children different, but the way that we treat them may need to be different, as well.

Before you think I’m slamming the way other people parent (such as any of the types I listed above) or condescending let me assure you I’m not. What I am doing is saying that while it truly takes a village to raise a child, and while we should always be open to advice and bettering ourselves, we should never lose sight of one of the most important aspects of parenting:

These little people of ours have their own defined personalities from the time they are in our wombs. They are not blank slates upon which we can pour out our knowledge to fill them up. We can guide, encourage, and discourage behaviors, but at the end of the day they are who they are, just as we are who we are. Parenting isn’t simply reading about a certain way we want to live and implementing a stranger’s instructions to obtain that result. Parenting is figuring out each individual child’s strengths, weaknesses, and personality, and using those three things as our compass for raising them. 

Your children all took naps until they went to school? That’s fine, but mine all gave theirs up by age 2. And no matter how many methods and schedules I read about and tried, nothing could get them napping after that point. I felt defeated and as if I’d failed when I heard my friends talk about the long quiet times they enjoyed every afternoon. I committed the cardinal mommy sin of comparison and it stung. Finally I came to terms with the simple truth that in our family our children require less sleep. And that’s O.K. 

Your seven year old eats sushi? My child ate everything and anything until the day she turned 6 and declared that she no longer liked to eat red things. Her three year old sister heard that declaration and also immediately refused to eat dinner. The last time I dug in my heels and forced her to eat something she didn’t want she threw up on the table. Literally. She threw up ON her plate ON the dining room table.

I’m sorry french food parenting book and blogs, but exposing your children to a plethora of foods at a young age does NOT guarantee that they won’t become a picky eater.

My 3 year old daughter sitting down to the same homemade enchiladas she would refuse to eat two years later
My 3 year old daughter sitting down to the same homemade enchiladas she would refuse to eat even one bite of three years later

I’m just like every other mom and want to raise my kids in the best possible way. And I want the parents of children who don’t fall perfectly into the black and white areas of life to know that there’s a nice, large area in between for them to land on. That’s where you’ll find me… happily bobbing along in the grey area of parenting. 



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